Michael is a seasoned online marketing professional with experience in PPC, SEO, display advertising, remarketing, paid social media and affiliate marketing. He is a self-professed data nerd and Excel junkie. He enjoys traveling to new places and beating his friends and family at board games.

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Digital Marketing: The Generalist is Dead, Long Live the Specialist!

In the digital marketing industry today, there are more and more ‘specialists’ without a specific area of specialization. What do these titles really mean? Generally, it means that the individual has some ‘experience’ with either Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Display Advertising, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing (both organic and paid), Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and usually have a splash of Analytics experience (almost always Google Analytics). But is it really possible to have a strong working knowledge in all of these areas? I argue that this is not the case and that the only way to be great in terms of digital execution is to have professionals that actually specialize in each of these vast areas. Here are my main reasons why: Digital Marketing Specialist

Reason #1: The Breadth of Platforms & Skill-Sets Required

For each of the digital marketing verticals mentioned above, there are a wide variety of technology platforms that can (and should) be leveraged for optimal performance. To use SEM as an example, there is Google AdWords and Microsoft Ad Centre. Each of these platforms have a wide variety of functionality and are rigorous enough to merit certificate designations. At the next level of SEM, there are advanced bid management solutions, such as Marin Software (Vovia’s chosen SEM Platform Partner). These continuously evolving platforms offer features far beyond what is available on AdWords (and AdWords Editor) —such as bidding algorithms that use Bayesian regressive models to compute thousands of keyword bids on a daily basis. The training required to properly run these platforms is also extensive—there are multiple certifications, on-site training and more.

Again, this is just one vertical of digital marketing. Each of the other areas have a host of platforms that require similar training and expertise to be great. The Luma Partners produce fantastic visualizations of all of the technologies within specific areas of digital marketing. These images help to convey just how complex each area of digital marketing truly is and, just to offer a flavor of this, I’ll include two here (Search and Display):


Is it possible that a digital marketer who tells you they are ‘great’ in more than one of these areas is being accurate? Maybe, but most likely not.

There are also different skill-sets required for each of these areas.  To demonstrate this, here is a question: can a great accountant also be a great financial manager? Perhaps. Some of the skills are admittedly transferable; however, your best bet is still most likely to just find a great financial manager. The same is true for each of the digital marketing verticals. For SEM and SEO, there are some transferable skills (such as the ability to perform in-depth keyword research), but on the whole, these two areas require different skills. Can an SEO specialist, or a generalist digital marketer, write great SEM ad copy that resonates with the right users? Can an SEM specialist, or a generalist, properly identify the best URL structure for a 10,000 page website to promote optimal indexation from Google? Maybe, but not likely.

Reason #2: The Right People to Get the Right Results

What is the goal of your company’s digital marketing channels? If you had only one answer to this, you might want to reconsider. Of course, the goal holistically could be to maximize the number of quality leads or amount of e-commerce revenue from your digital marketing expenditure. However, how each digital marketing channel contributes to this overarching goal requires a different answer for each channel. The reason for this is that each vertical contributes to a different part of the customer journey, from awareness (Display), to engagement (SEM, Demand-Side Platforms), to conversion (CRO, Retargeting) and finally to advocacy/reactivation (Social, Email). There are also channels that span across multiple areas of the customer journey, such as SEO and Retargeting. At each phase of this journey, the goals are different—from targeted CPM, to cost-per-conversion or ROI, to micro-conversion rate, to more advanced CRM metrics, such as Lifetime Value of the Customer (LVT). Is it realistic to expect for a single person to expertly understand every one of these critical steps? Maybe, but most likely not.

Leveraging the Specialist

How can your company use specialist digital marketers to bolster your online marketing program success? The strategy is the same whether you have an agency, in-house, or hybrid approach to your marketing—demand specialization! Best-of-breed agencies (including Vovia) have a specialist-only models, meaning that the individuals working on each aspect of your digital marketing program are experts in that area. If you are an in-house only company and you have the resources, try to steer people that are in general roles to more specialized ones. The best way to do this is to find out what areas those individuals are passionate about, give them a mandate, and get out of the way.

Want to see what a specialist-only approach can do for you company’s digital marketing? Vovia (and our crack-team of specialized experts) is always here to help. Shoot us an email and we’ll follow up.