Which Path Should You Take?

Choosing your career path can be tricky when you’re entering the marketing field.

Are you drawn to becoming a marketing specialist with a deep focus on areas like SEO, PPC, or social media? 

Or do you see yourself thriving as a marketing generalist, a jack-of-all-trades managing diverse marketing strategies across multiple platforms?

A recent poll we asked online showed a balance among a sample of marketers: 43% consider themselves generalists, 41% specialists, and 16% are still deciding. This split stresses the importance of both roles in the industry. 

As you consider your career direction, think about the unique benefits of each path. Which one resonates more with you? 

In this article, we talked to Andreea Westenberg and Leigh McKenzie to share their experiences and thoughts on the two paths. 

Defining the Roles: Marketing Specialist vs. Generalist

Understanding what marketing specialists and generalists do can help you choose the right path for your interests and skills.

Marketing Specialist: What Do They Do?

If you’re a marketing specialist, you’re someone who focuses intently on a specific area of marketing. You aim to develop detailed knowledge and specific skills within your chosen field.

Common examples of marketing specialists include:

  • SEO specialists
  • PPC specialists
  • Content specialists
  • Analytics specialists
  • Research specialists
  • Social media specialists
  • Influencer marketing specialists

Of course, within each specialty, there’s room to specialize further, such as becoming a technical SEO specialist or a link-building expert. Your path as a specialist depends on your ability to focus intensively on one particular aspect of marketing. 

For example, if you’re an SEO specialist, your work will focus on optimizing content to rank better on search engines. 

In turn, you’ll likely need a specialized toolkit for SEO-related tasks. You’ll need tools like keyword research software, SEO analytics platforms, and backlink checkers to enhance website performance. 

Semrush is a popular platform that provides these tools, offering in-depth analysis and strategic perspectives for this purpose.

AD_4nXfH7BaVvG-P5ypcri9CnTeko4XCnayJA8OjdSe06VjhxC4xbdYAxhGqnz7_kBJSYYcoLPfrGZ5EWDW67HoSEuXTT8VAh26dxD1eoadqGYjy5RdF3HWzjM_ilJLfYm-vP2VlrkqgzlkW444LLo2VkcOKgfbQ?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

On the other hand, if you’re a social media specialist, you focus on engaging audiences and managing a brand’s presence across social platforms. 

In that specialized role, you would rely on tools for scheduling posts, analyzing engagement data, and handling community interactions to strengthen your online presence. 

Common toolkits for social media specialists include platforms like Semrush Social, HootSuite, or Sprout Social, which help manage content and measure engagement.

AD_4nXea4zNYWqn4jXettLJZzMmdNGtf4WS9n_OPOsAp4OpFkQiZ8gD1tH-FvyA1SKs6I4AHRqnm0q5GTGvjZqAwCA-QXsnwVY7BiXlnMPrC9Pu4yFg3awbGctCj484PwYo2bFxBTujTFzpuYOJBNYqJkLdbZW0W?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

In any case, a marketing specialist carefully chooses their toolkit to suit their specific needs.

Tip: If you want to learn more about some of the specialized areas of marketing, check out these articles from our blog:

Marketing Generalist: What Do They Do?

As a marketing generalist, you should have a broad set of skills that span multiple marketing disciplines. 

Generalists are adaptable professionals capable of executing various tasks, such as digital advertising, content creation, SEO, and social media management. 

For young marketers, starting in an agency is great because you get exposed to a lot of different things. You get paid to learn and find out what you really like. Being a generalist first helps you build a broad skill set. Then, as you gain experience, you can decide to specialize in what excites you the most. The T-shaped marketer approach—going deep in one area while knowing a bit about many others—can be really beneficial. It keeps your career flexible and lets you adapt as needed. So, start broad, then specialize when you’re ready.
 

Leigh McKenzie, Growth Manager at Backlinko

Sometimes referred to as a “full-stack marketer,” having wide-ranging expertise allows you to adapt quickly to new marketing trends and manage strategies.

But how does a marketing generalist effectively operate without specializing in one area?

The key is to remain flexible. Consider the following areas: 

  • Learning and Adapting: You should be willing to learn the basics of new niches or channels as trends and demands shift, ensuring you remain adaptable and informed.
  • Outsourcing: Recognize when to hire experts or outsource tasks where you may lack depth of knowledge. 
  • Tool Flexibility: Maintaining a flexible toolkit is also important, as your data and toolkit needs may change more frequently.

Tip: Use platforms like the Semrush App Center, which provides a variety of a la carte apps from partner developers. This flexibility allows you to tailor your tech stack according to current projects and needs.

For instance, you might want to gather insights from an advertising tool or app while gearing up for an ad campaign launch. 

AD_4nXcdh_3VeKX-ORrYefOdif4sTi7KawGIGO1UBM1dadqCD_AVDzeEcnvYecgjOQpANk2m8TVDp9XScTODmtAFQ6iGnuEshmA1RG5MZooBiKh7GYPUQ86IJYdBLkdJ0_F-Fr2bFt_3w9iPnSMvDWVRsOjQ5OFM?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

Later, when you shift your attention to boosting social media engagement and building brand awareness, you adjust your toolkit to include more focused social media tools. 

AD_4nXfI-lG91skMah3qovZJTrAe6LospisG4Isudj5Jdee3Jy8XOgWE9PI6cRIXsata4I8YT-EJLlQIb-FnEpntH5e4dxgJ9xN7nVXCZ46KoHOyWjMH9_haZjVV3EKX01RSyZLa6ntQsE4pOZkWeTmBbVZ9Bf7G?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

This flexibility is important for successfully managing the various responsibilities of a marketing generalist.

Deciding whether to become a marketing specialist or a generalist depends largely on your interests, career goals, and the type of work environment you thrive in. 

Here’s a closer look at both roles, with input from some of our marketing team, to help you determine which path might be the right fit.

How to Become a Marketing Specialist

If you enjoy being the go-to expert on a topic, becoming a marketing specialist might be right for you.

But how do you become a marketing specialist? Here’s where you can start:

  • Educational Background and Certifications: Pursue digital marketing education and certifications that are relevant to your chosen specialty. For example, if you aim to become an SEO specialist, consider pursuing a Google Analytics certification and taking specialized courses or degree programs in SEO.
  • Dive into a Niche: Specialists need to drill down into a field. Therefore, continuing education, attending workshops, and staying updated with the latest tools and trends are critical.
  • Master Cutting-Edge Tools and Techniques: Invest in learning the latest tools and techniques specific to your area of expertise. This could include subscribing to industry-leading software or participating in specialized workshops that enhance your technical skills.

I believe everyone should start as a specialist. By diving deep into a topic, you can then extrapolate to other areas, making your transformation smoother. Of course, not all channels are the same. For example, starting as a PPC specialist requires data analytics, audience setup, understanding of traffic sources, and tracking. These skills can later be translated to an SEO approach, including the building of backlinks, creation of meta elements, and keyword optimization, thus paving the way to becoming a generalist.

Andreea Westenberg, Director of Paid Traffic at Semrush

How to Become a Marketing Generalist

A generalist role might suit you better if you enjoy adapting to change. Here’s how to start:

  • Focus on Broader Educational Requirements: Generalists benefit from a diverse educational background covering various marketing disciplines.
  • Gain Experiences Across Disciplines: This could involve working on projects that span content marketing, SEO, PPC, and social media, providing a well-rounded skill set.
  • Develop Strategic Thinking Skills: This includes learning to analyze market trends, foresee potential challenges, and create integrated marketing strategies that align with broader business goals.

I became a generalist first because the agency setting exposed me to so many different things. Over time, I found my passion in SEO and content creation, which led me to specialize. I’m really happy with this path. The broad experience I gained early on helps me in my specialized role now. I can bring in different perspectives and solutions from my diverse background, making my work richer and more dynamic.
 

Leigh McKenzie, Growth Manager at Backlinko

Whether you’re a specialist or a generalist, the right tools are necessary to get the job done.

Let’s explore potential tools for both roles, using real-life positions as examples.

Marketing Specialist’s Toolkit

Marketing specialists rely on a core set of tools tailored to their areas of expertise, often maintaining long-term subscriptions to deeply understand and use these tools effectively. 

Here’s an example of how a PPC specialist might build their toolkit to create and optimize campaigns:

AD_4nXeA4SRXy87JyfrIKTSYekrraZh8L6Gi_NLcg5JmaVBrsTsK91595P28VBtJR7bdWwRLwSLQheb3R5GlyppJNb11p6HoVFEzkDtPCe6zNJsC3impxX3KbUMG0W7kMOTAf57WLjzsoXeCJzwaLupUlrCFfWna?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

Or an example of a YouTube specialist’s marketing toolkit:

AD_4nXduKvPvQOwvoxEupWr9GpgT797VDx358oWAkmQoANOn_l4Cduw8-XvC8-IW3gpIUt8CO61jcLnczlhEvVQdSDLycr9IC8qwFpT2Ta9gf4u-poESX49vcYE5p5sNXnPmqc61J4Uc2DvkjLbjrI9WVHSefWE?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

These specialists become experts not only in their fields, but in their tools, often knowing them inside out, which enhances their efficiency in their specific marketing domains.

Marketing Generalist’s Toolkit

In contrast, as a marketing generalist, you often operate with more fluid toolkits, adapting your tech stack based on the project or focus. This requires you to be a quick learner and flexible in managing multiple tools across different marketing disciplines.

Generalists may subscribe to specific tools for a short period to address a particular project’s needs, such as using social media management tools for a campaign and switching to SEO tools for website optimization.

The ability to quickly train on new tools is crucial as generalists move from one type of project to another, ensuring they can leverage the best resources for each task without being bogged down by any single technology.

As a result, Marketing Generalists often require a more extensive toolbox.

AD_4nXe7SDnJ1hJ6gdQ33EE3CffruvCFZUJlEBwsi8Fs5JqCH55upu9PvStitZY_ni8jIvi3N2e0UVb2ITjkAHclmsAof5gyVnZ0PQdpmTP8fvl2g2s9Gd_8AAFKXvyrN6kOyULowLeA3F9IOkt1UFGB9M4qtx9o?key=b2VxYpUdplDXK6kdhMBIGg

This approach allows generalists to stay versatile and responsive, aligning their toolkits with the various marketing projects and challenges.

Is It Better to Be a Marketing Generalist or Specialist?

Choosing between being a marketing generalist or specialist depends on your personal interests and career goals. 

As you start your career, think about what excites you more—mastering a particular area or embracing a wide range of marketing roles. 

I started my career as a generalist in an agency, working with different business models—small businesses, large enterprises, e-commerce, travel, software, law—you name it. Even though my main focus was SEO, I got hands-on experience with design, development, paid media, email marketing, and other channels. Now, I’ve shifted to being more of a specialist, focusing on creating content growth strategies for software companies. But thanks to my generalist background, I can still pull in ideas from other fields and channels. It’s the T-shaped marketer approach: deep in one area, broad across others. This mix keeps things interesting and flexible.

Leigh McKenzie, Growth Manager at Backlinko

I think it’s sometimes easier for specialists to see the exact impact of their day-to-day work. For generalists, given that they manage a much larger amount of data, they can gauge their impact less frequently (for example, monthly rather than every few days).
 

Andreea Westenberg, Director of Paid Traffic at Semrush

Both paths offer rewarding opportunities, and resources like Semrush and the Semrush App Center can enhance your journey, whether you choose to specialize or generalize.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *