The thing I like talking about the most is saving money. But instead of writing a boring post on how you can set aside 60% of your income, I decided to put together a quick guide to reduce the costs when creating your digital marketing budget plan.
Here are my best tips for reconsidering how you allocate your budget for marketing this year:
Do you really need that tool?
Everyone’s paying for editorial calendar tools, social media monitoring software, and even writing optimization or reporting add-ons. A small or medium business website won’t need to spend money for these.
There’s honestly only a few tools you’ll really require to run your marketing campaigns. Google Analytics (free), Google Docs (free), Google Sheets (free), an email marketing platform like Mailchimp (free up to 2,000 contacts), the MozBar (free), and a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush. You can even do without the latter ones if you mix a bunch of other free tools like LSIGraph, Google Trends, AnswerThePublic, and SEO analyzer software like SEO Site Checkup, Alexa, SEOptimer, NeilPatel’s SEO Analyzer, PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, or the Google Search Console.
Did you know that a larger percentage of the marketing budget for most companies goes into paying for software and not paying the employees?
The key is to pair them all together. Don’t worry though. You only have to do SEO audits every now and then to stay updated so this won’t take away much of your time.
You can also check out my visual guide to SEO if you’re not yet familiar with the field.
Or you can just use the default SEO audit option under your browser’s Developer tools:
Cool, so where do I keep my editorial calendar?
In a spreadsheet. 🙀
Here’s an example in case you don’t believe something so complex can be created in Sheets:
And you can use Google Sheets or Excel for almost all of your marketing activities from putting together a marketing plan, to setting budgets, segmentation, database management, tracking your outreach efforts, social media strategies, ideas, creating reports, and lots of other tricks:
What about social media monitoring?
Unless you’re working for a larger brand that gets thousands of mentions/day, monitoring Facebook or LinkedIn is easy to do even manually.
Twitter is where you’ll need to keep up with all the changes related to your own brand mentions, your competitors, and other trends and news in your industry. But for this, there’s Tweetdeck. A free classic. 😉
Even Hootsuite and Buffer have free plans for individuals and smaller teams. So here it is, you can keep track of your other social networks for free too.
Best options for writers?
Grammarly to reduce the time you spend on proofreading. Google Docs, WordCounter, Calmly Writer, CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, or the Hemingway Editor just to name a “few” other choices.
“Yes, but reporting must be hard without a paid tool.”
Most marketers just use Google Analytics and a spreadsheet for their reports anyway. All free. I personally prefer Google’s Data Studio for more visual reports. Still free and looks bomb:
Use guest posters instead of freelance writers
Finding someone to guest post on your blog requires just a tad more effort than working with a freelancer. Be warned though: Having a writer put together a complex article for you for free is difficult unless they’re also looking to get a backlink for their website or have some kind of motivation besides just money.
If you’re a small brand though [I’ll give you here an approximate DA of 50], getting the attention of other writers or even websites is not as easy since you’re not yet “taken seriously”. So it’s going to be a normal day for you to spend hours writing emails or “spamming” people on LinkedIn.
Once you hit that DA=50 mark though, guest authors will come flocking to you. Everyone will want to get at least one link somewhere on your blog. But don’t let this flatter you too much. It’s now time to sort through all the requests, see who’s serious enough to put in solid research for your piece, and make sure you also stay away from “illegal” link exchanging opportunities [not a fan ✋ 😒 ].
As a handy trick from me, try to reach out to freelance writers whose styles match your needs or who have experience working or writing about your industry. Those at the beginning of their freelancing career are more likely to accept guest posting for free [well, technically they get a link] on your blog. 🥳💸
Don’t pay for links
In a past experiment I did I took all of Company A’s backlinks (the dofollow ones) and wrote to each of the respective websites where the link seemed organic to ask for a backlink myself. ALL of them asked for money both for a link or guest post. And with 200,000+ backlinks, you can only imagine how much they regularly pay if a link was an average of 50$.
But I also took a look at Company B’s backlinks. All of them: organic. 👏 Both of these companies/websites are very “general” so it’s easy to link to them in various contexts. And Company B has leveraged their position as a leader in the field to get the links without all the effort and money.
Paying for links is, for one, useless. You risk scoring a penalty from Google and losing reader’s credibility. Plus, when you have a random guest author write your posts, they will look something like:
Also, stop working with shady ghost authors who claim they’re a professional marketer for one article, then they’re a sales person, a university teacher, a doctor, and a start-up founder the next month.
Not really sure, but how do you spot a paid link?
Two easy scenarios:
- The article is written by a company’s employee or freelancer working for them. You check the guidelines or write to the website asking for a link or guest post and they ask for money.
- An article is written by an author you can’t find any information about (some other signs include: fake profile image, no portfolio website, and Twitter followers that are either bots or just people who follow in return to another follow). Usually, a mention of the brand that’s paying for the article will be somewhere in the copy with no other references to its competitors. Another common trick is for a small brand you haven’t heard about to pay for a list-type article and ask to be listed first. 🙄
Do everything in-house
There are so many things your current employees can do: link building, lead generation, social media listening and influencer interaction, blogging with the help of your subject matter experts, keyword optimization, branding, data analysis, or just growing your email list in ethical ways. Even if one skill’s missing from your team, there are loads of free training opportunities out there. And the highest ROI is in fact generated by channels where time instead of money is required.
Just spend 1 hour to think about everything that can be improved in your current strategy. When you realize you’re still way behind it all, there’s too little time to even consider “how you can waste some more money”:
- Try to better understand your audience. This will help you create better future digital marketing campaigns and align them to your leads’ needs while also cutting down on costs lost on wrong segmentation and ad targeting.
- Reconsider your channels. You’re probably already putting in too much time and money in a channel that’s not bringing any revenue. Take Quora for example. You can have 1 million views on your answers, but how many sales did you actually make? Just check your conversions from Quora in Google Analytics to conclude if it’s really worth spending those extra hours/week trying not to get banned by Quora because you’re spamming them with “product ads”.
- Use the tools you already have. Let me emphasize this secret: you can use multiple free tools to get the benefits of an expensive tool. It just requires a bit more time for you to aggregate the information. One example: Want to find all of your competitor’s mentions on .edu websites? Just run a Google search for site:.edu competitor name. Another case: Need to see the rankings, impressions, and possible improvements you can make on your articles for specific keywords? Go to your Search Console -> Performance -> Search Results. Even analyzing your competitor’s marketing efforts is free.
- Repurpose. The easiest strategy if you’re short on time. Got an in-depth article? Add in a couple more images, some more stats, and you’ve got yourself an ebook you can use as a lead magnet. Take that same content and turn it into a video, podcast, Twitter thread, LinkedIn post, presentation, whatever. Just make sure you’re not actually repeating the same exact content word-by-word. [Well, that’s more of a personal preference but I swear it works. Also, if you hate reusing content like I do, just repurpose your topics.]
- Optimize what you have. Is your content perfect yet? Have you done every single possible thing to improve the conversion rate on your website?
- Be extra cunning. 😇 So you need just a couple of visual elements and found this great graphic design tool with a 15-day free trial? Use those days to their full potential. [You didn’t hear this from me 🤫] Free stuff anyone? Google will even send you $150 in free ad credit so keep an 👁️ on your email.
- Finally, prioritize your budget. What’s more important to you: having access for one month to a tool that helps you read the market and anticipate its trends or getting 1,000 impressions on your next Facebook ad? I also like this 70/30 rule from Moondust so it’s a definite read.
No more overpriced tools or the dreadful “let me just pay $200 to get a guest post”.
What if I need something more complex, like a video?
Well, do you really need ONE video? If it’s something you’re going to be doing on a regular basis you can have an employee with fewer responsibilities pick up video editing as a new skill. If you also need some extra visual assets (maybe ebooks or an animation), it’s time to consider hiring someone to fill that position.
But I also have loads of ads to create.
Really? What’s your PPC conversion rate?
How about you do something better with your money? Pay your writers an extra few bucks to spend one weekend day and finish a top-notch article. Have your developers work 12 hours a day for one week to finish an integration or feature before your competitors and give them a free week in return. Get your designer to put together the coolest possible infographic and promote it everywhere for free.
Now these are just my tips on how you can cut down on costs in your digital marketing budget. I would love to know your own tips and thoughts on the topic and maybe we can add them all up and optimize our spending. Until then, save up 😃