Online Marketing: Insights into South Africa’s growing industry

Online marketing has taken advertising to a whole new level. The online directory has replaced the telephone book. Your business advertisement will no longer end up in the latest heap of recycling but will instead be available online 24/7 to potential customers in far reaches.

The role of the digital marketer has also shifted according to global trends. If you stop an average South African on the street it is highly unlikely that they’ll be able to tell you just what a digital marketer does. From our own experience of chatting to South African youth, the majority of them are blown away by the career opportunities and employment possibilities within the industry. Educating the South African youth about digital marketing is the first step in catalysing a much-needed surge in the digital marketing industry. But for today, we’ll start with you.

So where are we at?

A recent study conducted by World Wide Worx in collaboration with Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group has shown that as early as 2010 the number of South African internet users surpassed the 5 million mark. Since then, the numbers have been growing exponentially and by the end of 2016 we reached just under 29 million internet users – that’s more than 52% of our total population! Data shows that on average South African’s are spending just over 5 hours a day accessing the internet from laptops and computers and 3 hours a day on mobile phones.

What’s more – PricewaterhouseCoopers has predicted that by 2017 South African consumers will be spending a total of R59.6 billion on internet access (a massive leap from 2014’s R19.8 billion).

The ways in which South Africans access the internet are also changing. The days of chunky desktop computers are over and today’s generation of internet users are relying more heavily on smartphones as their primary portal to the World Wide Web. A report recently released by We Are Social shows that in 2015 mobile phones accounted for 61% of the share of web traffic in South Africa, while desktop computers and laptops only accounted for 32%. Additionally, the South African Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has reported that half of South African smartphone users are now able to access more than 1GB of data monthly.


So what?

Not only are millions more people in South Africa accessing the internet than ever before but they are doing it in different ways.

Put two and two together and you’ll see that this rise in internet usage is synonymous with a rise in both online marketing and e-commerce. Not only is online marketing the way of the future, but stats show that it can provide companies with superb advertising for lower prices and with even better results – proven. Businesses, both large and small, are taking the internet by storm and harnessing the power that digital marketing has to offer for marketing, sales and customer engagement. With a digital marketing skillset in their arsenal, small businesses are finally able to level the playing field against larger corporates.

Research released in April 2016 showed that in 2016 online retail in South Africa is expected to reach 1% of overall retail. While we’ve covered a lot of technological ground lately, as an emerging market economy we are still a couple steps behind. This creates an even greater urgency for us to keep an eye on those ahead of us and the trends and developments of internet marketing strategies globally.

Digital marketing as a career

The digital marketing industry is an expansive one, filled with opportunities for both those with specialist skills and those with a more general online marketing skillset.

We’re facing a skills shortage

For awhile now those in the digital marketing industry have taken note of an escalating skills shortage. Digital marketing skillsets are in high demand, but ultimately in short supply.

In the words of Rob Stokes, Founder and Group CEO of Quirk : “The truth is that the growth in the digital industry has been so rapid that even globally it’s been impossible for skills development to keep up. When a completely new industry grows at 30-50% a year, there is no way that the supply of skills can keep pace.”

Let’s look at the positive side though – there has never been a more opportune time to up your digital marketing skillset, and join the industry.

So what skills are in-demand?

A recent Digital Marketing Talent report has however shown that hiring trends have begun to shift towards those with experience in certain areas.

There is however much value and employability in being what has been coined a ‘general specialist’ – having a broad knowledge of the industry but a specialist skillset in one specific area. This is also commonly referred to as a T-Shaped marketer.

Erin Everhart, current director of digital marketing at the digital agency 352 explained that: “One of the biggest things I see is that people are too specialised. It’s great, and you definitely need something to hang your hat on, but we’re at a position where I can’t hire someone who’s only going to do PPC or only going to do social. Basically, we look for good, creative marketers, who can come up with creative ideas across any medium, even if they’ve never worked in that medium before.”

Apart from managerial skills required in the digital industry, the industry is in desperate need for specialist (technical) skills.

It is without a doubt that specialist skills like SEO, PPC, content marketing and analytics are a growing need in South Africa and that their potential as internet marketing strategies can’t be ignored. SEO for one pulls all strategies together, acting as the pillar for organic traffic (which should be the bulk of every website’s traffic). With the rise of social media and changes in Google algorithms, all digital marketing services need to be integrated. No longer can marketers and business owners have a silo’d approach. For example – if you decide you want to rank organically, you will need a content strategy, which means you will need a social strategy to promote your content and finally paid advertising (Adwords) will provide the foundation to collect search data.

Despite the above, research has shown that there are clearly many knowledge and skills gaps within the industry – in areas such as mobile, analytics and marketing automation. Digital marketing is an industry with many possibilities, and after looking at Adtalent’s salary survey below you’d be crazy not to get involved.

Adtalent salary survey



Our two cents – career advice recently conducted an industry survey to their community members (predominately US and UK based). The survey showed that analytics was the service with most activity (at agency level) and the most requested by clients. From what we’ve experienced in the South African internet marketing industry – the demand is not there just yet. As clients become more knowledgeable they are however definitely beginning to pay more attention to meaningful analytics.

It thus makes sense to consider analytics as a secondary skill to support one’s primary career path i.e. content, SEO, paid advertising, conversion marketing etc. While the demand curve for internet marketing analytics is on the rise in South Africa, it has not yet reached the point of supporting full-time careers – bar the few unique cases of full-time employment.

For more information on a potential career in digital marketing – job descriptions, salaries, skills and tools – check out our 2016 Career Guide.

August 27, 2018

20 responses on "Online Marketing: Insights into South Africa's growing industry"

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your statement: ” then I think it’s advisable that South African business owners get their foot in the door now so that they can get ahead of the competition and gain market share online”.

  2. Since digital marketing can be learnt online. How would you suggest approaching companies with your digital marketing skillset for a job? Since there isn’t necessarily a degree for it.

    • Hi Ethan, great question – it’s often a talking point amongst digital agencies. If you are looking for your first job I’d suggest you start your own personal blog (I recommend WordPress). This acts as your CV and it’s where you can showcase your skills, from Research, Google Analytics, Design, Development, Copywriting and much more.
      It also shows that you have gone the extra mile in terms of furthering your skills.
      And yes – 100% agree, there isn’t a degree for it and there shouldn’t be. We often tell our students that if you are learning digital marketing out of a text book, you are already out of date… If you visit a SMX event each year, you will find that each one has a totally different theme – that’s because what they were saying a year ago, doesn’t apply today. Scary but true!

      • Hi Neil on top of Ethans query i am currently on the media owner side and work in sales for above the line and below (TV and Online) ….however that being said i am looking to get more involved into the Digital arena at some stage , besides selling online advertising platforms (Native advertising , editorial) i would like to learn more about SEO, digital strategy and programmatic online advertising…which online course would you reccomend and through which college institution would you reccomend? (red & yellow / AAA school / Get Smarter) ?? Please advise your thoughts Its amazing to see with the new establishment survey how digital has and is still growing. Look forward to your feedback.

        • Difficult to respond without being bias towards Webgrowth 🙂 However, we aren’t a college institution but rather a training company with an agile approach.
          Webgrowth has it’s roots in SEO, so I’d say that we have the best course that speaks to this skillset (in my opinion). For digital strategy, we are also very good – we teach our learners our framework from which they develop strategy. In terms programmatic – you are not the first person to ask this and to be honest, I haven’t come across any institution that teaches this in detail. To wear my completely unbiased hat, outside of Webgrowth, I’d consider Red and Yellow or AAA Advertising. I help with the digital marketing component to one AAA Advertising’s marketing courses 🙂

  3. I just started out in the web world, I aspire in becoming a small solopreneur, and though am only a beginner, I don’t know why! but I feel that the techniques and tactics of SEO is dead! and that a new technique of implementing SEO in on the way!

  4. Hi Neil, thanks for sharing the facts and statistics with us. I really enjoyed reading the post. I am working as an SEO executives for 2 years. I have knowledge of organic SEO techniques. Do you think I am qualified for applying the post of a digital marketing executive?

  5. Fantastic blog Neil. I do agree with your statement: we need to keep an eye on trends and developments of internet marketing strategies globally. As we grow this industry in SA, I believe that such communities, and discussions will bring much needed collaboration among us to elevate digital marketing in SA. I am personally fascinated by affiliate marketing because of the great opportunities, and exposure it provides. Neil, Thanks once again for such a great resource. ‘ThumbsUp’

    • Thanks @disqus_5FEn20Pmn1:disqus, all the best!

      • Neil, I am currently enrolled in a program taught by an internet expert by the name of Tai Lopez and I am about to graduate from his program. I am looking for customers to start my agency but I feel like I need to be employed first to gain experience. The program offers the latest things on leveraging the power of Social Media Marketing and the Internet to increase sales in businesses. I just need help with some advice or an opportunity to be employed to show my skill set?

        • Where are you based @disqus_N93oywdKa4:disqus? Do you know of any agencies in your area?

          • I am living in Johannesburg as a full time student at Wits University, I am originally from Soweto.

          • Hi Khalo, I’d always recommend the Webgrowth course as a start. Together with a Webgrowth certificate and your Wits Degree, it will put you in a good position to get into an internship at digital agency in Joburg.
            You will also need to consider that digital marketing can offer a career for both analytical and the creative mind. From there you further your skills to specialise in a respective digital marketing discipline.

  6. Very interesting blog 🙂 I intend to become a digital marketer. What kind of tertiary education or training do you need to become a one?

    • Thanks @simonpittendrigh:disqus There’s no exact blue print to “make it” in the digital marketing industry. Some opinions vary but I’d look at it like this. If you study marketing at university or technikon you’ll be studying outdated learning material because the industry moves so fast. Most of this content is about 5 years too old. I’d rather spend the 3 – 4 years getting work experience in a digital marketing agency instead of spending those years in university or technikon.
      Any good digital marketing curriculum will adapt as the industry changes i.e. a curriculum in 2017 should look different when 2018 comes around. Obviously I’ll be bias and always recommend the Webgrowth framework course as that will form the foundation of your thinking 🙂
      There are of course other decent courses, the Digital Marketing Institute offers great learning material. Also look at Hubspot Academy, we love their platform and advocate it for any business taking digital marketing seriously.
      I know many digital marketers who haven’t studied tertiary education (myself included) who have been successful. It’s all about the effort you put in and the willingness to explore new skills.
      All the best!

  7. Really good post, with just the right amount of info. Well played.

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