The Cost of Marketing
Every company, regardless of size, location, or industry, relies on the same thing to succeed: Customers.
Because of that, every company needs a marketing strategy to grow brand awareness and attract new customers.
This might sound straightforward—but if you have experience with marketing, you know it’s anything but. Considering the hundreds of different channels available today, simply choosing which ones can be quite a challenge.
Then, planning and managing campaigns is even more time- and resource-intensive.
But if you’re in the process of creating a new strategy for your company or exploring your options, one of your main concerns is likely cost.
Breaking down the cost of marketing is a complex process, mostly because there are so many ways to promote a business. On this page, we’ll discuss several of those options and what your company can expect to pay for each.
Marketing vs advertising
These are difficult questions to answer because many people use the terms interchangeably. Technically, however, advertising is a small subset of marketing—meaning that advertising is marketing, but not all marketing is advertising.
Marketing includes everything your company does to attract new customers and grow brand awareness, including determining your target audience, to developing your brand identity, and coming up with special promotions.
Advertising, more specifically, is paying to reach potential customers with a persuasive message. It can take place on a variety of channels, but it traditionally involves print publications, radio, and TV.
The reason that the two are so commonly confused is that marketing teams are responsible for advertising—and it often takes up the largest portion of a company’s marketing budget.
But even though advertising shares the same goals as marketing in general, like research and branding, the cost structure is very different. Generally, advertising costs more—and in some cases, a lot more, as you can see in our Super Bowl commercial comparison.
Instead of paying for placement (like in magazines or on radio stations), marketing costs are typically determined by the amount of time spent on a marketing strategy and any small incidental costs. This can be done by either your company’s marketing team, or an outside marketing agency.
For more information on traditional advertising costs, you can check out our full blog post on the cost of advertising broken down by medium.
But for the sake of this page, we’ll stick to the cost of marketing online with strategies that aren’t paid advertising.
How much does marketing cost?
If you’ve done your research online, you know that it can be difficult—if not downright impossible—to get a concrete answer about how much marketing costs.
This is because there are many different channels that you can use for marketing, and it’s up to each individual company to determine which ones are worth their time. As a result, there are as many unique marketing budgets today as there are companies.
Unfortunately, this means that it’s challenging to come up with an across-the-board estimate. But on the flip side, it also means that marketing budgets are highly customizable. Your company can pick and choose the strategies that you want to use and then figure out how much you can spend.
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the most popular online marketing options today: SEO, web design, content marketing, social media marketing, and email marketing. We’ve provided an estimated cost for each and a breakdown of where those costs come from.
So if you’re looking to create a marketing strategy that works within your company’s budget, you’re in the right place!
Let’s get started.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Estimated cost: $600 - $5,000 per month
What’s included: Keyword research, on-page optimization, analytics setup & reporting, copy additions & updates, and link building
SEO is everything your company does to improve its rankings in search engines like Google. In a day and age where the majority of consumers research their options online before making a purchase—and many even make those purchases online—it’s absolutely necessary.
When your site ranks well for searches that relate to your industry, you have the ability to reach customers who may have never heard of your company otherwise. But unlike traditional advertising methods, like radio and TV ads, you reach them when they’re already looking to make a purchase.
Instead of interrupting their day-to-day activities (like watching TV or flipping through a magazine), you can use SEO to be there when they’re actively searching out a product or service. This is not only more helpful, but in many cases, more cost-effective.
How pricing is determined
There are many SEO and Internet marketing agencies that offer search engine optimization, and each has their own way of determining cost. Your company’s SEO cost depends on several variables, including:
- The number of pages on your site
- How many keywords you want to target
- How much site copy you need
- How competitive your industry is
Most agencies require a startup fee to cover the research and planning that goes into creating your strategy, then charge on a monthly basis.
The pricing is typically customized based on the variables above, and may also vary by the experience level of the agency.
The majority of agencies also offer different pricing options based on how competitive your company wants to be. If you operate in a niche industry and only want to target long-tail keywords — or hyper-specific keywords that imply customer intent — your monthly costs will be lower than if you want to target broad, high-volume searches.
That being said, cost shouldn’t be your only concern when selecting an agency. As you research your options, be sure that you understand the specific strategies each one uses.
An “agency” that builds links from spammy, low-quality sites may be able to achieve results at a low cost in the short term, but they can wind up causing your company the hassle of a search engine penalty. These penalties will remove your site from search results altogether and make it impossible to attract customers online.
On the other hand, an agency that works with your company to earn links from reputable, high-quality sites can help your business gain visibility and grow your business for years to come.
Estimated cost: $6,000 - $100,000 (one-time project cost)
What’s included: A website built to your company’s specifications
As the center of your company’s online presence, your website needs to not only be an accurate reflection of what you have to offer, but also show potential customers why they should choose you over your competitors.
If your company’s site doesn’t accomplish both of these goals (or if you don’t have a website at all), it’s time to start looking for a web design agency. And although web design used to be a highly specialized industry, with only a handful of reputable companies, it’s come a long way in the past decade.
Today, there are thousands of design and development companies that can help your company create a website—meaning that one is bound to be perfect for both your project and budget.
How pricing is determined
Much like SEO, web design cost depends on several factors. The most important are:
- The number of pages you need
- The functionality you want (like ecommerce)
- The CMS you want to use
- Whether you need database integration
- Whether you need copywriting
- Whether the designer uses a template or makes a website from scratch
Because of the many variables involved, the cost range for a new site is huge. However, one of the most important factors is the last on our list: Whether the designer uses a template.
It’s easy find a decent-looking template online and install it on a server, and that’s exactly what lower-end “web designers” do. And to be fair, many of these templates look professional—but most of them are already being used by hundreds of other businesses and site owners.
If your site is indistinguishable from other companies’—especially those within your industry—it won’t help you build your brand. So even if you have a unique color scheme and your logo is everywhere, your site won’t stand out or help potential customers remember you.
On the other end of the spectrum, a talented design and development team can build a site from the ground up based on your company’s branding and goals. They can also make it an integral part of your marketing strategy, and add in all the custom functionality you need.
Of course, not every company requires advanced functionality. If you’re a local business, for example, and your main goal is to attract customers to your physical storefront, a simple site is all you need.
If your company wants to launch a large ecommerce store with thousands of unique products, on the other hand, you’ll need skilled developers to work on your project.
That being said, most companies fall somewhere in between with their needs, and you should figure out where your company stands before contacting any agencies. That way, when you reach out to potential business partners, you can be prepared to fully explain your project.
The more information you provide, the easier it will be to determine whether or not they’re the right choice for your company—and the faster they’ll be able to provide you with a quote. Most companies offer these quotes free of charge, and we recommend that you get several before signing a contract with any of them.
You can also use our free project quote calculator to get an estimate of what your company should expect to pay for a site and keep this in mind as you reach out to prospective agencies.
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Estimated cost: $1,500 - $10,000 per month
What’s included: Research and development of content ideas, content creation, content distribution & promotion, and link building.
Content marketing refers to the process of writing and publishing text, graphics, videos, downloads, and other materials on your company’s website. It goes hand-in-hand with SEO, and it is one of the most effective ways to attract visitors and links to your site.
However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to writing and creating successful content.
In order to attract people to your site, you need to identify topics that your audience is genuinely interested in. Then, the material you create needs to be researched, written, and promoted better than any other content on the same topic.
To accomplish this—and make your content marketing strategy worth it—you’ll most likely need to hire an experienced agency.
How pricing is determined
If you have an in-house copywriting team, you may be able to start a content marketing strategy for free. As long as someone on your team has experience with keyword research, you can identify topics that are relevant to your target audience and begin publishing them right away.
In order to be successful, however, your team also needs to invest time in promoting the content they create. After all, if you spend hours writing or creating something, you want potential customers to see it—otherwise, you waste time and money.
This process of researching, creating, and promoting content can be extremely time-consuming—which is why many companies choose to work with agencies on their content marketing strategies.
When you work with a team of professional writers and designers, your company can publish blog posts, longform articles, infographics, interactive tools, and videos on a regular basis, without using the time and resources of your in-house team.
A constant stream of content is only effective if it’s high in quality, though, which is why there’s such a wide range in terms of content marketing costs. Here’s what to consider as you research your options:
- How much assistance you’ll need with strategy & planning
- How much content you want to publish per month
- What formats you want to use
- How much promotion do you want for your content
At the lower end, part-time freelancers can help your company keep up with content production. Many have solid writing and design skills, but your marketing team will still need to research topic ideas, edit copy, and promote the content once it goes live.
The main challenge with freelancers, though, is finding skilled writers that are knowledgeable within your industry. If your company offers a highly niche product or service and there is very little existing content about it online, you have a huge opportunity to create it—but only if the writers you hire know what they’re talking about.
At the higher end, a full-service content marketing agency will get to know your company and industry, identify topics, create content to address them, and publish it on your site. In many cases, these agencies also have experience reaching out to well-known sites and blogs in order to gain relevant traffic and publicity for you.
The other main variable here is the content formats you use. If you stick to text-based blog posts and articles, your costs will be much lower than if you branch out to infographics, interactives, and video.
That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to test out these more expensive alternatives once your content marketing strategy has taken off. Visual content is much more engaging than text alone, so even though the initial cost is higher, it could pay off in the form of increased traffic, links, and shares.
Estimated cost: $500 - $3,000 per month
What’s included: Strategy development, account setup, social media monitoring, writing and scheduling social media posts, and ad campaign management
When it comes to social media marketing, many companies take a DIY approach. And when companies were just beginning to use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to reach new customers, DIY was often all that they needed.
Now that virtually every company has accounts on multiple platforms, it’s increasingly difficult to stand out and reach customers. Combine that with Facebook’s dismal organic reach, and it may not even seem worth your time.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. Social media can still be a great way to grow brand awareness and attract new customers—it just takes a little more time and effort than posting an update once or twice a month.
That’s where hiring a social media management team can be extremely helpful.
How pricing is determined
Much like any other marketing channel, your company’s social media strategy depends on your industry and target audience. Here’s what to consider when determining what you need:
- How active your audience is on social media
- What your social media marketing goals are
The biggest challenge for most companies that use social media for marketing purposes is finding and connecting with potential customers. Because audiences have to willingly like or follow company pages to see their updates, traditional advertising methods simply don’t work.
Unfortunately, many marketers make the mistake of posting salesy calls to action and attempting to drive purchases and write off social media as ineffective when it doesn’t work.
A social media marketer, on the other hand, will take the time to understand your target audience and create content that will make them want to connect with your brand. Then, they’ll monitor your accounts for comments, shares, and other engagements and respond in a way that suits your company’s style and tone.
When used to engage potential and existing customers, social media can be extremely effective at improving brand sentiment and driving repeat sales. However, the amount of engagement your audience sees will likely depend on how much you’re willing to spend on social media management.
Inexpensive social media marketers will typically rely on your company to tell them which platforms you want to use and how often you want to post. They’ll create the content and post it, but most will not respond to audience interaction or provide reporting.
More expensive social media agencies typically assign fewer accounts to each of their managers, though, meaning that they’ll have more time to spend researching your audience, coming up with a unique social strategy, and creating content that drives engagement. Then, they’ll respond to your followers in a way that aligns with your overall brand.
Most social media platforms also have their own built-in analytics, and a good social media marketer will use this information to provide reports on how your social strategy is performing. Keep in mind, however, that social media does not often drive sales as effectively as other channels.
Although it can encourage followers to visit your site convert, it’s usually used for other goals, like growing brand awareness and sentiment.
The other costs to consider when looking into social media marketing are the paid advertising options on each platform. And although we said we’d stick to non-paid marketing methods here, it’s worth mentioning that platform-specific campaigns can be extremely valuable for getting new social media accounts off the ground.
Estimated cost: Free - $3,000 per month
What’s included: Strategy development, template design, copywriting, landing page creation, and testing
Despite the hundreds of marketing strategies and tactics that have developed since email, it remains one of the most effective ways to market a business.
This is partly because of its low cost and high ROI, and also because it gets your company directly into subscribers’ inboxes. And thanks to the advanced email marketing platforms available today, we’ve come a long way since the days of generic email newsletters.
How pricing is determined
Your company’s email marketing strategy can be as simple as a monthly list of announcements or as complex as automated campaigns that respond to users’ actions on your site in real time. Here are the variables you need to consider:
- The size of your current subscriber list
- Whether or not you want to segment your lists
- How often you want to send emails
- Whether or not you want to automate your strategy
The first step to any successful email marketing strategy is building a strong list of subscribers. These are the people who have opted into hearing from your company, meaning they’re much more likely than the average Internet user to be interested in becoming a customer.
If you don’t have a decent number of subscribers, your email marketing manager’s first priority will be creating a strategy to change that. And even if you do already have a solid list, they’ll still most likely want to develop a strategy to ensure that it continues to grow.
From there, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to segment your email lists. Basically, you have the choice to either send the same marketing messages to everyone who opts into hearing from you, or breaking them down into smaller, more targeted lists.
In many cases, lists are segmented based on which page users subscribe. Someone who opted into your list on your blog page, for example, may have different interests from someone who opted in while on a specific product page. Targeting them individually will cost more, but it’s worth it if they earn higher response rates.
Then, your next big consideration is automation. Today, this can mean many things for email marketers, from pre-scheduled drip campaigns to full-scale lead nurture email strategies. Each agency has their own way of creating and managing automated email campaigns. For example, WebFX uses MarketingCloudFX to make email marketing a snap for our clients, regardless of how complex and targeted you want to make your campaigns.
So if this is something you’re interested in—or may be interested in down the road—be sure to tell your agency that you want targeted, automated service.
Want to learn more about how marketing can help your business grow?
There are more ways than ever before to spread the word about a business, both online and off. And while there are certainly companies who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars reaching new customers, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Marketing strategies like SEO, web design, content marketing, social media, and email can be adjusted to fit any budget and scaled up and down as your company needs. And now that Internet marketing is becoming the preferred way for many businesses to reach their customers, you’re bound to find an agency that can use them together in a way that’s best suited to your unique needs and goals.
At WebFX, we use all of the strategies above and more to create full-service Internet marketing strategies for our clients. So if you’re interested in learning more about how any of them can benefit your company, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Our talented team of Internet marketers will be happy to answer any questions you have about growing your business online, as well as how WebFX can help.
Ready to start your Internet marketing and design campaigns? Call 888.449.3239 or contact us online today to learn more about how WebFX can help with your SEO challenges.