Over the past thirty years, the marketing landscape has largely shifted to an integrated, digital experience — one that can capture a consumer’s interest anywhere, from a display advertisement on their favorite website to videos in their social media feeds. Digital advertisers now have an opportunity to drive narratives in a targeted manner using consumer behavior and their online habits. Social media platforms, mobile phones and tablets, wearables (e.g., Apple Watch), and other emerging technologies have reshaped how marketers must consider capturing their targeted audience’s limited attention.

Today’s marketer needs to craft creative strategies that make personal connections in a largely impersonal online marketplace. As a result, professional marketers must possess knowledge of digital marketing techniques to devise, implement, and measure campaigns across a wide range of media channels.

Classification of Master’s in Online and Digital Marketing Programs

Graduate programs in digital marketing prepare professionals for opportunities in today’s marketing industry and its increasing shift toward digital platforms. With an understanding of how technology influences digital marketing functions, students learn how to craft complex strategies informed by consumer data, user design, social marketing, and more. And while most master’s programs in advertising and marketing cover digital media and marketing concepts, there are specialized programs that offer digital marketing as a specialization/emphasis or standalone degree option.

Graduate programs in this field may be referred to as Master’s in Digital Marketing, Master’s in Internet Marketing, Master’s in Online Marketing, or Master’s in Digital Strategy programs. While digital marketing is typically offered as a Master of Science (M.S.) degree, some schools offer the concentration as a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.). These programs are generally located in a university’s School or College of Business (or Marketing Department); however, they may also be offered through departments of communication and journalism.

Examples of digital marketing programs can be found at the following universities:

Some Master’s in Digital Marketing programs also include coursework that allows students to pursue certification in one or several internet marketing tools and platforms. These include, but are not limited to, the following certifications:

  • Hootsuite
  • Hubspot
  • Google Analytics or Adwords
  • Salesforce
  • Tableau
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Online Master’s in Digital and Internet Marketing Programs

Professionals in the marketing industry who want to complete a graduate degree without leaving the workplace may want to consider an online Master’s in Digital Marketing program. Online programs can be a particularly advantageous for working individuals as they offer greater scheduling flexibility, do not require commuting to campus for lectures, and provide access to graduate programs without the need to relocate. This is especially important for students who do not live near a campus-based program.

For students interested in online graduate programs, it is important to understand the different types of instructional methods that online programs utilize, namely synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and how each impact the online learning experience.

Asynchronous-based instruction does not require students to be online at specific times to attend live lectures or class discussions. Instead, students use an online learning management system to access coursework, watch pre-recorded lectures, participate in online discussion boards, and submit assignments on their own time. Although each course follows a set syllabus that acts as a weekly schedule, asynchronous instruction is highly flexible and allows students to complete their coursework when they have available time. This format can be beneficial for students who do not have a set weekly schedule or who work in the early evening, when most synchronous sessions take place depending on a student’s time zone. One potential drawback of asynchronous instruction is that student must be organized, disciplined and self-motivated to keep up with lectures and course discussions in the absence of more structured weekly live classes. For programs that use asynchronous instruction, students typically interact with instructors and classmates through email; however, some instructors may offer live office hours where students can call or video chat if they have questions.

Unlike asynchronous instruction, synchronous-based instruction requires students to log into a learning management system at designated times each week to participate in live lectures or class discussions (typically by forum discussions or through video conferencing platforms). Programs that use synchronous instruction are designed to more closely resemble a traditional campus-based classroom, where students can ask questions and interact with both instructors and classmates in real time. While all online programs include asynchronous elements, not all programs incorporate synchronous sessions into the curriculum. For students who desire a more traditional, structured classroom environment where they can directly interact with peers and instructors, programs that utilize synchronous instruction may be a better fit compared to programs that only use asynchronous instruction.

Curriculum Details for Master’s in Digital Marketing Programs

The internet has reorganized the marketing landscape and, as a direct result, led to companies shifting their marketing budgets towards digital and online platforms. The new globally connected marketplace places an emphasis on marketing professionals who have a multifaceted skill set in communication, content strategy, marketing automation, consumer behavior, user experience, and data/marketing analytics. Earning a master’s degree in digital marketing can help professionals develop a competitive knowledge base through coursework that explores social media and web analytics, mobile media and marketing, business intelligence, content development, conversion rate optimization, and more.

Master’s in Digital Marketing programs typically require between 18 and 36 months to complete, and can be offered full-time or part-time, depending on the school and program. Most consist of between 30 and 39 credit hours, with 36 credits being the most common requirement. Curriculum in these programs is generally split into foundational (core) courses, electives, and a capstone class. However, it is not uncommon for Master’s in Digital Marketing programs to have a more set curriculum, where students all take the same courses without any electives. Although specific topics vary by program, in most cases, coursework is focused on introducing students to central concepts in digital marketing, such as search engine optimization, marketing and consumer analytics, market research, user experience, web writing, data analysis, and multichannel marketing campaigns.

Through the study of digital marketing fundamentals, students develop knowledge in skills that help them to do the following:

  • Build goal-driven marketing strategies optimized across customer segments specific to a company’s business vertical
  • Design, develop, execute, and analyze campaigns across different media platforms (e.g., social media, display, search, mobile)
  • Generate consumer leads on social media and digital media platforms
  • Derive useful business intelligence from campaign results for use in future campaigns
  • Align digital marketing strategies against organizational goals and budgets
  • Create, publish, and manage digital content for targeted audiences

After completing core classes, students transition into specialized electives. Again, electives vary by program, but may include subjects such as mobile marketing, database marketing, online reputational management, marketing data visualization, content marketing, user experience theory and research, lead generation and management, or social media advertising.

The culminating requirement in most programs is a capstone experience in lieu of completing a traditional master’s thesis. This capstone course assesses the student’s ability to synthesize what they have learned throughout the program and apply it to a real-world project or learning experience. Specific requirements vary by department and institution, but the format typically takes one of two forms: an individually determined study about digital marketing coordinated between the student and their instructor, or a comprehensive project that requires the student to develop a digital marketing strategy and plan for a business or nonprofit organization.

Below is a sample list of classes students might take while enrolled in a master’s degree program in digital marketing:

  • Business Intelligence: The study of data as a fundamental component of modern organizations, introducing students to the best practices for gathering, assessing, and analyzing data to drive solutions for complex business problems.
  • Consumer Behavior: Considers the fundamentals of behavioral science and how consumer behavior theory informs how consumers interact with products, brands, and services.
  • Digital Strategic Communication: Examines strategic communication within a broader marketing context, covering topics such as search, online advertising, social media, mobile media, and more.
  • Web Analytics: Explores the fundamentals of digital and web analytics, including platforms (e.g., Google Analytics) and processes, such as predictive analysis to measure website and campaign performance.
  • Search Marketing: Reviews the foundational principles of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), covering major topics such as search engine models, pay-per-click search, website optimization, and how to position SEO into successful marketing strategies.
  • Digital Marketing Ethics: An overview of the ethical behavior, practices, and challenges related to the digital marketing industry, posing questions regarding the moral, legal, and ethical responsibilities of marketing in digital media spaces, web data tracking, digital privacy, and online media.

While common for Master’s in Communication programs and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, the majority of Master’s in Digital Marketing programs do not offer sub-specializations, as these programs are already a sub-specialization of broader graduate programs in marketing. The table below contains an example curriculum plan for a master’s degree in digital marketing that requires 36 credit hours to complete:

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Year 1
  • Marketing Research & Analysis
  • Digital Marketing Strategy
  • Introduction to Mobile Marketing
  • Content Marketing
  • Customer Journey Analytics
  • Search Engine Marketing
Year 2
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Digital Marketing Law & Ethics
  • Consumer Behavior in a Digital World
  • Big Data Marketing
  • Digital Storytelling & Branding
  • Capstone in Digital Marketing

Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Online Marketing

Digital marketing is a burgeoning field, with a footprint spreading across every industry, from retail to public relations. Strategic digital marketing practices concentrate on data-driven opportunities to reach targeted audiences throughout the customer buying cycle. Careers exist in digital analytics, search engine optimization, search engine marketing (e.g., pay-per-click advertising), and web content production. However, new employment avenues are emerging as technology continues to advance in areas such as mobile marketing, augmented and virtual reality, internet-of-things (IoT), and voice search. Today’s employers seek professionals with a flexible skill set that enables them to leverage marketing and consumer data to develop effective online strategies and campaigns.

Graduates with a master’s degree in digital marketing can pursue a variety of professional roles in areas such as mobile marketing, affiliate marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, content marketing, publishing, social media, web production, and more. Armed with a multi-faceted skill set, graduates can advance in their current field or pivot into a new arena completely.

Below is a sample list of career options that may be open to individuals with a graduate degree in the field of digital marketing:

  • Social Media Manager: Responsible for developing strategies to protect and expand a brand’s presence across different social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, interacting with consumers, creating effective marketing campaigns to sell or market companies and products, and analyzing performance results to adjust media approaches.
  • Online Media Manager: Knowledgeable about digital media strategy, including search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and content creation, these professionals use a variety of marketing tools and online analytics to development organic and paid media advertising campaigns.
  • Email Marketing Specialist: In charge of a company’s day-to-day marketing email platform, creating outbound email marketing campaigns through one-time, recurring, or remarketing campaigns to reach consumers and stakeholders about a company’s brand, services, or products.
  • Digital Analytics Manager: Handles a company’s analytics and data platforms for tracking and analysis, creating business intelligence out of email, web, social, and other digital metrics that inform a company’s digital marketing strategies.
  • Interactive Media Director: Manages top-level multi-channel media campaigns and strategies across digital platforms (e.g., web, social media, video) to further a company’s brand, sell products, promote company awareness, and drive consumer loyalty.