August 23

7 Reasons Why Online Marketing Is Not Free


Online Marketing Is Not Free

I’m going to say this up front – Online Marketing is not free.

In fact, I’m going to make a recommendation. Consider your online presence to be as important as your place of business. Most businesses should spend as much on online marketing as they do on their monthly rent or mortgage payments, or vehicle payments if you work out of your car or truck. At a minimum.

The Shift to Online Marketing

There has been a shift in the marketing budget for most businesses over the last decade.  Businesses used to have to spend several thousands of dollars a year to be listed in the yellow pages, and the more prominent that they wanted to be listed, the more they had to pay.

Businesses used to pay for advertising in newspapers or magazines. But as subscription rates fall, many businesses have dropped or reduced their advertising budget.

Even a lot of businesses have stopped or decreased the use of direct mail.

Online marketing – social media and websites in particular – having increasingly replaced what a business used to have to spend money on from and advertising and marketing perspective, but that doesn’t mean that those costs just went away!

We now live in a world where most people use the internet to find products and services that they are looking for. Chances are, they are not typing in the name of your business. Instead, they type in search phrases and/or ask questions online or with their phones to find potential solutions. This can be very competitive and with competition there is cost in terms of hiring expertise, paying for tools to manage the complexity, and creating content that is valuable and findable.

You Pay for Your Building. But Why So Little for Online Properties?

Businesses are used to paying rent or mortgage for their storefront or office location.  For most businesses, having a place of business to operate out of is essential.  They need a place for their customers to come to, for meetings or so they can buy their products. Businesses also need a place of business so that that their staff can work together and collaborate.

Even if you work out of your trucks, you still have certain costs that you incur to operate your business – vehicle payments, equipment and materials, etc.

These are sunk costs that the business has, whether you are using these 5% or 50% of the time. If you have these costs, wouldn’t a business want to maximize the usage of something they have to pay for anyway?

Yet when it comes to online marketing, many businesses consider online marketing to be free – they can build a free website, there is no cost to use social media like Facebook or Instagram, they can create a Google My Business page and claim their Yelp listing, and they can stop printing their flyers and brochure and just put them on the website or use an email marketing tool like Mailchimp for free.

So yes, technically you can do a lot of online marketing for free – well, at least the tools are free. It still requires time to set these things up, which too many businesses don’t account for. Don’t forget about the expertise that is required to do this effectively. Just because I have a set of wrenches doesn’t mean I have the expertise to re-build the transmission in my car.

It takes a lot of time, the right tools, and considerable expertise to create an effective online presence. Using free tools might be a great place to start, but they are limited in their capabilities. In order to be found online, you need to have strategy and an integrate set of online assets that are created to amplify each other for maximum effect.

It can be easy and inexpensive to build a website. But it costs considerably more to build a website and an effective web presence that ranks for the search terms that are important for your business. The good news is that this is an investment in your business that reaps benefits for years to come.

Creating an Effective Online Presence

An effective online marketing presence requires the following:

#1 Strategy and Competitive Research

What truly sets you apart from your competitors? You can’t do search engine optimization without strategy and a solid understanding of your value proposition and your competitor landscape. To do this thoroughly takes time, expertise, and the right set of tools.

#2 Website

Creating a website that is designed and architected for search engine optimization doesn’t just happen. Even with social media, your website has to be the hub of your online marketing. It’s the one place that you have the ability to own and control. All the other sites that your business might be on are not yours and you are at the mercy of what they decide to do. Just consider Facebook and how they change their algorithms to determine what shows up in a user’s newsfeed. Your website has to load fast, be easy to use, and engage visitors with interesting relevant content.

#3 Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is the practice of doing the things to your website to make it more findable by the search engines.  It’s a combination of content, how you set up each page of your website, and whether it has content that gives other websites a reason to link to it.  This is an ongoing effort, not a one and done kind of thing. Your competitors are constantly trying to outrank you in search, and Google and Bing are continuously changing their algorithms on how they rank websites and webpages. Using the right set of keyword phrases that you can compete for, that match what potential site visitors are searching for, and staying up to date with the changes from your competition and from the search engine requires monthly efforts.

#4 Business Listings and Citations

Part of an effective online presence means that your business needs to be listed on the right websites across the web – for your industry and for your location. It’s critical that your business name, address and phone number are exactly the same on all of these listing and citation sites, and that information about your business is correct. This creates trust and authority with the search engines.

#5 Review and Reputation Management

Online reviews are very important. They are read and trusted by most online users and as a result are very influential in a potential customers buying decision. Local review sites like Google My Business and Yelp, industry specific sites like Zillow (for Realtors) and Avvo (for Attorneys), and shopping sites like Amazon play a big role in the findability and trustworthiness of your business.

#6 Social Media

Staying top of mind with current and potential customers, as well as providing valuable content and adding a human side to your online presence, social media remains important for many businesses. But using it in a way that increase your applause, grows your audience and amplifies your reach takes time, strategy, and increasingly advertising. Leveraging social media to be an effective channel requires expertise and using the right tools.

#7 Lead Generation

With all this, you still need to consider list building and lead generation efforts like Email Marketing, creating Offers and Lead Magnets, Google AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook Ads, and Direct Mail to drive meaningful traffic to your website or call your business. That’s right, I consider Direct Mail to be integral to a successful online marketing strategy for most businesses.

Justifying the Online Marketing Investment

Obviously, you have to balance the investment of your online marketing with the return on that investment by answering questions like:

  • what is the average new customer worth to your business
  • what is the typical financial transaction size of each sale
  • how often are current customers expected to make a purchase
  • does your business have the ability to scale if you increase your sales
  • can online marketing improve your customer satisfaction
  • can online marketing reduce operational costs

Having a realistic understanding of what an online marketing program costs per month as well as the value that it can bring to your business is essential. If spending $20,000 per year in online marketing services generates 5 new customers that are worth $100,000 in new revenue in year 1, would you say that was a wise investment?

Simply put, online marketing is as essential for a business today as paying for your office, company vehicle, or storefront. In fact, having an online marketing budget might be more important because without customers what good is your storefront or office to your business?

Need help determining what they right online marketing program is for your business? Complete our marketing audit form and we’ll give you 3 solid recommendations to get you started.


Citations, Lead Generation, Marketing Strategy, Online Marketing, Online Reviews, SEO, Social Media, Website Design

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