So You Want to Do PPC When You Grow Up

Portent copywriting dinosaur:

When I was 8 years old I wanted to be a paleontologist. So…very…badly. I even had a jean jacket with dinosaurs painted on it with jewels and sequins. (Hey, it was the ’80s.) Then I discovered the amount of biology and sciences (mostly the dissecting and looking at the insides of living animals) that turned me off of it eventually. Never once did I think I was going to be a search marketer…especially since the Internet didn’t so much as exist then.

And that seems to be the case with most PPC-ers today. There was just no way we were going to be able to predict that we’d be doing what we’re doing today. But, what if you were in college or going to be now? How could you go about starting out on the path to search marketing, especially when “Internet marketing” isn’t quite a mainstream major? (Heck, it’s barely a class at most colleges yet!)

So I took to the Twitter stream and asked the #PPCchat community a few questions about what courses they took in school and what advice they’d have for anyone looking into PPC today. Check out the result—I think you’ll find that they make a lot of sense and contain some pretty solid advice. It’s a small (but powerful!) sample. When I go looking for advice, these are the folks I ask.

About you questions:

1.  If you went to college, what did you graduate with? (If not, say n/a)

Most of the respondents did attend college, only 2 did not and 2 had Masters Degrees in addition to their Bachelors. The degrees conferred upon our survey respondents ranged WILDLY from Spanish, Nutritional Science and English Literature to the more closely-related (to PPC) group of Business Admin, Communications, and Neuroscience.

Interestingly, the three respondents who had graduated from college in the last 3 years were all Business Admin majors.

Full list: Urban Studies, Business Admin, English Lit, Media Studies, Spanish, Nutritional Science, Neuroscience, Communications, Mass Media, Graphic Design, Telecommunications.

Takeaway: A degree isn’t required, but it definitely lays a lot of groundwork for well-rounded skills in writing, organization/deadlines, related coursework and possibly a football team to be ashamed/proud of on occasion. The consensus was that if you’re NOT going to get a degree, you’re going to need a PPC or marketing internship of some kind for highly relevant work experience. High school or an online certification alone (like the AdWords exam) isn’t enough to get your foot in the door.

Cap degree and a pile of books

2.  If you could go back – would you have chosen something different?

Only 3 of the respondents would have chosen the exact same major/minor that they had originally. All others would have picked either something completely different or kept their original major and added a minor.

(That whole hindsight is 20/20 thing.)

3.  If you enrolled today, what would you major in?

Of the respondents that would have changed something or picked something else in the first place, they all answered one of the below:

  • Marketing
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Statistics
  • Psychology

So, listen up kids—those are the 5 fields you want to take a good hard look at.

About the industry

1.  What classes would you recommend today?

18 specific classes were recommended as coursework that would benefit a future PPCer on the path to a Bachelors (listed in order of importance with the group):

  • Excel (Shocker! And the highest vote getter)
  • Statistics
  • Javascript/Basic Coding/HTML
  • Photoshop/Graphic Design
  • Psychology
  • Speech
  • Writing
  • Data Visualization
  • Persuasion Theory
  • Critical Thinking
  • Finance
  • Advertising/Marketing
  • Math
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Business Ethics
  • Finance

The respondents were not given any direction on this question, like examples, nor were they told what any other respondent had already given, so this is a bit more of a “free form” suggestion list. But you have to admit, looking at the current PPC landscape, this is how you would build yourself a “PPC degree” within one of the 5 majors from Question 3 in the About You section.

2.  Should PPC be a “major” or should it be “Internet marketing” or something else?

The answers given were really great, well-thought-out and varied. I think what this really brings to light is that even amongst ourselves, we’re not sure what the future of PPC in colleges is going to look like. It is, however, across the board agreed upon as something that should be added to marketing or advertising majors in general – as a class, a major, a minor – anything.

Here are some highlights of the responses I received, without identifying info:

I would say PPC would be more suited towards internships/mentorships/apprenticeships. It takes a special combination of ambition, analysis, and creativity to make it in the PPC world.

Internet marketing. While majoring in marketing, not one of my classes ever used the words SEO or PPC once… most marketing programs are outdated and focus on a more traditional approach to marketing.

Definitely should be a sub-set of a marketing/digital marketing program. There’s no need to take a class solely on paid search advertising every semester/quarter.

I think Internet marketing degrees programs will begin to pop up around the country. I took an e-marketing class in school where we focused on AdWords and blogging. To me strictly a PPC major seems too small as far as classes required to take for a major degree.

Not sure PPC should be a major. But a marketing major with an emphasis in Internet marketing would be pretty awesome.

It could easily be a major, and I think it should be.

PPC as a major might be too deep in the weeds. A major encompassing Internet marketing as a whole would be helpful. PPC, SEO, social, email, etc. They all play together – might as well be proficient in them all.

I’m not sure that PPC alone should be a major – it’s a set of skills specific to a handful of vendors. It could certainly be a class or emphasis within a digital marketing major, but any PPC major would be immediately out of date.

PPC should be its own major. The field is so expansive and has enough material and knowledge for students to learn.

Honestly, I’d be willing to hire someone who had an analytical mind, a savvy understanding of the digital world, and good communication skills and teach PPC mostly on the job.

It should definitely be part of Internet marketing, but I don’t think that Internet marketing should ever be a class. I think it should be an internship position that the school secures with specific, well-off companies that are known for doing really great things.

I think it should be a course, or series of courses. College isn’t about silo-ing yourself into one thing, but about experiencing a few things and figuring out what you want to do. PPC is a great field to get experience in as a student (see – Google Online Marketing Challenge), but if you come out of college as a one-trick pony you’re deciding your career before you start.

3.  AdWords Exam – good class material/exam or no?

The Google AdWords certification exam is a two-part online test taken by pretty much every professional PPC person. It’s the de facto way of saying you can prove you know what you’re doing – at least somewhat. (And you get a badge to prove it!) It’s actually meant to be somewhat difficult and not just any slouch can sign up, take it, and pass in the allotted hour time. You need to know the answers.

Opinions varied a lot on this one, splitting pretty evenly on whether or not the exam is classroom material. The opinions against it were pretty strong; citing issues such as timeliness, practical application and not giving Google $50 more dollars.

AdWords Exam Results

4.  AdWords Challenge – good class material or no?

This one was very straightforward—all you marketing professors out there, if you’re not already doing this, start looking into it. I can tell you as someone who hires PPC professionals and interns, when I see this on a resume (especially if they were on a team that placed or got ranked) they move to my “maybe” pile pretty immediately for consideration for the first round of interviews. (Provided they bothered to change the “to” company to the correct one and didn’t address me as “Dear Sir.”)

AdWords Challenge Results

Sage one-liners for the next generation

As if all of these questions weren’t enough, I asked one more “open” question that turned into my favorite part of this whole exercise.

Flow chart of correlations

One-liners of sage advice for the next generation:

Regardless of school, get as much on the job experience as soon as possible. – @obiwankikobi

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. Expect rough waters and tackle them as learning experiences. – @ghong_ssm

Learn an actual marketable skill while in school (javascript or something like that) – @aTimJohnson

PPC will constantly change – know the fundamentals, common strategies, and basic theories. The rest will change so often that you’ll need to be able to adapt on the fly. – @ryanmoothart

Learn how to understand data sets and create actionable items from that data. – @Kearns89

Practical application. Practice what you learn with something you like. You’ll remember it better. – @ebkendo

PPC: the perfect industry for paper clip enthusiasts – @iNeils

There is always more to learn. – @LukeAlley

Figure out how to make a living doing something you love doing. Acid test for this: when you’re engaged in that activity, you lose track of time. – @Szetela

If you think you want to do online marketing or PPC specifically, get yourself an internship or part-time gig. You have no idea what it’s like until you do it. – @RickGalan

Show that you are passionate about PPC. Always be reading the latest blogs, asking for more to do, and challenging conventional wisdom. If you have the passion for your job, the results and personal growth will follow. – @Matt_Umbro

Never stop learning – @John_A_Lee

Don’t learn in a bubble! Follow PPC pros online, read blogs, & participate in #ppcchat. – @timothyjjensen

Never turn down an opportunity offered to you because you think you aren’t qualified; someone thinks you’re qualified or else they wouldn’t be offering it to you. Take it. Never close the door. – @jazaye

If you can demonstrate an aptitude for learning, along with critical thinking and communication skills, you can learn PPC. And you’ll set yourself up for success in every field. – @Mel66

Take courses that interest you from the best professors, not the easiest graders. – @bigalittlea

That’s it! I’d like to thank the following PPC peeps for playing along and offering up their advice and experiences to share:

  • Aaron Levy – SEER Interactive
  • Chad Kearns – Portent
  • David Szetela – FMB Media
  • Jasmine Aye – Distilled
  • John Lee – Clix Marketing
  • Kiko Correa – Portent
  • Luke Alley – Avalaunch Media
  • Matt Umbro – Exclusive Concepts
  • Melissa Mackey – gyro
  • Neil Sorenson – ZAGG
  • Rick Galan – 1-800-Contacts
  • Ryan Moothart – Portent
  • SungGil Hong – Spectrum Search
  • Tim Jensen – Overit
  • Tim Johnson – Portent
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  1. You listed finance twice in the class recos!
    Other than that good read. I agree that even if you didn’t major in something relevant, just going to college/university teaches you a lot of skills you need in the real world.

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