When I’m asked about the skills a digital director needs, the question of “code” frequently comes up and is followed by an alphabet soup of acronyms like HMTL, CSS, and SQL. The truth is, you don’t need to know any programming languages to be an effective digital marketer, but you do need a willingness to look under the hood and not be fearful about seeing some nuts and bolts.
In this post we’ll highlight all the “code” you need to know in order to run an effective online campaign.*
How to Google
Every line of HTML, CSS, SQL or any technical knowledge I’ve learned was from Googling until I found the right snippet to do what I wanted to do. Stack Overflow is your friend in this regard. If you’ve got an idea of what you want to do, start by searching to see how other people are addressing the issue. You’ll learn a lot along the way.
Most HTML you encounter will be via the “code” or “source” view on your email or website editor. You need to know that tags work by nesting so any text you see within a tag will have some sort of operation performed to them. Some common tags include <a> for links, <p> for paragraphs, <strong> for bold, and many more (click here for an exhaustive resource).
Most often, you’ll need to move text into or out of a group of tags. You may also see some strange formatting caused by extra tags that you can delete. Any time you’re editing HTML, I recommend backing up your work by copying and pasting the original to a text editor so you can quickly undo any mistakes you make.
CSS is the code that changes how HTML elements are displayed. You’ll most frequently encounter it in <div> tags or “class” attributes inside of other tags. Only advanced users should alter the CSS for your website, but you may need to remove a <div> or “class” element from your HTML to override styling.
A lot of the data work we do as marketers can be accomplished with some intermediate Excel formulas. Familiarize yourself with pivot tables, the concatenate function, and how to use text to columns. Pivot tables, for example, are especially helpful when building email segments based on donor history.
From Google Analytics to Facebook retargeting, you’ll need to be able to install these tracking scripts onto pages of your website. I recommend asking your website vendor to setup Google Tag Manager so you can update and edit these for yourself.
I’m probably stretching the definition of “code” past its breaking point here, but for most campaign professionals this enters the realm of technical knowledge that becomes intimidating. Updating DNS settings is a crucial part of improving your campaign’s email deliverability so you should familiarize yourself with how to manage these settings (GoDaddy).
Don’t be afraid of trying things out because everything is easily reversible, but don’t test out on something important. That’s why having a side project is a great sandbox. If you’re working with a vendor, let them know you’re eager to learn, but don’t create more headaches for them by overestimating your own abilities.
* I’m being very broad in my definition of “code” in this post because I’m writing for an audience without any presumed programming skillset or technical knowledge.