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Programming Languages for Digital Marketing Teams

Taylor Caldron | February 26, 2021 | Digital Marketing

Coding skills are no longer the domain of just developers. They bestow a huge advantage on almost anyone, regardless of job title. If you’re in charge of either hiring or professional development for a digital marketing team, it’s essential to have some basic understanding of what coding skills will make an impact on your team, and who needs them most.

The above graphic maps out what I think are the necessary coding skills (big check mark) and nice-to-have skills (small check mark) for five of the most common roles on a digital marketing team. I’ll admit to being a bit biased in this as a coding enthusiast myself, but hopefully by walking through some of these I can convince you that I’m not totally off the mark here.

Programming Languages for Digital Marketing

For those that are unfamiliar, I’ll start by briefly defining and describing these coding languages as simply as possible:

  • HTML (“Hypertext Markup Language”): The basic building blocks of a webpage. Essentially, it tells a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc) how the content on a page should be formatted.
  • CSS (“Cascading Style Sheets”): Used alongside HTML to provide additional styling or formatting information for a webpage. Allows multiple HTML pages to share the same visual style by using the same CSS file.
  • JavaScript: The most common programming language used on the internet as a result of its versatility. It makes things like Google Analytics tracking possible, it’s used to build simple web apps, and more. Advanced Javascript users can also build applications to run locally on their computer or on servers using something called “Node.js.” TypeScript is an extended version of JavaScript that has some advantages, and might become a new norm for the language.
  • Python / Julia / R: These are three highly versatile programming languages that are frequently used for data analysis and statistics, as well as for automating tasks.
  • RegEx (“Regular Expressions”): RegEx is used to make “search patterns,” or what’s colloquially called filters. It’s very useful for parsing through large data sets.
  • Bash/Shell: These are used for interacting with computers/servers via the command line. In the context of digital marketing, they’re a useful tool for accessing web servers and executing programs written in a variety of programming languages.

Digital Marketing Coding Skills by Team Role

Analytics

Why does your analytics person need to know anything other than Google Analytics and Excel? The simplest answer is: for when things don’t go as planned. Without Javascript and HTML knowledge, they might not be able to diagnose a tracking issue (or set up certain kinds of tracking at all). Without RegEx (regular expressions), they might not be able to construct the filter they need to pull a meaningful insight out of a convoluted data set. And finally, I believe a language that’s apt for statistical analysis (like Python, Julia, or R) is an excellent way for an Analytics lead to transcend the limits of pre-built analytics software and conduct specialized analyses on potentially huge datasets – or even start to utilize machine learning to make sense of things. Combine this with basic knowledge of Bash in order to access servers and retrieve log files, and you’ve moved beyond run-of-the-mill reporting into something truly powerful.

Advertising

Assuming that other functionality (i.e. analytics) is handled by other team members, advertising isn’t generally a very code-intensive practice. Knowing regular expressions will certainly come in handy for building sophisticated filters on the fly, but that’s likely all they’ll need. If your advertising team builds their own landing pages, some understanding of HTML and CSS could also come in handy for when page building tools either break down or have unfortunate limitations.

In “real life,” our advertising team has taken advantage of the coding skills of other team members to do things like combine large sets of spreadsheets and other repetitive tasks, but these situations don’t come up often enough to merit learning a language like Python or Javascript.

SEO

SEO is a tricky one because it’s such a broad field from a technical perspective. HTML plays a crucial role in basic on-page optimization, and CSS now has major implications for Core Web Vitals. Having at least one programming language – JavaScript, Python, etc – will supercharge your SEO practice by allowing you to create custom tools on the fly. Python specifically is well known for its web scraping abilities, which can be incredibly valuable to any SEO. Want to be able to access server logs to check how deeply into a website Google has crawled? Or schedule recurring custom website scans you’ve created? That’s where Bash/Shell skills come in.

Of course, the very basics of SEO can probably be done with just HTML knowledge – but if you have a person on your digital marketing team that is solely responsible for SEO, they should likely be going beyond that.

Email Marketing

For email marketing, aesthetics matter a lot. A visually appealing, clear, and concise email template can make a world of difference for your click-through rate, especially in a mobile-first paradigm. And while your team might use a platform that helps to build email templates without any code, eventually you’re going to run into limitations that just can’t be solved without “getting your hands dirty” modifying the HTML and CSS that marketing emails are built out of.

Content Writer

Last but not least, I think it’s useful for a content writer to have a basic understanding of HTML, especially if they enter content into your content management system (i.e. WordPress) themselves. We’ve all seen a rich text editor have weird glitches that make your formatting look chaotic, whether it’s a bullet-point list not working as expected or text sizes all out of whack. Knowing basic HTML means your writer can solve these issues themselves and publish on time.

So that’s my basic summary of which coding skills are useful for which team members. Of course, every organization is different. On a small team, the analytics specialist and the advertising strategist might be the same person. On a large team, you might only need one code-savvy SEO leading a team of more entry-level SEO specialists.

Our favorite resource for learning coding skills is currently Code Academy, but there are dozens of excellent training platforms out there. In any case, we’d encourage every manager to take a moment to consider digital marketing coding skills as a core part of their teams professional development in the future.

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