It may not be the “chicken or egg” conundrum (I have documented evidence that it is the chicken!) but in the vast world of web marketing, the question “What comes first, the budget or the strategy? is about as twisted as it gets.
I think most businesses tend to operate on the idea that you build the strategy and then decide if it fits your budget. Unfortunately, that idea lasts about as long as a new sitcom airing on NBC. But nobody wants to be the guy who reaches out with a wad of cash and says, “How much for that?”
In truth, determining the budget/strategy is very similar to a circular reference in a spreadsheet. This is where the price of item Z is determined by adding items X and Y, where the cost of item Y is determined, in part, by the price of item Z.
Now you understand why so many marketers and businesses are wondering how best to do this for their web marketing campaigns. If you start with the budget, you run the risk of not having the right strategy. Yet if you start with the strategy, the cost may not fit your budget. So where to start ?
Well, let’s start by looking at each of the two options and then a more ideal situation.
When the Web Marketing strategy comes before the budget
As I noted above, I think this is where most businesses start. And it makes sense. Many businesses getting into web marketing for the first time probably have no idea how much it costs, so the first thing to do is get some kind of cost benchmark.
However, this in itself is dangerous because the cost depends almost entirely on the strategy put in place by the company offering the listing. You can get “SEO” from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars per month.
Imagine someone who has been visiting us today since the 1800s. They are really interested in trading their horse and buggy for one of these state-of-the-art automobiles. Not knowing much, if they gallop from one parking lot to another, they will find prizes everywhere. Used cars, new cars, luxury cars, racing cars, utility vehicles, commercial trucks, etc., etc. Heck, even the same car can have two different stickers depending on the year or their features.
So what should our time traveler do? He must compare the differences between the vehicles. It’s easy for us, because we have some knowledge of the value of certain vehicles. We understand that a used Porsche will often cost more than a brand new Camry. In fact, we expect this because of the knowledge we already have.
But our time traveler isn’t equipped with that knowledge, so he needs to be educated on what differentiates a Porsche from a Camry. He must understand the nuances of why different vehicles have different prices, even when they have similar features, or are simply sold from a different location.
As a business owner looking to invest in web marketing, you are like our time traveler. Or at least someone like you who is interested in web marketing for your business. Comparing on price alone gives you absolutely no indication of the value of what you are getting. You need more information—a lot more—so you can begin to assess the value of one proposition over another.
The budget for investing in web marketing must then be determined by the strategy.
When the Web Marketing budget comes before the strategy
Ultimately, even with companies looking to consider strategy first, the final decision comes down to the cost of services. After all, there isn’t much room in the budget to invest in marketing. We all have budgets to respect and superior powers that oblige us to do so.
But, as I said above, no one wants to lend a hand, revealing how much they need to spend before they know what they’ll get out of it. The fear is that as soon as you tell the web marketing company your budget, the “cost” will end up being eerily similar. You’re worried that what would have cost $1,000 is now $1,500 because that’s what’s on budget.
If you’ve ever bought a car, this is often the salesperson’s approach. They want you to tell them how much you can afford each month, and then they’ll magically produce a suitable payment pattern. They allow you to focus on monthly payments rather than the price of the car. As long as it’s within your monthly budget, they’ll try to sell you anything. It doesn’t matter if you end up paying for the car for 15 years!
The problem is, without a budget, the SEO company has no idea how aggressive they can or should be in their efforts. The web marketer might want to spend 15 hours a month investing in a social media campaign, but for those on the tight end of the budget, five hours is a good place to start. Or they may want to focus on optimizing your content for keywords while fixing critical site issues, but they may be able to make decent progress doing one over the other if you don’t. can’t afford both. If you have hundreds of pages that need to be optimized, trying to optimize them all in the first 12 months may be irrelevant. But tackling them at the rate of four per week, or one per week, or even two per month will cause a drastic change in your monthly web marketing costs.
You see where this leads. A specific web marketing plan can be completed in one year, three years, five years or more, it all depends on how much you can afford to pay.
The strategy of the web marketing campaign must then be determined by the budget.
Let goals determine web marketing strategy and budget
Comparing strategies and budgets from one SEO provider to another can get tricky. One strategy might focus more on organic SEO while another might lean towards social media marketing. The costs between the two could be about the same, but will have very different results.
In addition to this, two strategies can include both site architecture troubleshooting and social media marketing, but each to very different degrees. An SEO will value one over the other, but their offerings will look remarkably similar with “site problem solving” and “social media marketing” as services included. What you might not see is a list of issues that need to be addressed (unknown until time is spent figuring them out) and how many social media marketing hours are needed ( depending on your degree of involvement).
This creates a problem in that even if you want to evolve from what was originally offered, the proposal may look exactly the same except for the price. What changed? Especially just the total time the SEO team will be involved.
So what is the solution ? Make sure your strategy and budget are driven by your goals.
In the end, goals come first. What do you want to accomplish? If you’re looking for branding, social media strategy might be the place to start. If you want to improve conversion rates, you can focus on conversion optimization. If you find that your site is lacking search engine traffic, dive into keyword research and optimization.
If you don’t know what your goals are, your SEO is just trying to throw anything and everything at you and hope it fits your budget. There’s nothing wrong with opting for the Rolls Royce of web marketing plans where everything is included, but it probably won’t fit your budget.
Instead, define your goals and determine which goals are prioritized over others. Let your web marketing team craft this Rolls Royce plan, but then use your goal priorities to narrow it down to 1) what’s most important and 2) within a budget you can afford.
Sometimes it’s good to get a bit of everything, but only if you’re not in a rush to achieve your goals. Anyway, depending on your budget, some goals will have to wait or be slower in coming. If you need to cut your budget, focus on one or two goals at a time and crank up the aggressive meter until you have both a strategy and a budget that fit your needs.
What is more important is to have a strategy designed to meet your goals and expectations. If you don’t know your goals, any strategy is just a shot in the dark. Instead, start with your goals and adjust them to match a strategy you can afford.
Do you agree? Share your opinion in the comments.