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It's no use letting your ignorance, laziness, or even shame, stand in the way of learning to code. I possessed all three in abundance, until this week I took myself along to a Coding for Digital Professionals course (shock horror, it's run by Econsultancy in London).

The stuff I learned, and the geocities-eat-your-heart-out website I created, got me thinking about all the points in a marketer's life where coding knowledge comes in handy.

In this post I'll reveal more about what I got up to during my first foray into 'the matrix', and I'll list five reasons marketers must have some rudimentary knowledge off HTML, CSS and Javascript.

I'll start with some simple tech info, but read on if you want to see the website I built.

So, I indeed learnt about HTML, CSS and Javascript as the languages responsible, respectively, for the structure or meaning of the content, as well as its style and behaviour in a web page.

If you know about these already, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs and take a look further down the post at the reasons I believe marketers should know how to code.

Learning to code

The learning method we used was to take some code already written by our capable teacher, Mike Baxter, look at how it works, then edit it for our own purposes. This trial format, with a lot of the necessary tags already presented to us, gave us the requisite confidence to throw ourselves into the task at hand.

We did our hands-on coding in Codio, a free web IDE (internet development environment), currently in beta, where one can write code, preview it, host files, folders and eventually your own website.

We also did a lot of snooping around in Google Chrome. Try 'right clicking' and selecting 'inspect element' to see what DevTools Chrome has to offer - you can learn more about these DevTools at Code School.

So, we learned slowly about how to develop web pages and web sites.

Beginning with HTML markup with attributes, see some example markup here (right clicking and selecting 'view page source' in Google Chrome will show you source code of a web page), we worked through different kinds of styling and behaviour:

  • Inline style is adding style to a particular element of HTML, so perhaps adding a colour to one particular instance of a word.
  • Embedded style is adding instruction in the 'head' tag of the web page, where one can specify wider styling, for example, one could make all listed text a certain colour.

One step higher up, CSS (cascading style sheets) can be used across more than one webpage. The style sheet is linked to from the HTML 'head' tag, and this CSS then specifies which content should be styled and how.

We then looked at some structural elements like boxes and menus, before moving on to Javascript. We studied some simple functions such as a button that can be clicked and replaces a portion of text, or a field for email address validation.

Finally we spread our wings slightly and discussed client-server architecture, http headers, APIs, and then some libraries such as jQuery (a Javascript library) and Bootstrap.

Bootstrap alongside HTML5 is exciting in that it is standardising the web in a way that makes it easier to code, or to adapt open-source code. Bootstrap is a front-end framework combining HTML, CSS and Javascript.

The latest incarnation of Bootstrap (3) is responsive by default and mobile-first. It serves as the style guide for Twitter development, where it was created. Check out the site for more information.

The results?

Well, with Mike's help, taking a site he had built using the principles described above, I felt confident to go away and continue on my journey to becoming a programmer.

I'm still a long way off, you can click to see my minor amends to Mike's efforts through the pic below. The header bar doesn't have any real functionality at the moment, apart from some swanky stuff in the 'gettin' fancy' page, but I have added imagery, text and some boxes with links to external sites.

This was achieved with only a few hours tuition and background, and then a final thirty minutes or so tinkering.

 

Why all marketers should learn to code

Analytics

If you're going to get to grips with tracking code, you'll need knowledge of HTML and Javascript. Check out the detail here.

This is useful at a basic level simply to analyse web pages and try to figure out what is tracked, and then at the next level up, if you're going to implement this yourself.

Style library

As you and your brand build templates, it makes sense for these to sit in the same place as other brand guidelines. Are you making sure there's enough knowledge across the non-tech teams of what assets will ensure consistency across sites, brands etc?

Having a library of style sheets which will allow you to switch between, for example, seasonal versions of your product pages, could be very important for conversion, and something you'll need to bone up on if you want to command this kind of change.

Working with an agency

Do you really know what work has been done by an agency, and how long that work should have taken, and whether they did it quickly or took the long route so they could charge more?

Having a few simple questions in your arsenal is handy when you're sitting down with a web agency who you've never felt sure about.

Working with your tech team

A similar story, but with a nicer twist. When you're working with your tech team, you want to know when your requests are a headache and when they are simple requests.

This is just so you know when you can lean gently on people and when it's best not to. Knowledge of styling, for example, will allow you to understand better how quickly changes can be made.

Competitor analysis

If you can look at that snazzy website of your competitors, and see some elements of its build, why shouldn't you? Being able to know if a competitor has a responsive website, built mobile-first, or simply a CSS 'snap' between two screen sizes - this is valuable stuff. 

So, marketers, if I've convinced you of your need to code, get on an Econsultancy course, or straight on Codio, and get cracking.

Ben Davis

Published 6 November, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (14)

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Ian

Good post Ben. This is what makes the top digital marketers stand out above the rest.

I have no idea how you can work in digital marketing if you do not have a solid understanding of the technical, design, usability aspects. How can you write a brief to an agency if you do not fully understand the best way to deliver the objective.

over 2 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

Hi Ben,

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I have always had a decent enough grasp of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to get by in SEO and digital marketing, but I've long wanted to take it to the next level.

My favourite resource at the moment is teamtreehouse.com, which for a reasonable monthly fee, gives you access to a whole load of lessons and tutorials. Throughly recommend it.

I have been writing a post on and off about why marketers should learn to code, and your post has reminded me to get on with it!

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Peter

Thanks. I look forward to the post. I think the standardisation of technology will provide the opportunity for many more to educate themselves, using free resources or otherwise.

over 2 years ago

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Gail Walker

Really good article Ben. Having attended Decoded last year I would fully support the benefits of going on such an introductory course. I am certainly no expert but it has given me a lot more confidence when engaging with tech teams and suppliers.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

cheers, Gail

over 2 years ago

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Adam Walmsley

Great post, i am a marketer who learnt HTML/CSS and JavaScript, and now i have a maketing role in a tech company. I helped that i understood in at least a small why what the developers where up to and a bit more about who our customers are. Highly recommend learning at least the basics via codeavengers.com

over 2 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

As an ex-senior developer, there is one motto I would encourage you to adopt:

"HTML is NOT about presentation, it's about providing semantic meaning to a document"

Forget the pretty pictures, that should all be CSS.

This is the thing most people struggle to get their head around, but is one of the main things which will help with SEO.

over 2 years ago

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webmoghuls

Great article Ben.. really enjoyed reading it.

over 2 years ago

George Cole

George Cole, Digital Marketing Manager at TN

Great to hear this articulated. I also can't understand how you can brief a website as a digital marketer without a sound knowledge of HTML, CSS, APIs etc - the scope for misunderstandings and failure in briefing or project management if you don't have these skills, is vast!

I consider myself an honorary geek and best friends with my devs!

over 2 years ago

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Sandra

I don't agree - at least, not if you take it past the point that a bit of knowledge is useful when talking to people in other disciplines, as it helps with communicating requirements.

I have never yet met anyone who can do both marketing and code to a professional standard. I've met people who can do both, but not to a high level. I've met people who can do one well and the other Ok-ish. Yes, there may well be the rare person who is freakishly talented who can do both, but I think they are the exception.

The two abilities are on opposite sides of the scale in terms of approach, methods and way of thinking. What you have described only scratches the surface. Not only that, but technology changes all the time so it's not just about learning how to sling together a website, but keeping up with changes.

So as far as your article premise goes - people should stick to what they are good at, and focus on getting better. And there is nothing wrong with that.

By all means play around, build your own website but the argument that marketers should learn to code is a risky one. The ability to code 'a little' (an think that is all there is to it) is one reason for a lot of the clunky, thin and downright unusable not to mention insecure websites out there.

And while it makes life easier to be able to talk someone's language - if a developer says something is hard - if you don't trust them to be telling the truth you might want to find another developer.

I'm not being defensive - I'm neither a marketer or a coder - I know a bit about both but would not say I'm an expert in either.

over 2 years ago

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Kathleen Wiley

Completely agree with the topic.

When I was first introduced to SEO I found a great lack of coding knowledge as well as during my tries to set a site for my company. Now I know a bit of HTML, CSS, JS and even PHP just because you need to say your developers what do you want in there language.

Right now decided to gather my skills into something more systematic and registered for http://courses.digitalacademy.biz/ - they seem to combine all I need as well as more profound HTML. Can you suggest if it's better to take the distant coding course and learn it gradually or hand's on at http://econsultancy.com/us/training/courses/coding-for-professionals ? Is one day really enough?

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Kathleen

I think there's lots and lots you can learn straight from the web, but if you don't know where to start and your company is keen to increase your knowledge, a course allowing you to ask questions of an expert and begin in a comfortable environment can be a great springboard.

But there are lots of resources out there.

over 2 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Stats would be another technical area that would be good for marketers to have exposure of. Things like statistical significance, probability, as well as how to present data without bias.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Stuart

Couldn't agree more. And the difference between a correlation and a regression :-)

over 2 years ago

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