4 ways to own your own career path in digital marketing

Have you ever found yourself thinking:

  • I hope I’ll get the job.
  • I hope I’ll get a raise.
  • I hope that I’ll get a promotion.
  • I hope that I won’t be out of a job if layoffs come around.

I certainly thought this way for the first half of my 25+ years in digital marketing. People would advise me to set goals and make things happen for myself. But I didn’t follow their advice. The result? I fell behind my peers. People I trained were promoted ahead of me. 

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: Your career is your own. Read on to learn four tips that should help you take charge of it.

Tip 1: Grow your professional network

As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” And it’s true: people tend to work with those they know and trust. That’s why networking is so important, both online and in-person. 

Referrals can be a tremendous asset, not just when you’re looking for a job. All three of my agency jobs resulted from referrals from people I met at conferences.

LinkedIn is the go-to online resource for professional networking. Hiring managers and recruiters often go there first when looking for potential candidates or researching potential candidates. At least one or two recruiters view my profile every week.

So keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Use a professional-looking headshot. Make sure to fill out every field you possibly can, from your job history to your training and other experience. Optimize your profile like you would optimize any website you work on for a client.

In-person networking can be a bit more challenging these days, but certainly not impossible. Take advantage of local professional groups and more general groups (e.g., Chamber of Commerce, business development). Public service groups like Elks or American Legion can be a great source of friendships and networking.

Tip 2: Continue your education

Change is constant. This is undoubtedly true in digital marketing, where search engine algorithms are updated almost daily, paid search techniques continue to evolve, website technology changes regularly. If you aren’t a perpetual student of your craft, you will fall behind. 

Reading is essential. It not only helps you learn more about your work, but it also helps you expand your mind to think in different ways. 

Many stats cite that most people stop reading non-fiction books after finishing their formal education. Some of those claims may be a bit exaggerated. Still, Pew Research found that roughly a quarter of American adults did not read a book during the previous year. Don’t be a member of that group! 

Read about more than just work stuff, too. Biographies, self-help, and other works can be beneficial.

Part of my reading program is going through digital marketing websites. I have the Feedly app set up on my tablet to go through the RSS feeds of Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable, and other digital marketing-related websites. The news and opinions I read from those sources are invaluable to my continuing education.

Professional conferences are a great way to continue your education and build your networking skills. Many conferences have continued in virtual mode, while others are starting to return to in-person. When you’re just starting, it is beneficial to stick to conferences with sessions that will help you get better at your work.

Later, though, when you have more experience, learn about other aspects of your trade as well. One of the things that have helped me in my career is knowing at least the basics of how different areas of digital marketing work. Being able to help knit an overall strategy is extremely valuable.

Digital marketing expert Joe Hall recently asked on Twitter: “Have you ever been to an SEO conference? If so, tell me about your favorite presentation you saw. What was it about? And what did you like about it?”

My answer: “There have been many. The ones I enjoy the most are the ones that make me think about things differently that I can apply to the work I do.”

I meant that sincerely. There have been far too many people to list out in tweets whose conference presentations have helped me do my work better.

Lastly, set up your own website if you’re doing SEO or website development work. It’s amazing what you can learn just playing around with a website that doesn’t carry as much risk as playing around with a client’s website. All you need to do is invest a couple of hundred dollars a year. Another way to have a website is to volunteer to help out a charity you support. They will appreciate the assistance, and you get a platform on which you can hone your skills.

Tip 3: Always be ready for your next job

Looking for a job can feel like a full-time job itself, and you never know when you will need to look for a job. Having an up-to-date resume at the ready will help you if that time ever comes. 

Avoid using fancy templates for your resumes. Many automated recruiting systems use a parsing system to pull the resume into their applicant management system. Some fancy formatting will completely throw off the importing of the data. It’s OK to have a nicely-formatted version to email, but if asked to upload a copy, use a plain format.

Read the full job description before you apply for a job. Never rely on the job title alone to guide you. Otherwise, you will waste the recruiting manager’s time and your own. 

At some agencies, SEO people are called “analysts.” I can’t tell you how many resumes I would get from people who specialized in data analytics because of the job title, regardless of how carefully I worded the job description in the posting to make it clear it was an SEO job. I finally told our recruiter to do a text search on any resumes. If neither “SEO” nor “search engine optimization” were found, then I didn’t want the person forwarded to me for consideration.

Tip 4: Find a job that fulfills you

It’s incredible how many people work jobs they hate just because they need a paycheck. I understand that sometimes it’s necessary to do so, but if you hate your job, you have the freedom to go and find something else. 

I know many people who have completely reinvented themselves and moved from one career to another. It’s OK to do that. You need to find a job that pays the bills and makes you want to get up in the morning and not dread Mondays. 

While we all can’t make money working on our hobbies, it’s always possible to apply something you enjoy doing to a job that can earn you a living. Part of this formula, I believe, is learning to work on your strengths. While it’s good to identify weak areas in your work and improve upon those, always working in a job where you struggle is bad for your long-term mental health.

Being fulfilled at work is being part of a team with a great culture. You’ve probably read or heard about “The Great Resignation.” Sesil Pir opined in a recent Forbes article that what’s happening is something she termed “The Great Awakening.” People are awakening to the realization that they don’t have to work in a crappy, dead-end job for companies that don’t value them. 

While progressions of salary and titles are great, they shouldn’t be the focus of your career. Yes, you should be compensated for the value you bring to an organization, but money and titles aren’t everything. 

In the end, it’s wonderful to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you’re doing great work that is helpful and fulfilling.

Summary: Make yourself indispensable

If you haven’t heard this saying yet, remember it: hope isn’t a strategy. Now is the perfect time to take your career destiny into your own hands. You want to make yourself, as Seth Godin expressed it in his book of a similar title, “indispensable.”


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Elmer Boutin is VP of Operations at WrightIMC, a Dallas-based full-service digital marketing agency. Following a career in the US Army as a translator and intelligence analyst, he has worked in digital marketing for over 25 years doing everything from coding and optimizing websites to managing online reputation management efforts as an independent contractor, corporate webmaster, and in agency settings. He has vast experience and expertise working for businesses of all sizes, from SMBs to Fortune 5-sized corporations, including Wilsonart, Banfield Pet Hospital, Corner Bakery Cafe, Ford Motor Company, Kroger, Mars Corporation, and Valvoline; optimizing websites focusing on local, e-commerce, informational, educational and international.

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