Review of leading (mostly) free Web Marketing Certifications.
I spent the last few areas of my working life practicing the fine art of Web Analytics while supporting Digital Marketing efforts of my employers. As a typical analyst I try to think critically, and the most common feedback I get is that I need to think like a marketer , not an analyst (e.g. impressions are great for building a brand, even though they don’t directly result in any meaningful eCommerce activity). Sure, I’ve taken my share of Marketing courses in school and am familiar with all 4 P’s of Marketing , yet I felt that I still needed some concrete proof of my digital marketing acumen to establish a level of trust needed to implement my ideas. Hence I found myself researching top Digital Marketing certifications that hopefully wouldn’t break the bank. After careful consideration I set my eye on the following: Google Analytics (I suspect there is no need to introduce GAIQ ), Google AdWords (Between Paid Search, Display, Video, and Mobile, Google has the bases of most paid channels covered, while also introducing some SEO concepts in the process), HubSpot (HubSpot should be familiar to any Marketing professional, since they pioneered the idea of Inbound Marketing; among other certifications they offer Inbound, and Email Marketing certifications). Finally, the most crowded digital marketing channel is arguably Social Media; as a top player in the Social field, I was hoping that HootSuite certification is one of the most reputable of the bunch. With the only channel missing from this mix being Affiliates Marketing, I embarked on the journey of earning these certifications earlier this month. Okay, I must admit I should have probably sat for these certifications sooner, but better late than never, right?!
First things first, the great news is that each one of these certification authorities offers completely free training. The only one that charges for the privilege of taking the certification exam is HootSuite. Considering the fact that Google used to charge $ 50 for its exams (there is one exam for Google Analytics and two exams for the Google AdWords track), the $ 199 HootSuite charge seems doable. If you’re on a tight budget, you can skip HootSuite certification, but still go through their training videos for free.
All three companies provide self-paced online training. Depending on your familiarity with the topics tested, it’s rather realistic to spend less than 6 hours preparing for each test, with Google exams requiring larger effort on your end. Each of these certs could make for an excellent weekend project. I personally found HubSpot Academy producing the most quality content of the bunch. One can supplement highly organized instruction videos with downloadable presentation slides as well as full transcripts of the videos if you need them. Additionally, all of the relevant external resources (additional blog posts, videos, and files) can be easily located under the “Additional Resources” section. If all of this was not enough, I have never seen any other training providers presenting a lecture first, followed by a real-world example demonstrating practical applications of the theoretical concepts taught. In terms of the videos themselves, all of the content is presented by instructors speaking clearly and to the point. Finally, ability to play the content at a faster pace (in 5% increments) is the definition of time-saving.
HootSuite came in a close second in my somewhat subjective ranking. In addition to them offering highly-organized content and downloadable materials, they also offer quizzes to test your understanding of the concepts taught. Surprisingly, Google seemed to be the least impressive educational provider. Their video lessons didn’t seem to follow a logical structure and often called for using additional KnowledgeBase materials. Individual classes are not available for download, but one can download a Study Guide for the entire course. They did put interactive quizzes to a good use throughout the course. An option to change the pace of the presentation did not seem to be available either.
All of the reviewed certifications are taken online from the convenience of your own computer at any time that works best for you. You need to pass only one exam to earn your certification with the exception of Google AdWords, which requires two exams (one required plus one elective). You can learn your results as soon as you hit the “Submit” button. Who needs better proof that the Digital Age can in fact provide instant gratification?
Many of the Google exam questions asked me to choose the best answer. Since it is possible that ALL answers were correct, picking the best one is a challenge requiring a better understanding of the material tested. Some of the HubSpot questions followed this suite, but HubSpot does require 75% accuracy to pass their exams, compared with Google’s 80%. While HootSuite requires an 80% passing score as well, the exam felt like the easiest of the three providers with most questions listing clearly incorrect answers, making the task of choosing correct answer rather simple.
In addition, passing Google exams requires actual experience in Digital Marketing in general and in Google Analytics/AdWords specifically. All of the HubSpot and HootSuite exams can be passed strictly by taking their preparation courses, no previous experience in the field is needed.
You will have 75 minutes to answer 60 questions for HubSpot certifications (both Inbound and Email Marketing) and 60 minutes to answer 60 questions for the HootSuite Social Media Marketing exam. Required AdWords Fundamentals exam of the Google AdWords certification track allows 120 minutes to answer 100 questions. Depending on the elective that you choose for the second exam (Search Advertising, Display Advertising, Mobile Advertising, Video Advertising, or Shopping Advertising) you will have either 120 minutes to answer 100 questions or 90 minutes to answer 70 questions.
Should you be unfortunate enough to not pass your exam from the first attempt, each certification authority offers rather lenient exam retake policies. In case of Google, you will need to wait 7 days to test your skills again. HubSpot makes you wait only 48 hours with a maximum of three attempts every 30 days. HootSuite did not publish the specifics of its retake policy, it appears that there are no restrictions on when you can sit for the exam again. One thing we know for sure is that HootSuite will not charge you for any consecutive examination attempts.
As mentioned previously, Google does have a substantial brand name recognition to create a clout of reputability for its certification exams. Both, HubSpot and HootSuite offer a certain level of niche recognition as well. My take on the study materials is that all three providers offer great content that can be used by both beginners as well as seasoned professionals in the field. While Google does get into some details of running and executing specific campaigns, HubSpot’s ability to utilize real-world scenarios and examples is simply unprecedented. There is no better way to learn a new concept than to practice it through a real world exercise.
Ways to brag
Once you clear your certifications you can add them to your LinkedIn profile as well as your resume. All three companies provide an easy way to verify your certification status. Google is really serious about its policy on communicating your certification attainment. You can make it available on your Google Partner’s page, or you can print your certificate of accomplishment for further dissemination.
HubSpot offers different ways to show off your certification from the customizable badges similar to the ones below to a listing on their partner directory. HootSuite allows you to create your own profile and an easy way to share your exam certificate .
If you are after more formal and comprehensive training in Digital Marketing, two other places (albeit not necessarily free) to try would be: Market Motive and Coursera’s Digital Marketing specialization.
What is your certification story? Do you find certifications relevant or not worthy of your time and effort?