We’ve all heard success stories about how digital marketing has made people and companies rich.

Just the other week, we sat down with entrepreneur Trent Dyrsmid, who told us about how he turned his podcast about marketing automation into a profit center.

It’s also common knowledge that digital marketing consulting is a multi-billion-dollar industry and a solid career path for marketers and content creators.

But whether you’re attempting to be the next Trent Dyrsmid, you just want to make yourself a more marketable candidate for a digital marketing consultancy or you’re trying to yield better outcomes at your current company, becoming a highly effective digital marketing consultant doesn’t happen overnight.

It demands that you be inquisitive and that you put long-held theories to the test. As a trade that’s always changing, it also requires a sizeable amount of patience, a healthy dose of skepticism and a reservoir of tenacity.

Let’s look at a few tips for how you can become a more effective digital marketing consultant:

  1. Get to know some marketing tools and their capabilities.
  2. Use data.
  3. Test things.
  4. Stay up-to-date on current industry trends and news.
  5. Create and practice.

First, what is a digital marketing consultant?

Digital marketing is often used as a catchall for many practices: online advertising, content marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization, inbound marketing, lead generation, brand awareness, social media marketing and more.

This means the phrase “digital marketing consultant” gets thrown around a lot, and is often conflated with “marketing strategist.” There’s overlap, but they’re not the same thing. The latter is someone who helps develop a marketing strategy based on bigger marketing goals.

A digital marketing consultant, meanwhile, is a marketing expert who helps guide the execution of a digital marketing strategy. That typically includes services such as technical SEO audits, website UX and design audits, guidance on how to rank for specific keywords, competitor analysis, marketing automation assistance and persona development. A digital marketing consultant is, in every sense of the phrase, a Jack of all trades.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter at hand: What can you do to become a more effective digital marketing consultant?

1. Get a feel for marketing tools and their capabilities

Technically, the real step one is reading up on all things digital marketing. Moz Blog, Content Marketing Institute and the blog you’re reading now are all solid places to start.

But presuming you’ve already done that or are in the process of doing that, you need to understand what you, as a consultant, can feasibly achieve in your role. And for that, you have to know what tools are out there for data collection, and what type of insights they provide. For starters:

  • Are you Google Analytics certified?
  • Do you know your way around the Search Console dashboard?
  • Are you intimately familiar with the benchmarking metrics used on various digital channels?
  • Are you knowledgeable in XML schema?
  • Do you know what tools you need to perform a website audit?
  • Do you know how to create a search performance brief that will help you rank on Page 1 for specific keywords?
  • Do you have a passing familiarity with HTTP?

You should be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions. If you can’t, getting to a point where you can is priority No. 1. Think of it as phase one of your curriculum.

We’ll give you a headstart with a few pointers:

  1. You can glean an extraordinary amount of insight from Google Analytics and Search Console. These tools let you do everything from index your webpages to check page speed, see your monthly traffic and much more; master them.
  2. Keyword research tools like Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMrush, Ahrefs and KWFinder help you identify keywords and assess their potential value to your digital marketing strategy (organic and paid). They also help you perform SEO audits.
  3. Screaming Frog is a great (free) resource for performing technical SEO audits and flagging site errors.
  4. If you’re trying to do a better job of ranking for specific keywords, we highly recommend MarketMuse. It provides detailed insights into the structure, verbiage and topics of the top-performing articles for certain keywords.
  5. We put together a comprehensive list of some super useful website analysis tools.

“There are so many free SEO tools – including Google SERPs themselves,” Brafton’s Managing Editor, Michael O’Neill, once said. “Being data-driven is quite easy if you can put in the time upfront.”

Which brings us to our second tip:

2. Use data for everything you do

“Everything you create needs to be justified with hard numbers, and measured,” Jeff Baker – Brafton CMO and seasoned marketer, said. “Most digital marketers fail because they act on hunches and subjective review.”

As a digital marketing consultant, you will be asked to deliver those hard numbers and, often, to interpret them.

Your recommendations will help guide the execution of a strategy, meaning you’re partly responsible for deciding how time, money and effort will be used in digital marketing campaigns.

For the sake of your campaigns – and your ongoing employment at a digital marketing agency or business – you better hope you’re onto something.

This doesn’t mean you have to hit every ball out of the park every time. That’s an impossible ask, even for the Mike Trout of marketing.

What it does mean is that you should learn something from every mistake you make. You can only do that if you’re diligently tracking important metrics – seeing how a change in one aspect of, say, your SEO strategy, affects your site’s performance.

Over time, you can start making clearer connections between certain metrics and revenue. And that, according to Baker, is the ongoing mission of all digital marketing:

“Digital marketers need to look at their jobs the same way sales people look at theirs; with a direct tie to revenue,” he said. “If your actions haven’t led to revenue, you need to change your actions. If you can’t project that your next project will lead to revenue, you need to go back to the drawing board.”

And by the way, the data shows that data works: According to the Content Marketing Institute, 72% of the most successful B2B content marketers have a way to measure the ROI of their content marketing efforts.

Perhaps that’s just a correlation, but it’s a pretty compelling one.

3. Test things

SEMrush traffic trend for Brafton.com all time.

As you can see from this graph of Brafton.com’s traffic over time, it took nearly a decade of trial and error to find an optimal formula for our site’s performance, but once we did, things really took off.

Much like the scientific method, digital marketers observe, hypothesize, experiment, draw conclusions and then repeat the process.

They do it as many times as they need to in order to get the answers they need. And they use those answers to get the results they want.

As Marketing Specialist Molly Ploe put it, “Test things: You don’t know what works until you try. And everyone’s audience will be different, so what works for one organization might not work for another.”

That second piece of advice is especially important for consultants who currently work – or strive to work – at a marketing agency that serves multiple clients. Experience is important because it can help you understand the relationship between certain metrics.

But be careful about carrying an assumption from one account over into another. This is true for all marketers, whether you’re a digital marketing strategist, a consultant or a content writer.

To sum up sort of where we are, use data as a guide, look at each campaign as a highly educated guess (because let’s face it, that’s the closest you get to a sure thing in digital marketing), track metrics throughout your “experiment” and then build on it or abandon it depending on your new findings.

Also, it’s OK to learn that you’ve done the wrong thing.

“If you’re not seeing results – the worst thing you can do is continue doing the thing just because,” Lauren Fox, Director of Marketing at Brafton, said. “Instead, move the resources you’re using for the thing that isn’t performing to something that is, and double down there.”

4. Never stop learning

Some of the duties digital marketing consultants encounter are fairly straightforward. Take the example of a website audit: A slow, non-HTTPS site full of 404 errors and toxic links is bad news now, it was bad news yesterday and it will be bad news tomorrow.

But change is constant in digital marketing.

Every year, Google updates its algorithms several thousands of times. Consumers are always changing their browsing habits – for instance, voice search is becoming more popular, and that plays, to some extent, by a different set of rules than desktop or mobile search.

There are two points I’m making with this rant:

  1. Don’t learn a bunch about digital marketing and then assume you’re an expert. What was seen as wisdom one year might be bad advice the next. Stay up to date on changes and best practices.
  2. Maybe just set aside 30 minutes a day to screw around in Search Console, compare metrics from various competitor sites, and look for subtler correlations between your current campaign and site performance. You never know what you might find (like that a huge chunk of your site was accidentally de-indexed).

5. Go out and do the thing

Finally, we leave you with one of the most straightforward pieces of wisdom we’ve ever received on the Above the Fold podcast: If you want to be a better digital marketing consultant, go create your own website.

It’s common sense, really – putting more time into something helps you get better at it. Sure, it might also help to have a college degree in marketing, or even an MBA. But it might not.

The best digital marketers are those who have dedicated time and attention to learning everything they can about the practice – and you can too:

Tommy Griffith, a man who makes his living teaching people how to be better marketers, says you can start by picking a topic your passionate about. It could even just be a website about your professional experience.

Next, go through the motions: Buy a domain, set yourself up in Search Console, do keyword research, create multiple pages of content, set up Google Analytics, start capturing emails for a newsletter, create conversion events in Google Analytics, launch your site, promote it on social networks and manage its performance on an ongoing basis.

In the process, you’ll develop an appreciation for everything that’s involved in digital marketing. You’ll learn what strategists, content creators, web developers and social media managers go through. You’ll also get first-hand experience in what it takes to succeed in these endeavors.

This will make you a more empathetic collaborator, a more multifaceted marketer and, ultimately, a more proficient digital marketing consultant.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.