It may not be the “chicken or the egg” conundrum (I have documented proof it’s the chicken!) but in the wide world of web marketing, the question of “What comes first, the budget or the strategy?” is about as brain twisting 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 holds out his hand with a wad of cash and says, “How much for that?”
In truth, the budget/strategy determination is very similar to a circular reference in a spreadsheet. That’s when 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 realize why this has so many marketers and businesses pondering how best to proceed with 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 begin?
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 companies begin. And it makes sense. Many businesses looking into web marketing for the first time probably have no idea how much it costs, so the first order of business is to get some sort of baseline on the costs.
However, that in itself is dangerous because the cost is almost entirely dependent on the strategy that the quoting company puts together. You can get “SEO” from as little as a few hundred dollars on up to several thousand dollars per month.
Imagine someone visiting us today from the 1800’s. They are really interested in trading in their horse and buggy for one of those newfangled automobiles. Not knowing much of anything, if they gallop from car lot to car lot, they’ll find prices are all over the place. Used cars, new cars, luxury cars, race cars, utility vehicles, commercial trucks, etc., etc. Heck, even the same car can have two different stickers on it depending on the year or their features.
So what’s our time traveler to do? He has to compare the differences between the vehicles. That’s easy for us because we have some built-in knowledge of how much certain vehicles are worth. We understand that a used Porsche will often cost more than a brand new Camry. In fact, we expect that due to knowledge we already have.
But our time traveler doesn’t come equipped with that knowledge, so he needs to be educated on what makes a Porsche different from a Camry. He needs to 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 the business leader looking to invest in web marketing, you’re just like our time traveler. Or at least someone like you, who’s interested in web marketing for their business. Comparing on price alone gives you absolutely no indication of the value of what you’re getting. You need more information—a lot more—in order to be able to begin to assess the value of one proposal to another.
The budget for investing in web marketing must, then be determined by the strategy.
When Web Marketing Budget Comes Before the Strategy
Ultimately, even with companies that seek to consider the strategy first, the final decision comes down to the cost of services. After all, there is only so much room in the budget to invest in marketing. We all have budgets to stick to and powers above holding us to them.
But, as I said above, nobody wants to tip their hand, spilling the beans about how much they have to spend before they know what they will get for 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 worry that what would have cost $1,000 now costs $1,500 because that’s what fit the budget.
If you have ever bought a car, this is often the approach of the salesperson. They want you to tell them how much you can afford each month, and then they’ll magically produce a payment model to fit. They get you focused on the monthly payments rather than the price of the car. So long as it meets your monthly budget, they’ll try to sell you anything. Who cares if you end up paying for the car for 15 years!
The problem is, without a budget, the SEO company has no idea of how aggressive it can or should be in its efforts. The web marketer might want to spend 15 hours per month investing in a social media campaign, but for the more budget restrictive, five is a decent place to start. Or they may want to focus on keyword optimization of your content while fixing critical site issues, but they may be able to make decent progress doing one over the other if you can’t afford both. If you have hundreds of pages that are in need of optimization, trying to optimize them all within the first 12 months might be way outside of reason. But tackling them at a rate of four per week, or one per week or even a couple per month will make a drastic change in your monthly web marketing costs.
You see where this is going. A specific web marketing plan can be completed in one year, three years, five years or longer, all just depending on how much you can afford to pay.
The strategy for the web marketing campaign must, then be determined by the budget.
Letting Goals Determine the Web Marketing Strategy and the Budget
Comparing strategies and budgets from one SEO provider to another can get tricky. One strategy might focus more heavily on organic SEO while another might tilt toward social media marketing. The costs between the two might be roughly the same but will have very different outcomes.
On top of that, two strategies might include both fixing site architecture issues and social media marketing but each to vastly different degrees. One SEO will value one over the other, yet their proposals will look remarkably similar with “fixing site issues” and “social media marketing” as included services. What you might not see is a list of issues that need to be fixed (unknown until the time is spent to uncover them) and how many hours of social media marketing is needed (depending on how involved you are).
This creates a problem in that even if you want to scale up from what was originally proposed, the proposal might look exactly the same except for the price tag. What changed? Mostly just the total amount of time the SEO team will be involved.
So what’s the solution? Making sure both your strategy and budget are determined by your goals.
Ultimately, goals come first. What do you want to achieve? If you’re looking for branding, social media strategy might be the place to start. If you want to improve conversion rates, you might want to focus on conversion optimization. If you’re finding that your site lacks in search engine traffic, dig into some keyword research and optimization.
If you don’t know what your goals are, your SEO is left just trying to throw anything and everything at you and hope it fits your budget. There is nothing wrong with going with the Rolls Royce of web marketing plans where everything is included, but that likely won’t fit your budget.
Instead, set your goals and determine which goals are a priority over the others. Let your web marketing team put together that Rolls Royce plan but then use your goal priorities to scale it back to 1) what is most important, and 2) within a budget you can afford.
Sometimes it’s good to get a little of everything, but only if you are in no hurry to achieve your goals. Either way, based on your budget, some goals will have to wait or be slower in coming. If you have to scale back budget-wise, focus on one or two goals at a time and turn up the aggressive meter until you’ve got both a strategy and a budget that fits your needs.
What’s more important, is having a strategy designed to fit 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 fit so you have a strategy you can afford.
Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments.