Is the Internet a Free Advertising Method?

Carmen Rane HudsonSmall Business SEO


free-advertising-methodOne of the reasons that small business owners are drawn to internet marketing is a perception that internet marketing offers one of the last free advertising methods. Certainly, internet marketing is one of the most cost-effective advertising methods, but it might be a good idea to rethink whether or not it’s actually “free.”

After all, because you are in business you already know that there’s “no such thing as a free lunch.” You also know that time is money.

You know there’s such a thing as an opportunity cost, too. For example, you know that you’re likely to lose customers if you’re internet marketing efforts aren’t as professional as they could be.

What Goes Into Internet Marketing?

You start with a core website and a blog. Your website forms the hub of a wheel which drives all of your other marketing methods.

To make that wheel turn correctly, there are an awful lot of things you have to do.

  • You need to register a domain name and choose a web host.
  • You need to put together a unique, branded web design that looks eye-catching and professional.
  • You need to maintain the back end of the website on a regular basis so that it delivers a good customer experience.
  • You need to make sure that the website is set up in a way that supports your business.
  • You need to offer blog updates at least twice weekly – and once you start you can’t stop since an abandoned blog looks highly unprofessional.
  • You need to learn how to use keywords effectively and you need to conduct successful keyword research.
  • You need a dedicated back link building campaign.
  • You need periodic SEO updates and adjustments, an ongoing effort to keep track of Google’s persistent changes.
  • You need to create and maintain your Google Places account.
  • You need to launch a dedicated campaign to clean and correct citations.
  • You need to maintain an e-mail list so you’re not losing the leads that you capture online.
  • You need to participate with social media channels on a weekly basis to grow your web presence and create social signals contributing to effective SEO.
  • You need to launch a good PPC campaign in the early stages of your internet marketing efforts to get some traffic flowing to your site as you build on slower, more organic methods.

As you can see, this is a long list. Quite a bit of time and energy is going to go into all of these efforts.

For example, building back links requires hours of focused work. You need to find places to comment on blogs and places to guest post.

That means taking the time to locate those opportunities, to read the content and respond to it, and to pitch guest post ideas.

How about on-site SEO? There’s a lot that goes into that, including stuff the customer never sees.

Just check out this infographic from Search Engine Journal. It shows the 200 ranking factors that Google uses to analyze a website. People who get to page 1 pay attention to all or nearly all of those factors on some level or another.

It’s true that there is no out of pocket cost for most of these efforts. Posting to your blog is “free.” Twitter is “free.”

However, if you really want to reap the benefits of online marketing you will have to devote nearly 40 hours a week to these efforts, especially since these things are probably not your area of expertise.

So it’s time to ask yourself. What’s your time worth?

I Don’t Have Time for Marketing!

Most business owners will tell you that the just don’t have the time to make internet marketing happen, even if they aren’t fully aware of how much effort internet marketing demands. So they don’t even get around to evaluating their time costs.

They just say, “I don’t have time.” It’s a pretty common complaint.

It’s also a very understandable complaint. You’re a business owner. You need time to actually run your business.

But as a thought exercise, ask yourself if your time is worth more than $6.25 per hour.

Let’s say good internet marketing takes 160 hours per week. And you’re trying to DIY this entire list of tasks because you want to save money.

The low-end monthly cost for SEO services is around $1000. Some charge more, way more, but we’ve got $1000/monthly packages here at TVS Internet Marketing so that’s what I’m going to go with.

That means when you pass on ongoing SEO services you’re valuing your own time at just $6.25 per hour. And that’s just crazy. Because $6.25 is less than minimum wage.

Depending on your business model you might make $100 an hour or more serving your clients.

No wonder business owners say they “don’t have time” for internet marketing! You instinctively know that you could be getting paid a lot more for your time than that.

Did you go into business to value your time at $6.25 an hour?

Evaluating Ad Budgets

Let’s do another thought experiment. I’ve met tons of people who think $1000 per month is too much but think nothing of spending ad money on other methods like radio advertising (at $3000 to $6000 per month), Yellow Pages advertising (at $2000 per month), and billboards (at $600 per month).

So now it’s a question of what you’re getting for this kind of advertising budget.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to calculate the impact of radio ads or billboards. So if you’re getting calls from these sources that’s great.

No, let’s just pick on outdated and expensive Yellow Pages ads instead. At $2000 per month these ads cost twice what you’d pay to get some qualified SEO help, but…

The Yellow Pages are dead.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can just ask Forbes Magazine. Forbes believes the internet is a better buy.

“Multiple studies confirm that consumers report using the Internet first (80% of the time) when they need a new product or service, and the printed Yellow Pages only second or third (about 50% of the time). And even if the consumer does reach for the printed Yellow Pages, your ad still has to stand out (size, graphics, color) which ups the expense of being in the book. The convenience of “set it and forget it” is now trumped by the more labor intensive but productive SEM [Search Engine Marketing] option.”

So there you have it. You could dump your Yellow Pages ad, get professional SEO help, save money and still get more leads.

And if you’re worried about losing the senior segment because you get out of the Yellow Pages, don’t be. The Slide Share presentation below says that Seniors are using the Internet just fine, and en masse.

And since customers do their searching when they want to buy something you can imagine that the number of leads you get from internet marketing is eventually going to trump the leads you get from interruptions like radio ads and billboards, that reach customers whenever they reach them, regardless of the customer’s needs or state of mind at the time.

The Bottom Line

Internet marketing isn’t free, and it isn’t easy. People who have told you that it’s either one or the other have been doing you a disservice.

However, it is a good use of your marketing dollar so long as you take the time or spend the money to make sure the job’s done right.