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Digital Tools for Education - LEARN
CC image courtesy of on Flickr

As we're getting closer to launching our new MSc in Digital Marketing (can't wait!), I've been investigating various digital tools for education and teaching to help ensure that our first group of students get the best learning experience possible.

Our motto is to 'practise what we preach', and as such we not only have some excellent industry people involved with the course delivery, but we will also be using the tools of the trade and get our students to do digital marketing from day one.

Doing this research into existing software used in education, alongside evaluating the tools I'm already using as a Digital Marketer, has inspired me to  come up with a few tips that I hope will serve as a guideline and help others working in this space who are trying to find solutions.

Digital Tools for Education - 5 Key Considerations

The underlying motto, and my personal passion, is to practise what you preach. I can't fathom why someone would e.g. teach Marketing, but completely disregard Marketing basics such as ensure consistent branding in their materials, or take into account the customers' (i.e. students') needs when it comes to delivery.  I'm sure plenty of people (including me) have experienced lecturers reading huge amounts of text from an 80-slides long PowerPoint, resulting in the audience not taking in anything, or very little. This is inexcusable really, but even more so in a subject such as Marketing that is supposed to put the customer first.

My general view is that you want to teach your subject in a way that demonstrates your subject knowledge through your actions, and not just in a way that broadcasts facts and theories. Show, not tell! And tools can really help with that. What follows are five key considerations to start thinking about what digital tools and software to use, in an educational environment.

(1) Digital tools should be used by industry

Digital Marketing ToolsThis one is pretty self-explanatory and quite basic. Choose digital tools and software that is actually being used by the industry.  What's the point in spending a lot of time on training students in software and tools that they won't need once they leave University?

I can't speak authoritatively for subjects other than (Digital) Marketing, but I'm sure there will be standard or preferred applications in other creative industries too. For example, if you want to get into the video game industry, then your Game Design degree will hopefully teach you 3ds Max rather than Maya.

(2) Software should not be a walled garden (inward-looking)

Google Drive IconThis one might be controversial and there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer. I personally really don't much see the point in VLEs (virtual learning environments) that are  'walled garden' and not used by anyone else other than the actual institution. Many education providers use Moodle, an open-source learning platform, but I have to be honest I'm not a big fan  - primarily because I think it's more important for students to use tools and software that are used in industry / in the real world (see also point (1)).

That's why I'm excited about recent developments such as the JISC framework agreement with Google Apps for Education. What it means is that it's now much easier for UK Universities and Colleges to sign up to and use Google Apps as a tool for education. The JISC contract takes care of  important issues like security, legal and data compliance etc. which means institutions can use the cloud-based software with peace of mind.

Importantly, Google Apps are used quite extensively in business, so you'll be killing two birds with one stone: (1) an effective, modern e-learning environment while students are at University, and (2) very transferable skills with smooth transition to the real world.

(3) Digital tools should be free or freemium

MailChimp logoMy third consideration when choosing digital tools for education is that they should ideally be free. This doesn't need much explanation. Universities are not-for-profit / charities, and as such can't much afford to be paying for tools left, right and centre. It's also often the case that requirements for teaching are served by a tool's Basic version, in terms of no. of users / accounts needed, storage space, functionality, and so on (as opposed to, say, Business or Enterprise). Finally, when assessing which software to use, it's good to be able to try out quite a number of different tools and test them first, before they are let loose on students. Overall, it makes sense to give priority to software that is either free or freemium.

I'm a huge fan of MailChimp (who isn't!) for precisely that reason, as well as Trello - these are excellent digital marketing tools whose  basic (freemium) version is ideal for education, charities, SMEs, etc.

The smart thing and indeed benefit for these tool providers is that early (basic) adoption breeds familiarity which in turn breeds loyalty amongst its user base. If I ever have a say again on what software gets bought at Enterprise level, I sure know where I'll turn: to the digital tools that I know best and have come to love through their freemium version.  It's quite a smart marketing strategy since, while the freemium version costs nothing, the companies benefit from many happy users who evangelise and promote the tools on their behalf (like I'm doing here, just now). And this in turn generates brand awareness and leads,  which in turn increases the likelihood of sales and uptake of both the freemium and the paid versions. Win win! Or to use Marketing jargon: this is a good example of value exchange. 

(4) Tools and platforms should be used and usable by students

This is another fairly easy one and one I can cover quickly using just one example. Should I use a Google Plus Community, or a Facebook Group as the learning community for our students? Yes, I'm a bit of a Google fan girl but on this occasion Facebook wins hands down because no one uses G+.

Remember the first rule of Marketing: it's about your customers, and about responding to their needs. A customer-centric approach means that you optimise the learning environment for your students, and make their user experience as easy and convenient as possible. Hence Facebook - don't just dictate what you (or Google) think is best.

(5) Digital tools should be mobile first

This is probably THE most important criterion. A no-brainer as far as I'm concerned, but unfortunately this aspect is somewhat neglected in discussions about digital tools for education.

Samsung S5 vs iPhone 5S
CC image courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr

Here are the facts: Most forecasts predict that smartphone penetration in the UK will reach 75% by the end of 2014 (see e.g. the Internet Advertising Bureau UK's prediction from January 2014, or the Guardian's theoretical but data-based forecasts from April 2014).

Thinking about students', and indeed my own digital consumption behaviour, the smartphone is often the first 'go to' digital device. For agile, effective learning, then, tools and software need to be mobile first (e.g. have a mobile / responsive website or an app). It's really important to enable students to complete tasks and study no matter what device they're on! 

While this doesn't apply to all tasks and certainly not to written assignments, I feel that general stuff such as reading required articles / blogs, communicating and collaborating with your peers, asking your lecturer questions etc. ought to all be doable from a mobile device.

This to me seems an obvious conclusion given digital culture, and where your audience is these days. I'm not sure this consideration can be found on anyone's agenda yet (please do point out any worthy initiatives in this area).

A mobile-first or mobile-optimised approach to teaching and learning, in my view, is essential in this day and age. Customer-centricity, the pillar of modern marketing, means to allow students to study wherever they are and whatever device they're on. See also point (4).

Overall conclusions

Child with iPad
CC image courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams on Flickr

It's probably never been more difficult to get and keep your students' attention, and engage them in a productive, active and fun learning environment. I strongly believe that we as educators have a responsibility to teach in a fresh, modern way, that takes as its starting point real student needs and digital consumption behaviours, rather than knocking out the same old, same old, using 20th century techniques.

While my colleagues and I will be deploying these methods for our new MSc in Digital Marketing, an innovative approach of using digital tools for education is not just for creative subjects. The requirements of digitally native students is something that needs greater attention across the board, given the UK and Scottish Government's digital first approach, and I feel that we as educators ought to do our best. We're at the frontline of teaching the next generation after all!

Most importantly, using the right digital tools make teaching and learning much more fun.


Google Analytics basics
CC image courtesy of Search Engine People Blog on Flickr

I've created this post on Google Analytics basics to accompany the HIE tourism webinar, Is my website working, where I'm a guest speaker.

These resources are for further reading and will allow you to learn Google Analytics, including setting it up on your own website.

Note: Learning Google Analytics will take some time, but there are great resources out there and I believe the tool is a pre-requisite for all businesses, especially SMEs. Google Analytics is free to install, and it will start gathering invaluable data right away.

Why use Google Analytics

Think of Google Analytics as a measurement platform for your business success. It is a key tool in your business marketing activity as it gives you valuable and actionable insights about your customers that will help inform what direction you should take, and how to spend your time and budget (this is especially important for small businesses who often have little of either!).

Google Analytics lets you measure things like:

  • WHO is using your website (location, demographics, device e.g. mobile)
  • HOW these people find your site (e.g. from search engines, other websites (referrals), social media)
  • WHAT they do on your website (which pages they look at, how long they stay on the site)
  • HOW MUCH your website generates for your business (in terms of money or other specific goals, e.g. looking at your offers page, looking at the booking / calendar page)

Imagine you have a physical shop. As a shop keeper you'd notice (and probably keep track of) footfall, you'd monitor what items customers look at most, and you would generally use all that 'data' about your visitors to inform what direction you should take, in order to become more profitable.

Google Analytics collects data about all of the above and much more for your website.

And your website is the key virtual selling platform for your physical business.


Google Analytics Basics - Training and Resources

This is a collection of training and resources to help you get to grip with the basics of Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Academy

A series of videos where you can learn Google Analytics basics in online sessions, developed by Google themselves. The course I'd recommend for beginners is Digital Analytics Fundamentals (I've reviewed it here).

They state it takes around 4-6 hours to complete - I probably took slightly longer as I optimised my site's analytics set-up at the same time!


The Small Business Guide to Google Analytics

This is a great resource specifically for small businesses and SMEs. It takes you through the entire process and is very much focused on practice, including a video tutorial on how to install Google Analytics to your website.


Google Analytics Case Studies

Google itself provides a great number of 'Success Stories' (i.e. case studies, downloadable as PDF) on their website, with a number of them from tourism (e.g. Fairmont Hotels, HomeAway, New Brunswick Tourism).

The one I'd like to highlight is that of Fairmont Hotels. I've seen their Director of Analytics and SEO, Barbara Pezzi, speak at a tourism conference and back then was extremely impressed by how smart and effectively they use Google Analytics for actionable business insights. Below is a quick video case study of Fairmont Hotels and their use of Analytics, featuring Barbara.



I hope this collection of resources has all your Google Analytics basics needs covered.

Now get stuck in 🙂


HIE logo
I first heard about HIE Tourism Webinars a while back, when delivering a Small Business Tourism Marketing Workshop as part of the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism conference back in March.

HIE, that is Highlands and Islands Enterprise, are a Scottish Government agency based in the beautiful town of Inverness, and they look after  economic and community development in the Highlands and Islands. They have a great number of digital initiatives and support for businesses, and one of these are a series of  webinars for tourism businesses.

And I'm a guest speaker at the next one - next week Tue 10th, titled, 'Is my website working?'

HIE Tourism Webinars

CC image courtesy of Ann Lee on Flickr.

The webinars started in 2012 and are a partnership initiative (involving Tourism Intelligence Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, VisitScotland and The Scottish Tourism Alliance), and there have been 3 series so far. Series one focused on key tourism products and activities (such as Walking, Golf, and Adventure), and how to market your tourism business based on research and consumer insights. Here's an overview over webinar series 1-3.

The latest one, series 4, is themed 'Digital' and is for

anyone involved in tourism in Scotland including community groups and tourism related businesses, who want to look at how to make the most of online opportunities.

The webinars take place from 10th - 18th June 2014 (next week), run for 45 minutes in the morning, and the running order is follows:

  1. Is my website working? <--- I'm guest speaking at this one and it'll be an intro to Google Analytics
  2. Is digital marketing a DIY job?
  3. Managing your online reputation
  4. Future trends for the digital tourist

There are a couple of guest speakers for each of them and other than the first webinar (which is about how to measure your website success using Google Analytics), the second one looks very interesting. After all, the most common observation and feedback from smaller businesses is that they simply don't have the resource to do what is supposed to be 'free' marketing (i.e. social / digital). Here are all 4 of the Tourism webinars - Digital series.

In fact, I'm quite excited to be going to Inverness for the recording of the HIE Tourism webinars next week. I have a friend (ex colleague) who lives up there, and she'll show me some of the nightlife - such as the (apparently excellent!)  Hootenanny, a multi-award winning pub & live-music venue, where we'll take in good food and live music. I can' t wait!


Google have released two new free online courses that look well worth taking. I've enrolled in one of them - their second free Analytics course, as my experience with the first one, Digital Analytics Fundamentals, was very positive indeed (here is my review of Google Analytics Academy).

Google Analytics
CC image courtesy of Search Engine People Blog on Flickr

Google online courses are a great idea - helping educating Google's customers in the use of their products, while making them more dependent on them 😀

Yes, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek, but it's true. Good marketing nowadays is much more focused on helping and educating people, and generally being generous towards your customers so that you earn their trust and they come to you. AKA 'inbound marketing'.

Free online courses and education by software vendors / suppliers is the digital equivalent of 'love bombing' -  showing lots of care and attention, with the aim to influence and persuade to action - in a good way!

Google are so good at being generous and showing care and attention that I feel quite a solid loyalty towards them, and I can more easily forgive them. Yes, there are things that annoy me including the slow erosion of organic search opportunities (which will hit SMEs disproportionately, see also my post on The end of Free Marketing),  Google Now (= WTF), and the new Google Maps (= WTF!).

But with their online courses Google make up for some of it - yes, they are good at taking away (e.g. organic search visibility), but they're also good at giving back. And I feel more 'loved' by them and better looked after than any other big digital communication brand. Facebook's communication is too smarmy for my liking, and Twitter's is too clumsy. Google just gives me the facts and data, and doesn't try overly hard to be my friend.

Anyhow, here are the two courses that have started just recently, and which I'd encourage you to sign up to if you use Google products in your marketing:

Google Analytics Platform Principles

Elevator pitch:

Build a deeper understanding of how Google Analytics works, thus improving your understanding of where your data comes from and why it appears the way it does in Google Analytics


11 March - 27 March 2014

Course info / sign-up:

Google Analytics Platform Principles

Google Datasense: Making Sense of Data

Elevator pitch:

Learn some new ways to structure, visualize, and manipulate data - using Google products of course!


18 March - 4 April 2014

Course info / sign-up:

Making Sense of Data



I'm always on the look out for free images for blogs / websites that I can use - like many others who maintain their own (non-commercial) site. With last week's announcement that Getty Images have made available 35m of their vast photo archive available to embed, I've decided to compile my three top resources for free images on the web.

My test search for all three is Aberdeen, the Granite city.

(1) Flickr Creative Commons Images

The daddy of image databases. I've used Flickr for as long as I can remember!

How to find free images to use on Flickr

Go to the Flickr Advanced Search, and tick ' after entering your search term (in my case 'Aberdeen'). You can use any image the search returns, provided you include a correct attribution on the blog or site where you use it.

Flickr creative commons search


How to credit Flickr images

There aren't any official Flickr guidelines on how to credit Creative Commons - I myself have used a combination of different methods. It's complicated by the fact that you can either download the image, or embed it directly from Flickr.

Here's a good resource outlining all the different ways to correctly credit Flickr Creative Commons images.


I'm using the ImageCodr tool  to embed directly from Flickr. The tool creates the complete html code (grab it and put into your html). It links to the licence, the image, and credits its author.

Flickr Image result - Aberdeen

A nice photo of Aberdeen beach!

Aberdeen Beach by Tom Watt, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Tom Watt 


(2) Google image search

It's been possible to find free images for blogs on Google since 2009 - but not many people (myself included) were aware of it, seeing the option to search by image licence was buried deep in the advanced search. Since January 2014 however they've made it much easier by including 'Usage Rights' in the Images - Search Tools menu (see screenshot below).

It's useful to have - Google remains my first destination for any online activity and it's good to be able to quickly search for free images within the search engine results.

How to find free images on Google image search

Type your query into the search bar and switch to the images tab. Click on Search Tools and, from Usage Rights, select Labeled for noncommercial reuse (or one of the other options, depending how you'd like to use the image).

Google image search non commercial use


How to credit Google images

A caveat here - finding free photos via Google Images isn't without its problems and critics. That's because sites could be publishing images with a licence for reuse, when they aren't the original owners. This means that you can't necessarily trust the results - Google's Usage rights information isn't verified legally by any external source.

I'd recommend to use the Google reverse image search to double check if any image you find with this method is used elsewhere, to confirm its original owner, and to check that the photo's licensing in the Google results is definitely correct.

For my test search, I'm playing it safe - I found an image on Wikimedia Commons of His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. The page hosting the image (see link above) helpfully provides information on how to credit it, even supplying the html code if you select 'Use this file on the web'. And that's just what I've done below!

Free images for blogs - Wikimedia example

Note that the HTML code Wikimedia supplies doesn't include any visible caption or text. Instead, it's all hidden. The author credit and licence link are in the link title, and the image itself links to the page hosting it. The image title is in the image alt text (= good for vertical search results).


I had to amend the HTML code supplied by Wikimedia manually as the backlink to the image page didn't work... Also, I added target=_blank as I didn't want to load the original page into the same browser window. Basic HTML knowledge required!

Google Image result - Aberdeen

A great photo of His Majesty's theatre in Aberdeen.

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen


(3) Getty Images

Getty Images is the latest source providing free images for blogs and websites to use. Note that it's not a free for all - only non-commercial entities may embed images from Getty's collection free of charge. So, if you're a B&B or hotel in Aberdeen looking for free photos of the Granite city to use on your blog or website, this isn't an option for you.

How to find free photos on Getty Images

Not all of Getty's photos are free to use, but its free archive has up to 35m photos so there's plenty to choose from!

Start your search here, on the  Getty's free image archive.

How to credit photos from Getty Images

Photos that you use from Getty are "framed" with a code that links back to their website, and the site even has an embed tool to make it all easy!

Getty Images result - Aberdeen

Aberdeen's beautiful city skyline.

This Thursday 27th February, 6.30-8.30 PM we're holding a postgraduate opening evening at RGU (Riverside East) where you'll be able to talk to us about our new MSc Digital Marketing starting in September 2014!

Come and see myself and the Course Leader, Jack Keenan, for all your questions about this course and what a Digital Marketing Masters at Robert Gordon University entails! We've plenty of interest already - and can't wait to find out more about who you are and what area of digital marketing you're interested in.

MSc Digital Marketing - RGU Flyer


We'll be there to chat about the course contents and the Digital Marketing careers our Masters will prepare you for. It's the first such practice-based MSc in Scotland and we are working closely with industry to ensure we teach and deliver exactly the skills required for you to find a job in Digital Marketing - be it SEO, Social Media, Analytics, or paid digital advertising.

Here's more info on RGU's postgraduate opening evening - register on the site so that we know you're coming!

And if you can't attend or if you're not currently based in Aberdeen, here's a direct link to the course page on the RGU website. It's looking like a very popular postgraduate degree already and we have had plenty of interest - so don't hesitate to apply if you're interested in a career in Digital Marketing. Our MSc will put you right ahead of the competition, and you could have a recognised Digital Marketing qualification within a year 🙂


I'm pleased to announce I will be running a tourism marketing workshop titled 'Marketing For Small Businesses' in Aberdeen on 26th March 2014.

Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under CC -

It's part of the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Conference and their theme this year is Improving the Customer Journey. This is very much aligned with my own conviction for customer experience being at the heart of modern marketing and indeed the key to modern business success.

And as a small business, it's more important than ever to own your marketing and understand your customer, so that you can exceed their expectations and, as marketing has it, satisfy their needs and wants.

I will aim to focus the workshop on practical, actionable tips and yes, a fair amount of it will focus on the opportunities of digital marketing, including Google Analytics, local SEO, and mobile.

After all, that's my area of expertise, and it aligns nicely with Robert Gordon University's practice-based Digital Marketing Masters on which I'll be teaching from September 2014.

On a personal note, I'm very happy to be involved with tourism marketing again, having previously worked as VisitScotland's Social Media Manager for 2 years, and having done plenty of digital tourism marketing for my friends who own a holiday let in Italy.

To find out more and register, please visit the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Conference event page.

Simone KurtzkeI'm PLEASED to announce that our new MSc Digital Marketing is now open for applications!

Digital Marketing is one of THE growth areas - 55% of marketers increased their digital marketing budget this year (2013), and will continue to do so in 2014.

And as I blogged a couple of weeks ago - Social Media Manager jobs are everywhere, and the same is true for the digital industry as a whole.

Our new Digital Marketing course at RGU Aberdeen will help you start a career in this exciting industry! It's practice-based and focused on doing Digital Marketing, with live projects and consultancy - all underpinned by Digital Marketing Strategy.

The MSc Digital Marketing starts in September 2014.






Someone recently asked me how to become a Digital Marketer. As in, how to break into the industry. A great question I thought, given that according to a recent study 82% of Digital Marketers learn on the job! (Adobe 2013, Digital Distress [PDF]).

Digital Marketer memeHow can you learn on the job when you haven't got the job yet? There aren't many avenues to become a digital marketer yet, though I've compiled a list of social media courses at UK Universities  (and we will of course be launching our own MSc in Digital Marketing at RGU Aberdeen in 2014).

In the meantime, what can you do? I thought about this for a while including self-reflecting on what characteristics I and other successful digital marketers I know, share.

Here are my top tips on how to become a Digital Marketer - stuff that you can do already, starting today.

(1) Use the tools of the trade and become a digital native

You can't learn about social media by reading about it. It's a bit like a car mechanic who's only ever read books about cars - would you trust him or her to fix your car? Eh.... no. In digital, you need to be and stay in the thick of it, every day. You need to develop a digital native mindset.

You see, I don't believe that digital is just for people who grew up with the Internet - quite the opposite. Anyone with a dedicated, professional approach can do it - you just have to spend enough time and immerse yourself fully, using the tools of the trade.

A word of caution - it will take time to become an expert. I'm not sure if it's the 10,000 hours of practice made popular by Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers - but certainly I have spent at least that amount, and it's never ending.

So, use the tools of the trade - Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogging (start a WordPress-hosted blog if you don't want to invest in your own website yet).

(2) Build your personal brand

I cannot overstate the importance of this. If you want to become a digital marketer, but have no digital footprint and online personal brand, forget it.

Forget it!

Personal brand
CC image courtesy of ryan_rancatore on Flickr

Unless your future employer is really behind in their digital maturity, they won't employ you if they can't find you online. People google people all the time (I'm sure you do!), and every HR professional / recruitment agent worth their money will check someone's online footprint (Linkedin particularly, and to a lesser extent Twitter) before considering them.

In addition, there are plenty of headhunters out there looking for candidates to fill digital positions, especially on Linkedin - I've been approached myself a good number of times.

It's similar to point one - you have to live it, and breathe it, to understand it. If you want a job in (digital) marketing, and a google search reveals you don't exist, then you're clearly not a digital marketer.

Or, to paraphrase Fight Club: The first rule one of digital marketing: Market yourself.

(3) Observe yourself

Those YouTube ads annoying you again - especially the ones that you can't SKIP? Getting uninvited and uncalled for emails? Pushy text messages that you never asked for? Think Marketing in all aspects of your life. Analyse what companies do and don't do and how it delights or annoys you - what works / what doesn't work, on you. Don't think Marketing is a just a theory - it's real and is happening all around us, all the time.

The key here is to not just observe, but to try gain understanding and derive insight from it. Remember that observation is an acceptable and respected method of data collection in qualitative research - so don't just notice things, but analyse and evaluate - what does an intrusive ad on YouTube mean in terms of marketing effectiveness for that brand? Your loyalty to it? Effect on your purchase behaviour? And so on.

(4) Observe the news

Similar to above. You need to know what's going on, and importantly, what it means. Ryanair shares dropping because Michael O'Leary has been despising his customers for 20 years, and they're finally voting with their feet? What does this indicate in terms of the voice of customer, and (social) listening as a strategy for your business?

Ryanair memeThe same goes for any other big and small brand stories, such as Burberry's huge success after switching on to Digital over the last few years. It'll be interesting to watch what their outgoing CEO Angela Ahrendts will do to transform Apple's current and perhaps slightly outdated high-street and online shopping experience as their new Senior VP (Retail and Online Stores) when she takes up the role next year.

The point is, learning is all around us! And you can significantly deepen your understanding of the impact of digital by observing what's happening in the real-world - these are real companies with real profits increasing, or dropping, after all.

(5) Find your passion - and become an expert

Yes, passion. I wanted to call this point here 'Find your niche', but it's more about passion (if you don't have passion, stay away from this industry). You can't become a Digital Marketer who knows everything, in depth. That's like saying a doctor needs to be able to be fully competent in any and all areas of medicine, and being able to perform any and all operations, at all time and to a high standard. It's just not possible.

There is plenty of talk of a T-shaped marketer being the most appropriate approach to digital marketing - that is, a broad knowledge of several disciplines (all of which, let's face it, are interrelated), combined with deep i.e. expert knowledge of one or two of those (e.g. social and SEO). Below is an image from Moz (associated article here) that nicely illustrates this point.

The T-Shaped Web Marketer - Moz
The T-Shaped Web Marketer - Moz

You need cross-discipline competence to be able to talk the lingo with your tech and creative colleagues - but you don't need to have expert knowledge in all areas (luckily so! RegEx in Google Analytics anyone? 🙂 ).

When deciding on what area to specialise in, let passion be your driver. Acquire a broad base of knowledge across several disciplines, through learning  by doing and using the tools of the trade - and once you found the one or two that hit the spot, that you want to learn more and more about (as it's so EXCITING!), progress along that route and go deep - specialise in it. For me, that's been social / community management and in the last 2 years or so, SEO, due to the merging and interrelationship between search and social and the Google changes that (finally) reward great content, relationships, and creativity over and above just technical know-how.

And those are my 5 top tips on how to become a Digital Marketer! I hope these tips are useful and will help kickstart your career in one of the most exciting, creative, addictive, and ever-changing industries!




Google Analytics Academy - CertificateYesterday, I completed the final assessment for the first (and completely FREE!) course run by Google Analytics Academy -  Digital Analytics Fundamentals.

It's overall been a really good experience and has helped consolidate my knowledge, hammer in the correct terminology (dimensions, metrics etc.) once and for all, and also got me up to speed on recent changes (such as the renaming of 'Traffic Sources' in the interface to 'Acquisitions' - I'd been wondering where my traffic reports had disappeared to!).

Why Google Analytics Academy ?

"Why Digital Analytics? That's just tech stuff that I won't need to know about", you might say.

Wrong. A good grasp of analytics and digital measurement is essential to making sound business decisions. That's because it's based on real insight and data rather than opinions. It's very exciting actually - imagine having real data about your customers rather than stabbing around in the dark, not knowing whether or not your marketing campaigns work! And spending lots of money unnecessarily as a result...

Google Analytics - screenshot
CC image courtesy of AJC1 on Flickr

The beauty of Google Analytics Academy is that it's FREE, and very accessible. Unfortunately, up until now, the only industry recognized GA qualification had been the Google Analytics IQ certificate. And that, believe me, is tough. I had started it some time last year but a lot of the content was too specialised and technical - here's more on the GA IQ test from someone who has successfully completed it.

Google Analytics Academy in comparison is a more concise training program to educate business leaders across the board on effective measurement planning in the digital age. It addresses a fundamental problem faced by many businesses today: On the one side, you have analytics / tech  experts who live and breathe data, but who have little influence or indeed decision making power.

Google Analytics Academy - pre-course questionnaireOn the other side you have a large number of powerful CEOs, senior business leaders, traditional marketers etc. who have little idea of what business success looks like in the digital age, or how to measure it. Yet it's those people making all the decisions 🙁  !

The academy, and specifically the course I took (Digital Analytics Fundamentals), should be particularly useful for these people, as well as anyone involved with the day to day management of your online marketing activity (including the website) - your designers, content managers, project managers, and so on. Look at the pre-course questionnaire screenshot above where you can slot yourself into what must be their rough target audience!

But now on to the course review itself 🙂

 Google Analytics Academy - Review

Course content (8/10)

The great!

Digital Marketing Goals - ScreenshotWhat I loved about this course especially is that it didn't dive straight into the actual software, so doesn't needlessly scare people off. In fact it starts with contextualising and telling us why Digital Analytics is important and aligns it to documenting and measuring business objectives. This is a language that business will understand, and can relate to. Contexualising the subject appropriately is very important to getting your senior stakeholders and decision makers on board - as it's talking about things that matter most to them.

I also liked the overall structure of the course - moving from the general to the specific, and going through all standard reports in chronological order. Admittedly Unit 5 - Navigating Google Analytics reports - can be a bit hard going and newbies may find it all a bit too technical. But stick with it and you'll be rewarded - once you reach the end, it all falls into place and makes complete sense!

The not-so-great

Google initiatives and activities such as the free Google Analytics Academy aren't necessarily about helping customers - there is always an overall business objective (and I don't mind that - there should be!). So, while the course I took was called 'Digital Analytics Fundamentals', really, it is about Google Analytics. So let's not pretend that there isn't an implicit aim to promote the use of GA over rival software, and position Google Analytics as the de facto default product (apparently over 100,000 students signed up to the course!).

In the course, there is also some matter of fact 'naturalisation' going on about using AdWords, and info on keyword data which of course Google will no longer make available free of charge unless you use the paid AdWords product. So the first point of criticism would be that they should perhaps be a little more transparent in that respect, and not pretend that Digital Analytics = Google Analytics.

On a personal note, the ecommerce reports weren't so useful to me, since this only makes sense if you do have ecommerce enabled (and difficult to replicate / play around with if you don't).

Course delivery (9/10)

The great!

My favourite aspect here were the course videos featuring the instructor, Justin Cutroni. He's the Analytics Advocate at Google and an extremely experienced and engaging public speaker. You get the chance to hear and see one of the best digital analytics evangelists out there, beamed right into your home!

Justin CutroniI'd say that 99% of learning is probably about the delivery and with Justin involved you are just glued to the screen - a bit like watching Rand from Moz doing a Whiteboard Friday. Videos FTW!

What I furthermore valued about the delivery is that materials were also provided in text form (as downloadable PDFs). This allowed you to tackle the contents from different angles and in different media while making them accessible to people with disabilities (all videos also had subtitles which you could switch on).

The not-so-great

I would say that for me personally, the Google hangout session and the community aspects (forums etc.) perhaps weren't required. That's the only reason I'm deducting a point. I'm sure these aspects are valuable to other people who prefer a communal learning experience. As I've mentioned, it is in fact great to be able to approach learning materials from different angles - because what works well for some, doesn't perhaps work as well for others.

Customer experience (10/10)

The great!

Google Analytics Academy - email reminderAwesome! Google really practise what they preach and the course delivery, communication and teaching was 100% aligned with best practice digital marketing. For example, I completed the first 4 units pretty fast (they didn't open up units 5 and 6 till a bit later in the course) and then had a bit of a lull. Too many other things to do, and I hadn't looked at it for a few days.

Google then sent me a reminder email about the deadline to earning my certifcate (see screenshot) and that absolutely converted me to going back and doing just that as soon as possible.

If you need proof, just look at the email! Simple, completely customer-centred, and they even included a link to my local time given that the deadline is today (30th October) 11.59 PDT. Thank you, very helpful!

It shows that Google are laser-focused on their customers and throughout the course I felt that they wanted to help me become a better marketer by using their software. I felt well looked after and the incentive to receiving an official certificate, even though the certificate in itself is fairly meaningless, is again a very smart marketing tactic. Incentivising with this reward ensures people stick with the course - I certainly really wanted that certificate 🙂

 The not-so-great

There's nothing really I can criticise in terms of customer experience. Yes, I did probably sign up for further communication about future courses and so on, and yes I did fill in all surveys too so Google will have received some of my data for future use. They have also turned me into an advocate of the course (no.. I do NOT work for them, and they did NOT pay me for this post 🙂 ).

The crucial point here is though - I didn't feel they were being dishonest or just tried to steal my data. In fact I am absolutely happy about providing this voluntarily in return for the course - it's a value exchange after all!

Google Analytics Academy - Conclusions

In conclusion, I think that Google are onto a winner here. Digital Analytics Fundamentals, the course that I took (more Google Analytics Academy courses are apparently on the horizon!) is pretty successful at making analytics accessible, easy to understand, and crucially, tying it back to business objectives thus lifting it out of the geek / analytics / techie silo and putting it centre stage.

Work together - CyborgI started this post arguing that much more needs to be done educating business decison makers and marketers on the importance of analytics. This is absolutely crucial for businesses to remaining competitive - and successful - in the digital age. Those who don't take this sort of stuff serioulsy will fail. I repeat: they will #FAIL.

Google have done a great job here by taking some of the hard work of education out of our hands, and for that I am grateful, for it is not easy!

All you need to do now is persuade your CEO, board members, and anyone involved in your marketing, to complete the course! And then get everyone around the same table - traditional, digital, old, young, creative...  and start speaking an analytics-inspired language that everyone will now understand.

By bringing your marketing and key organisational stakeholders onto the same level you'll be creating a level playing field. Finally, after years of misunderstanding you'll be able to start communicating effectively with each other about what matters - your customer and your customers' actual journey on the way to purchasing your product or service. This in turn will help you make sound business decisions based on data and will allow you to best service their needs - profitably - in the digital age!

You can access Google Analytics Academy here, and the good news is that even though the course 'Digital Analytics Fundamentals' officially ends today (30th October), all its materials can still be accessed.

What are you waiting for?