Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Benefits of Certification for Digital Marketers

My new year's project was to become certified in Google Analytics. Debra and I are recommending various certifications in both the Internet Marketing and Social Media Marketing books, and while I totally agree with that in principle, I though I should try one. I was surprised by how much I learned about Google Analytics as well as about preparing questions and taking assessments on the web. I'm sure the same will be the case for any of the other certifications. Individuals should choose a certification course or courses that will provide greatest support for their career aspirations.

A student who wants a job in some aspect of digital marketing should clearly aim for one or more certifications in that specific field. They want a certification to display (add them to their LinkedIn profile, for example) and to talk about in interviews. Instructors may not need or want that much depth. Looking at the Google Analytics Beginners content with the first and second sections expanded, I'd suggest that most instructors would benefit greatly from the first 2 sections but might not feel the need to go into more detail. The introductory sections would also make good assignments and might get students enthused about finishing the certification on their own.

Beginners Course Content
The Google Analytics Certification is based on the Beginners and Advanced courses from the its Analytics Academy. Each course has four sections, each of which usually has four modules. A video tutorial of about 5 minutes is the centerpiece of each module. After completing each section there is an assessment. When the user completes all the sections in each course, a certificate for that course is issued. To receive the Google Analytics Individual Qualification certificate a separate 90-minute (free) test must be taken. The certificate is good for 18 months--a sign of how fast things change on the web.

This basic structure applies to other well-regarded internet marketing certifications. I'll return to some of these in a moment. First, some of the things I learned from going through the certification process.

Perhaps most important  I learned to pay no attention to the "how to ace the Google Analytics certification"- type posts. Most of them are several years old and, true to form, Google keeps making changes in the exam.The posts are worse than useless because they set false expectations.

Second, I was reminded of what I already knew. I'm a visual learner, not an auditory one. I enjoyed the videos but I had to read the attached transcripts to really grasp the material. They are also useful quick reviews for the assessments and the final test.

Speaking of the assessments, your best effort is saved and I found it well worth the effort to get 100% on each assessment. Not only were the missed questions obviously content I hadn't learned, it gave me a good review for the certification exam.
Google Analytics Certificate with Expiration Date

The exam itself was a lot harder than I expected. I finished the 8 sections (4 in beginners, 4 in advanced) and decided to take the exam without further studying and just see how I did. I finished with 74%, just shy of the 80% needed to pass. Ok, I needed to study some. I did, and got 71%, which was really annoying! So I finally got smart and copied off the incorrect answers included with my score. That was a lot of effort because some of the questions seemed less than straightforward and they are not interactive. You just have to find the correct content and dig out the correct answer. However, the effort was worth it because I passed on the third try with 87%. Clearly I haven't learned it all yet, and I kept the questions I missed on the last try for future reference.

I found this so much fun (well, rewarding, maybe) that I've started the Google Tag Manager course. I think I'm going to take my own advice there. I'm going to complete the four sections, but I doubt that I will try to pass the certification exam. That seems relevant only for someone who is actively managing digital campaigns, and for that it's essential.

There are third-party courses that purport to pave the way for quick passage of the Google Analytics exam and probably of others. All I can tell you for sure about them is that they are not free. 

There are many more certifications available. Google has others, including AdWords certification, which has somewhat complex requirements for staying certified. Hootsuite certification is another we recommend. There are actually a number of certifications in various aspects of SMM. All the courses are free; the exams range from $99 to $400, but the applicant can take the exam as many times as necessary. Hootsuite also recommends some other certifications.  Debra is using the Hubspot certification courses for her classes. There are certifications on a variety of subjects and they are all free.

Anyone who wants to take courses and obtain certifications should do their own search. There are many certificates out there and they should be carefully examined, especially if there is money involved. 'Is the certificate well regarded?' is they key question and that will require some research. There are also many specialized online college courses and they could be considered another alternative.

That suggests the final benefit, which is a more subtle one. Having observed the digital landscape for many years and following many of my students through it, I can say one thing with assurance. A person cannot survive, much less prosper, in digital without engaging in continuous learning. Earning at least one certification in addition to a college degree is one way to establish a valuable habit in our students. The fact that it's going to help them get the type of job they want is not be overlooked either!

Do you or your students have useful experiences with certifications? Comments on the subject are welcome!

Update, Summer 2018 

I've just gone through the process of signing up for a closed group where online training followed by an online test was required for membership. That gave me an opportunity to follow the advice I gave in this post and--if I do say so myself--it was pretty good. I passed the test on the first try with 95% correct, although I'll admit it was easier than the Google Analytics certification.

I listened to the webinar first. That gave me a good overview. But, as I pointed out, I'm a visual learner, so I went over the text material twice before I took the test.The first time I just concentrated on the content. The second time I took notes on the type of "how to" detail that I'm most likely to get wrong. 

That, I think, is the real learning here. I better understand where I'm most likely to get it wrong. That helped me to pass the test and it's also giving me things to watch out for as I work within this team. 

"Know yourself" is always good advice and I'd encourage you to encourage your students to take online exams very mindfully in order to understand what they have to concentrate on to get it right! 

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