11 Must-Have Tech Skills For Every Digital Marketer

Ian Lurie
Your marketing toolbox - it's essential

Digital marketing is a mish-mash of marketing knowledge and little snippets of nerdy know-how. It’s a mess. You need to nail both categories, and the one that I see most often jam up would-be marketers is the nerdy stuff. Without it, you can’t execute.

There isn’t some exclusive “oh-look-at-me-I’m-a-digital marketer” club. If you can’t check off everything in this list, you just have a little homework to do.

But if you can’t execute, you aren’t a digital marketer, yet. If you’re going to execute, you must be able to:

  1. Write a blog post in code view, not WYSIWYG mode. That’s the bare minimum. You should be able to code and launch a responsive web page that won’t make bunnies cry.
  2. Resize and compress an image using the right file format. Uploading a bandwidth-hogging kitten PNG doesn’t count.
  3. Explain the difference between a session, a unique visitor and a pageview. Never, ever use the word “hit” in a serious meeting.
  4. Explain the difference between log file analysis and javascript-based analytics, and what it takes to do both.
  5. Explain how HTML, CSS and javascript fit together. You don’t need to be a master designer. Just know what they mean.
  6. Move a file from one computer to another without dragging and dropping, using e-mail or exposing that file to the entire planet. Secure FTP. Please. Please. Please, for my sanity and the sanity of others. It’s not too much to ask.
  7. Sketch out what happens between a click on a link and final delivery of the target page, from browser to server and back again.
  8. Pick a language. Create a form, accept input and show the result three times on submit. To do that, you have to learn variables, templating, forms and loops. Not much, but a start.
  9. Explain the work that goes into creating and launching good code, and the resources required to build and maintain a website.
  10. Explain server response codes. 200. 301. 302. 404. 500. Learn to speak Server.
  11. OK, this isn’t technical. But you had damned well better understand the difference between citing and stealing. This isn’t law degree stuff. It’s don’t-be-an-asshat stuff, and it’ll keep you out of hot water with grumpy, nasty people like me.

If you can check all these off, excellent. If not, start filling the gaps. It’s not a chore. You get to learn new gadgetry. It’s fun. Once you learn it, no one can shove you off the swings on the playground.

There’s no such thing as a “purely strategic” digital marketer. Marketing strategy only matters if you execute. These skills are how you execute or manage a team that does.

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  1. Good list.
    Beyond writing a blog post in the source window, a basic understanding of HTML semantics would be sage advice: e.g., the difference between and , and , what a definition list is, etc. An explanation of how semantics might help content quality, pushes people in the right direction towards usability and away from meaningless spam tactics associated with SEO.

    1. Absolutely. I want to point out, though, that this post goes a bit broader than SEO. An SEO really has to know HTML, inside-out. On the other hand, they may not need the same level of expertise regarding images. On a longer list, the separation would become clearer. An SEO shouldn’t have to know much about PPC, for example, where a digital marketer needs to know enough to coordinate a team. I’m not saying this is the reality – I’m just saying those are the requirements.

  2. For the first time, I disagree with you.
    While I agree that marketers should have an appreciation for what’s involved in code and building forms etc, I don’t think they should be doing it. Yes, they should know what resources are required to build a website so they don’t become a pain in some poor developers backside – but do it themselves? To me that’s the equivalent of asking the surgeon to handle the anaesthetic as well. True they should understand something about it to avoid asking for the impossible or, dare I say it, stupid things. They could even do it on the side for their own edification, but to include as a required skillset? Noooo….
    There are somethings on this list that yep, they should at least be able to explain half way coherently – like what a Hit is vs a Page View. Sure, resize an image properly by all means. Understand how the internet works – sure.
    But writing a post in code view? Why? Pick a language and use it to build a form? WHY??? That’s what WYSIWYG editors and form builders are for.
    Warning….rant follows:
    Call me old- school or just plain old, but I think people should stick to their knitting. Over the last decade or so there has been a progressive decline in the respect shown toward people that build websites and associated assets. Oh yes, don’t bother getting an expert in – just use a pretty on the outside hosted service like Wix or Weebly. Or jeez, go mad and have a WordPress site. Go on – its EASY. But don’t whine if your forms don’t work, or you can’t get your images to line up pixel perfect and don’t assume I’m being difficult if I tell you it’s because that template you choose doesn’t allow it. And no I’m not going to try and tweak a template that another developer built unless you want to pay me for the associated hours of pain and suffering that it could take to unscramble their code. And if your site gets hacked because your form that you built yourself is inherently insecure? Don’t ask me to fix it because sorry, you are on your own (what, you don’t have a backup of your site?).
    And please, don’t arm people with a bit of knowledge that could lead to body blows being exchanged. People who have a little bit of technical knowledge (say, about html, CSS and Javascript) have a bad habit of telling the experts how to do their jobs.
    Developers haven’t and still don’t make it easy to work with them, so they aren’t blameless. But you are far better off resolving that by finding a friendly efficient developer that will work WITH you, not just for you than trying to code a responsive site if you are a marketer. Because bunnies WILL have to take out shares in a tissue factory in order to soak up all their tears.
    I’m going for a lay down in a darkened room now.

    1. Hi Sandra,
      Awesome comment. I love it.
      I understand what you’re saying. I’m more interested in digital marketers knowing how this stuff works. I’d prefer to never have to do any of this stuff. The problem is I’ve needed a bullshit detector so many times, and the skills I listed in this post are the ones that power the detector. Because you don’t always have the option of recruiting your own team to help out. Sometimes you’re working for a large enterprise and have to work with people who may or may not be ready or able to cooperate.
      Marketers diving into code is a little scary. But technology is intertwined into what we do now. We at least must have that detector.
      The one thing I have to insist: You should absolutely be able to write a blog post in code view. It’s not that hard, and you can create a higher quality post. Visual editors suck.
      Anyway, I’m rambling. Please reply. I’ll keep the conversation going.
      Thanks for the great comment.

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