QUESTION: Hey Harry, I will be going for a certificate in Internet Marketing from University of San Francisco. In your opinion, do you feel this will help me get a better ecommerce job in the future?
ANSWER: “It depends.” Mathematically, there are only three things that matter in ecommerce:
- Increasing monthly unique visits;
- Boosting an average order value; and
- Increasing a website’s conversion rate.
That’s it. Everything else is secondary (at least in my world, which is transactional ecommerce).
So the real question is: “Will your program’s curriculum teach you how to do one or all of these things?”
For example, there are several ways to drive traffic, including organic search, paid search, email marketing, and affiliate marketing. Rich content, social media, and mobile marketing may contribute to new unique visitors, but let’s set aside that point for now. What will your program teach you about driving qualified traffic? Specifically? You need to know.
Next, what will the program teach you about boosting an average order value? What will you know about cross-selling and up selling after you graduate? How will you be able to better merchandise an ecommerce website? What will you know about promotional calendaring that you do not already know?
What about boosting the conversion rate? What will you know about UX and UI issues that you do not already know?
The University of Abstraction
Knowing exactly what you want out of a continuing ed program will keep you from getting mired in the abstractions that seem to pervade in academia. You have heard the joke “Those who can’t do, teach.” There’s some truth to that — although I can’t be too hard on the process of getting an advanced degree. I have an iMBA, and I’m so glad I do, even though much of what I learned in B-school in the 1990s was either irrelevant then or is obsolete now.
HOWEVER: It was in B-school that I learned how to consume, synthesize, and prioritize huge volumes of course material. I use that skill every single day. Plus, I became financially literate at grad school, and that information is priceless. Having an analytical bias is, in my opinion, essential to success in online marketing. Will your intended program give you such a bias? Ask.
How to get an “A” in my book:
Not too long ago I was interviewed by Internet Retailer magazine about this very issue. Like you, IR wanted to know if there are any university programs for ecommerce that I have found to be particularly differentiating for candidates. My answer was no.
If I were designing a university level ecommerce course, I would center the entire curriculum around researching a rabid market or subculture, buying a keyword rich domain, locating drop-ship suppliers of relevant products, and wire framing / launching a real website on an inexpensive platform like MonsterCommerce.com.
The balance of the course would involve driving traffic to the student’s site through organic search (although it can take months for a site to get indexed), paid search, email marketing, display ads, and possibly affiliate marketing. Any student who sells something gets an “A” for the course. Hey, you can’t get any more “real world” than to sell something! Just ask any entrepreneur who has actually built a business.
Naturally, there are less involved ways to structure this type of project, such as launching an “A-store” through Amazon.com. But the reality is that students learn best by doing.
As info, this is what I intend to do with my own kids when they get older. I own hundreds of domain names, including OddPuzzles.com, BBQLand.com, iLoveBaking.com, and BornSalesman.com for just this purpose.
More than anything, I want my kids to be self-sufficient. Today’s world demands that. If your course at USF helps you become more self-sufficient, then go for it.
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