Coding. An intimidating word, I’ll give you that. But no matter how intimidating marketers find coding to be, it is an essential skill that all of us must have knowledge on. I want to make an important distinction here; having knowledge on coding is not to say that digital marketers, or marketers in general, need to have the extreme expertise that web developers possess. However, it is important to understand the basics behind coding. Why you might ask, is it a good idea for a beginning digital marketer to be knowledgeable in coding? Let’s take a closer look.
Language of our Digital World
One of the first and most prominent reasons that it is important for a beginning digital marketer to understand coding and be familiar with the HTML language is because “every webpage you look at is written in a language called HTML” and “you can think of HTML as the skeleton that gives every webpage structure,” Codecademy states. Your next thought might be, well marketing is about more than websites and webpages, so if I am not involved in that why do I need to understand coding? The fact of the matter is that almost all marketing campaigns have some form of digital component that are going to require coding whether that be a website, app, email etc. HubSpot joins in on the conversation when they say, “Code is what lies behind so many of our great marketing campaigns. Our websites, our emails, our apps and tools that are made to give your customers a better experience—these all run because there are smart coders making them work.” From that quote by HubSpot, it is clear that coding is involved in many aspects of the digital marketing world and makes much of what we do digitally, possible. Because coding and the HTML language provides the “backbone” of sorts for so many of the digital marketing mediums, it is important that as an entry level digital marketer you are able to speak that language and be grounded in the basis of those concepts; if not there will be a very large disconnect between you and the developers who create your marketing campaigns.
Helps you Develop a Deeper Understanding
The next reason to understand coding and the HTML language is because it will help you, as a marketer, develop a deeper understanding of digital marketing concepts. Just as with math or any other topic, if you can understand the root/backbone of how and why something works, your overall knowledge of the concept increases and allows understanding to come more naturally. A/B testing is a great example of this in digital marketing. By understanding technically how two pages are different, it will allow marketers to understand why one landing page, for example, flows better then another. Seeing the back end will help marketers to better understand the surface. In addition, having a deeper understanding of what is going on in the back end of things, will also help marketers develop a better understanding of what is and isn’t possible on various webpages or marketing campaigns. HubSpot says, “Getting to grips with code and understanding the structures that bring your sites, apps, and tools to life will give you a better understanding of what is possible in the first place…It is key here not just to understand code, but to get a grip on what tools your designer is using.” Like stated previously, it is not expected that as a marketer you will be as well versed in coding as the developer, but it will prove helpful in narrowing that disconnect.
You Won’t be Just the “Idea Guy”
Having some knowledge on coding and being able to speak the HTML language will allow an entry level digital marketer to actually be able to execute some of their ideas, rather than just come up with then. For example, if there are some minor changes that you feel would enhance a landing page, such as the call to action needs to be put in a larger font, the marketer will be able to do this without the help of the developer. Being independent and able to execute tasks such as coding, in my opinion, would make a beginning digital marketer stand out in a crowd because it takes some of the weight off the developers and makes the overall marketing department more efficient. In addition to being able to execute ideas, having knowledge of code will also help with troubleshooting issues. If a webpage is not loading properly, a digital marketer with code experience could go in and attempt to fix the problem, instead of relying so heavily on the developers. Checkout the HubSpot blog for more reasons on why, as a marketer, you should learn coding.
So How might I Learn About Coding?
For those of you out there who have not yet had any experience with coding, myself included, I would recommend beginning with Codecademy; specifically the HTML & CSS section of their language skills. Codecademy is a website that takes you through step by step instruction on how to code, the HTML language, and the styling of pages.
Overall I had a very positive experience with Codecademy, which I was not expecting because I am such a novice when it comes to backend technology and computers. If you are apprehensive about learning code, fear not. Codecademy does an excellent job of breaking down the basics and teaching one skill at a time. That being said, the reason my experience was so good was because Codecademy provides instructional and visual directions. In essence, they explain a skill with words and why it is important in the HTML language, and then they show a visual as to what the coding looks like for that particular skill. As with any program there were positives and negatives to Codeacademy, so let’s dive into some of those:
- Visual and written instruction: As I said in my brief excerpt above about my experience, Codecademy offers both guided written instruction and then a visual of what the coding looks like. For example in the picture below, code academy is offering an explanation of what “Font Families” are and then shows a snippet of the code that one would type to utilize a certain font family. The written and visual instructions were a plus for me because they helped to understand why I would use a certain code, such as the font family code, and then then the visual showed me how to actually type out the code (which proved to be the most confusing part).
- Practice Problems: The second positive about Codecademy was the practice code sheet that they provided after the instruction. At the bottom of each lesson there are 2-3 instructions that ask the user to practice what the lesson just taught. These practice problems were great hands on experience for myself, and definitely are what contributed to most of my learning. While the instruction of each code/HTML language was very helpful, the practice was what really engrained the basics in my mind. Another thing I enjoyed about the practice problems is they built off of each other and reinforced previous lessons with the new material. For example, we learned about paragraph tags <p>,</p>, in one of the first lessons and throughout other lessons we would practice the new material in paragraphs. That being said, this could sometimes prove to be a negative when the material went back to far without reminders.
- Error Messages: When doing the practice problems, after you click “save and submit code” Codecademy will tell you if anything in the code is wrong, and specifically which parts of the code are wrong. This proved to be very helpful, especially on the longer codes, because it allows the user to pinpoint the error exactly and draws your attention to the problem; as opposed to spending a fair amount of time reviewing the code for the mistake. The error messages helped with troubleshooting and helped bring my attention to small mistakes that I was making, such as forgetting to close a tag. While these error messages could be frustrating, overall they greatly aided in my learning of basic code
- My one frustration with Codecademy, from what I have experienced thus far, was that occasionally the practice problems would have material in it from the very beginning lessons and no reminder of how to do the skill. In the practice problems, the instructions would assume that you remembered some previous knowledge (which I probably should have, oops!) and this could prove very difficult if I couldn’t remember the exact format for that coding. For example, I got very confused on links/images and had a hard time remembering the HTML format to link an image without the instructions on how to do so. Whenever this skill would get brought up in a practice problem in a later lesson, I would have to refer to the image/linking lesson and refresh my memory on the proper format for the code. It would be helpful if they had snippets of these previous skills, granted sometimes they did in the hints section.
Speaking honestly, I am a newbie to Squarespace and did struggle in learning how to navigate the site. Squarespace is a website that, essentially, helps you as a business owner or individual, create a website. Squarespace allows you to make an ecommerce page, personal website, etc. Though Squarespace is a cool site for creating a website, as I said above I had some difficulty figuring everything out and there are some positives and negatives about the site.
- Squarespace offers several templates, for ecommerce specifically, that give you a solid jumping off point for your site. It can be very difficult, for our developers especially, to build a website from complete scratch with no basis. Squarespace allows users to pick a template and edit the information in a way that is tailored to yourself or your organization. Having templates is also a positive because it allows someone who is not an expert on coding/HTML to build a webpage; this is a great resource for organizations that have an IT/web developing department that is spread very thin.
- On the opposite side of what was just said, another positive of squarespace is that you can edit the HTML coding if you wish to do so. In my mind, this was a positive because it allows the webpages to be more customized if you desire to do so and have the coding skill to do so. Offering templates that allow the code to be altered makes squarespace a great resource for organizations because it allows for all types of employees to work on the webpages, whether it be a developer who can enhance the code or another employee who can just fill in the template.
- A big negative of the squarespace sight for myself, was that it proved very hard to navigate in terms of editing. It took me a long time to figure out how to edit templates and remove their information to replace it with my own. I still have been unable to replace the images that they provided, granted this could be user error, and delete some of the sections on the template that are not relevant to myself. It should be noted that I am a beginner to Squarespace and am still in the process of familiarizing myself with the site, however these are the difficulties I have encountered thus far. Checkout my Squarespace website
Check out my progress on Codecademy: