Online, ‘free’ has a price

Organic marketing requires a larger upfront investment of time, labor and budget than paid campaigns

Is “free” online marketing, such as organic positioning in search engines and social media marketing, really free? The answer is that “free” is never really free, and that one size does not fit all when it comes to building a strong digital marketing presence. 

Anyone can create a Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or other social media account to build a following around their brand without ever entering a credit card number or paying a fee. 

But there are many costs associated with doing this well; the biggest expense being time. If you are a business owner building and managing these channels yourself, the cost of your time is the loss of revenue from all other work you could be doing in place of marketing your business. If an employee, consultant or agency is managing this for you, then there is a hard cost associated with paying them for their time.

Social media is also highly visual, so in order to generate strong results, there are often graphic design and photography costs associated with it. Then there is the hard cost of building up and maintaining an audience. Since Facebook shifted to a revenue-generating model, it has become nearly impossible to build up a large following and get your message to those who have chosen to connect with you without spending money on advertising within the channel. 

The other big question that businesses and organizations grapple with is how to achieve strong organic positioning in Google, Yahoo and Bing. 

Organic search relies on a number of factors that search engines use to determine where and how to position your website. The most important include domain age, the content on your website and how it matches up to searches, the size and functionality of your website (including whether it is mobile-friendly), the quantity and quality of other websites linking to you, the activities of visitors to your site and how often new content is added.

There are significant costs associated with nearly all of these factors. 

To ensure that your content is well related to the searches people are conducting online to find similar products or services, it is important to conduct thorough keyword research. This requires the expertise of an SEO consultant or employee with SEO experience. Will content writing be handled in-house? If so, there’s a cost associated with labor hours to do so. If you’re planning to hire outside, then there is a hard cost associated with writing and optimization.

The most appealing factor of paid online marketing is that in most cases, you are only paying for actions generated. When purchasing pay-per-click ads, you are only charged when a prospective customer sees your ad, is interested in your message and clicks on it to land on your website. Sounds easy, right? 

There’s much more to it than meets the eye. Most businesses don’t know that if they upload a list of broad match keywords (the default method) to Google AdWords, they are paying for keywords that Google deems related to that list. Therefore, a contractor purchasing “window repair services” could be paying for clicks related to “Microsoft Windows repair.”

The next issue here is setting up a system for the people who are clicking on ads. Many businesses will send this traffic to their homepage, which is typically not going to generate any action. The better option is to create targeted landing pages that request that the visitor take some immediate action. That action then triggers a follow-up response and the visitor is then engaged in communication. All of these systems, from researching keywords to managing the lists and campaigns, to developing landing pages and implementing a follow-up strategy, have costs associated with them beyond the advertising fees. 

So which is the better method: free or paid?

Organic marketing requires a larger investment of time, labor and budget upfront than paid campaigns and will typically pay off in dividends over the long term, but they take time to get off the ground and perform well. They also may be limited in highly competitive industries.

Paid campaigns will continuously incur advertising costs, but may lead to more organic follow-up strategies that limit the additional expense over time, and will start generating traffic the moment they are launched.  

Melissa Albano-Davis, principal of Grapevine Marketing, can be reached at 603-685-4782, ext. 101 or through

Categories: Marketing & Advertising