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3 Reasons Digital Marketing Certificates are a Waste of Money

3 Reasons Digital Marketing Certificates are a Waste of Money

One of the questions I’ve been asked most over the past 18 months is – how do I get started in digital marketing? It’s a question I find difficult to answer. Most of the people I meet in this field will tell you very different stories on how they got their first role in digital marketing. You can read a lot of them over in this great thread on

I spent the early part of my career in a variety of I.T roles after leaving university with a 2.1 in computing science (I always reference the exact percent, 69.3%, as one of my best friends got a first with 70.3%, it helps me deal with the pain on missing out by a percent). During one of those roles I discovered my real passion for digital marketing. Trying to get a start in digital marketing was tough. No one would even consider an I.T geek could make a good marketer. Recruitment companies wouldn’t pass on my CV for the graduate roles they were recruiting for. At that point I didn’t give up. Instead I took matters into my own hands and organised a meeting with a co-founder of Irelands top digital marketing agency. In the email I told him I was doing some research on digital marketing as I was considering a career change. This was a white lie; I wanted to secure an interview for graduate roles they had advertised, the same roles that the recruitment agency wouldn’t put me forward for. He kindly gave me 30 minutes of his time; I tried to impress him and left the meeting with an interview for the following day.

Fast-forward to the present day and one of my top priorities is sourcing marketing talent. Something I’ve seen an increase in is the number of people taking certificates in digital marketing. If your sole reason for doing this is to secure a role in digital marketing, I feel there are better ways to spend both your time and money.

Here are my 3 reasons why.

1. Application beats consumption
This is really important, especially for those in the early years of developing their careers. Finding information about digital marketing is not hard. There are 27,000,000 pieces of content shared everyday. A high percentage of that content is probably digital marketing related. As an industry we publish a lot of content.

Consuming the knowledge is the easy part. The application of that knowledge is what’s important. Having a certificate in digital marketing really means nothing if you have no evidence that you’ve applied that knowledge.

When splitting up the time you dedicate to digital marketing, a good rule of thumb is to spend 80% in application mode and 20% in consumption. I try hard to follow this rule myself. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks playing around with one idea I picked up in a single blog post.

2. Hustle costs nothing
Digital marketing is unlike a lot of other industries. You don’t need a qualification to start making a name for yourself in this industry. When going for your first role in digital you could already have a blog that gets thousands of monthly visits, or have created a slideshare that has thousands of views, or became an affiliate and sold other products for other people.

Looking back on my first role, I was lucky. I should have built up a portfolio of work before that initial discussion. I made up for it once I started the role, after 6 months I already owned a bunch of affiliate sites.

For those looking to get a start in digital marketing, buying a website on somewhere like Flippa and getting real experience may be a better use of your money than a meaningless cert.

3. Being known for one thing is better than knowing a little about a lot of things
A lot of digital marketing certs just provide you with a general overview of what digital marketing is. To give you a better opportunity of being successful I would focus on one area to begin with and become insanely good at that. When someone looks at your CV, LinkedIn profile, personal website or however you are promoting yourself, they should be able to recognise what your super power is. You can then expand your career into different areas as you are building up a track record of success.

This also helps with digital qualifications that will actually improve your career development. Instead of doing general digital marketing qualifications you could take Google’s Adwords exams if you’re going to start your career in PPC, or a CRO course over on MarketMotive if you want to be really good at conversion optimisation. We created our own free certificate on inbound marketing so people could learn more about inbound marketing.

But again, application beats consumptions; so as you are doing these courses make sure you’re applying what you’ve learnt.

Maybe you disagree with this, if so, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

    Kieran Flanagan | VP, Marketing, Hubspot

    Kieran Flanagan
    VP, Marketing at Hubspot
    Kieran Flanagan has a proven track record in helping SaaS businesses, from start-ups to enterprise-level grow their traffic, users and revenue. He is a thought leader on growth marketing and speaks at events across the globe on the topic. For more frequent updates follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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