Is Digital Marketing Free?

Jake Albion Last updated: May 12, 2023
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    There is no denying that the internet and social media has transformed the way businesses engage and promote to an audience. Organic marketing created a level playing field, allowing firms of all sizes, and in all sectors, to connect with willing buyers, without paying over the odds. But can you do digital marketing for free?

    Some people are beginning to believe that free marketing is dead, and they may be right. There are many reasons why free digital marketing may be dying, but the biggest one is that it’s no longer effective or not as effective as it used to be.

    Pay to play is everywhere

    Right now, it feels as though “free digital marketing” has died, or at the very least, is on its way out. If you want to reach your audience, you have to pay in some way.

    Organic marketing has been squeezed

    Any business using Facebook in the hope of reaching their audience knows how difficult it is to connect with people. At best, you reach a minuscule proportion of your audience with your content, and even boosting a post has minimal impact.

    Facebook wants you to spend money on ads. They’ve successfully strangled your organic timeline and traditional feeds to ensure that this is the only way to reach or connect with an audience.

    Other social platforms might be slightly more effective, but they’re all following a similar path. The gold rush era of organic marketing on social media is over, and you need to pay to reach people these days.

    Time vs Money

    The critical thing to understand here is that you might not pay money if you do something yourself, but there is an opportunity cost. In some cases, this might lead to you paying out or missing out on more money than if you paid someone to do it in the first place.

    You could spend four hours creating infographics for your social media accounts, but that’s four hours not doing your core strengths or what people love or care about you.

    Meanwhile, you could pay an expert; they can do the work in less than an hour (and probably to a higher standard than what you’d do), and yet, if you worked four hours on your core business strength, you’d probably make money to pay for the professional and turn a profit anyway.

    In my line of work, we provide services for businesses that can’t do the things we do, or have no interest in doing them. No matter the reason for outsourcing work, the sooner you realize some things are better left to others while you focus on what you’re good at, the better it is for your business.

    Look at digital marketing companies and their use of paid marketing

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    You’d think that digital marketing companies would be highly effective at running their promotional campaigns. A good campaign can draw in more business for them, but it also acts as an example of how good their digital marketing services are.

    The issue is that there are only so many hours in a day. A successful digital marketing company must focus on servicing the needs of its clients. This often means they don’t have the time and energy to promote themselves in the way they would like.

    Or, if they use this time to promote themselves, they’re failing to serve their paying clients in the best manner. That’s not viable in the long term.

    So, you have digital marketing companies outsourcing something they are good at because it’s the best use of their time.

    Services are all part of a spectrum that just keeps getting bigger

    While specific platforms might no longer be acceptable or suitable for digital marketing, the working practices and methods remain. This means digital marketing services are constantly evolving, and the range of services on offer keeps growing.

    Print vs digital marketing

    For years, if not decades, we’ve heard that digital marketing is killing off print. Is print as strong as it was? Of course not. Is print still a viable option for businesses? Absolutely.

    When you use print, it’s a physical medium, so there is a natural cost. When you create something digitally, you don’t have the physical element, but you still make something real. You still spend time on something, so there are costs associated with both mediums.

    Concerning print mediums, it’s a niche, but everything’s a niche now, and in some cases, it still works brilliantly.

    Think about some of the ways modern and progressive businesses use print products to promote themselves, such as:

    • Business cards are ideal for connecting with others and creating a more memorable impression
    • Coupons, leaflets and flyers offer a more tangible reminder for people to check something out or visit somewhere. In a local area, placing flyers in mailboxes or convenient locations helps businesses reach more people than a digital promotion
    • Specialist promotions like collector cards, bookmarks, calendars, notepads etc

    As with any form of marketing, businesses need to consider the cost and the expected return on their investment with print. Savvy companies will opt for a print campaign if the initial outlay associated with a print project generates a far greater return than can be achieved with a digital campaign.

    While this serves as a reminder that the traditional market still has a role to play today, it’s a reminder that “free marketing” isn’t always the best. If you create a digital campaign which offers little benefit, running a print campaign with financial and time costs is far more effective for your business.

    It’s helpful to remember that a medium’s strength is often also its weakness, depending on what you want to achieve. The accessible nature of digital content is great for keeping costs down, but it also means the content is often more disposable than traditional or physical content.

    SEO vs Social Media vs Ads (PPC vs Social)

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    SEO, social media posts and ads, PPC, or social media ads are effective ways for businesses to engage prospective buyers or clients.

    It’s important to know there isn’t a single solution that works for everyone.

    The nature of a company’s personality, or even its industry, might lend itself to one platform more than others. It could be the cost of a product or service, or even the buyer’s intent means one method is better than other options.

    Also, you should note that with SEO and social media, it is possible to achieve free digital marketing successfully. An individual or entrepreneur can do all this work themselves without spending any money, but there is a fee element to the adverts.

    All these services are examples where the time versus money comparison is valid. You can create SEO content and social media posts with no need for a professional. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

    SEO and social media are effective in the long term, as they help build relationships. Over time, you’ll have people who trust you, who continually buy from you and recommend you to others.

    You will likely need to spend money if you need a short-term approach. Creating and sharing ads costs money, but a good quality ad, or a well-targeted ad, can generate results instantly.

    When you think about your promotional options, time versus money isn’t the only issue to consider; risk and reward are also aspects you need to bear in mind.

    Blogging vs Backlinks vs Ads/Landing pages

    A similar split can be seen with creating blog content and then using backlinks to drive traffic to a site and creating a landing page with ads to drive traffic.

    The former option is viewed as more organic, an internal task in the business, while ads and landing pages are often outsourced to experts.

    In reality, all options are possibilities. It’s possible to outsource blog creation and hire a backlink specialist as much as it is for an entrepreneur or business to create their landing pages and ads.

    Knowing when to use paid for marketing and when to use free marketing

    It would be great to tell you there was a one-size-fits-all solution to inform you when to market yourself and when you should call on others.

    There isn’t.

    However, you can consider your business and circumstances and make a more informed decision.

    If you have no money, you need to do things yourself. An excellent range of free software tools and open-source programs allow you to achieve tremendous marketing results. You’ll likely spend a lot of time on these methods, but it will not cost you any money.

    If you have no spare time, you need to outsource essential marketing tasks. There is an abundance of software programs and agencies/freelancers who will do everything you need. With this approach, you free up a lot of time to focus on other tasks, but it will likely cost you a lot of money.

    For most businesses, their circumstances and situation are likely in the middle.

    You’ll have some money to spend on promoting your business, but you’ll want to enjoy the best possible return on this investment.

    Also, you’ll have some time you can use to promote your business, but you’ll want to use this time as efficiently as possible.

    So, it would be best if you considered a few things.

    How much your time is worth to you?

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    How much money would you generate if you spent one hour on your core strength or most essential service? This is your benchmark in determining the cost and opportunity cost of other tasks.

    If you aren’t a great content writer, and it takes you five hours to write a good blog for your business, this is five hours you have lost that you could have spent on your core business strength.

    What does your audience and ideal customer expect from you?

    Your audience expectations should always influence your decisions and shape your business activities.

    In some businesses, hands-on POV style content from firms is encouraged and highly successful. A polished and detailed approach is essential when connecting with prospective clients in other fields.

    Look at what is happening in your industry, and find out what is successful. If you can take influence from things you do well and that you like, and then improve them, you are better placed for success. Whether you do this personally or hire a professional is down to you, but you must share content relevant to your audience’s expectations.

    What is the industry standard for digital marketing?

    It would be best to remember that you don’t operate in a vacuum, your audience has other options, and they’ll compare you to them. This includes your digital marketing activities.

    If you do your free digital marketing activities, it might cost you no money, but if the finished work is of a poor standard compared to your peers, it will cost you your reputation.

    If people expect professional social media and digital marketing campaigns from firms in your industry, you need to reach this standard. If you can’t do it personally, you need to hire an expert.

    What does the future hold?

    Everyone wants to know what is coming next. If you are amongst the early adopters and innovators, you can steal a march on rivals and competitors. Whether this is in understanding what works or how to capitalize on marketing with the next big thing, people want and need to know what is coming next.

    Direct Marketing on Social

    Social media isn’t going to go away as much as some people would like. It will evolve, and platforms will change, but social media activity will remain, and businesses will continue to use it to connect directly with clients.

    In this regard, social media is already a well-defined direct marketing channel, which isn’t going to change. Businesses will reach out to their audience directly, tailoring messages and content to the needs and interests of specific users.

    Voice SEO

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    It is also likely that Voice SEO will be an integral part of businesses’ marketing activities. With a growing number of consumers engaging their devices and making orders via their voice instead of physically holding a device, specific SEO strategies will no longer be as effective.

    Firms need to be aware of differences in how people search for items, products, and services when they type a request and speak it out loud. The dynamics of language mean people don’t always write as they speak, and vice versa.

    Suppose there is a shift to people searching via verbal requests. In that case, businesses must ensure their keyword terms and SEO content can match oral searches and traditional ones.

    Further evolution of digital marketing

    You also have the looming specters of Meta, web 3.0 and NFTs, which will usher in new ways of connecting with an audience and promoting your brand. There will likely be organic opportunities to connect with early adopters and innovators with each new platform. There will be great ways to engage a willing audience for firms that achieve this.

    Over time though, as more people become familiar with these methods and algorithms evolve, the same pattern that we see today will follow.

    There’s a good chance that these topics will not even scratch the surface of how digital marketing will evolve. At this point, it’s best not to feel overwhelmed by what is coming next. Focus on what is happening now, and as more information follows regarding what is next with digital marketing, react then.

    At ADWS, we know the idea of free digital marketing is so appealing that the thought of paying for marketing sucks. Yet, for effective use of marketing, and the best use of your time, there is a need to have some element of paid marketing in your mix.

    If you can achieve organic free digital marketing results without wasting your time or diminishing other parts of your business, keep doing what you’re doing. That’s an outcome that most businesses would dream of!

    For everybody else, accept that some paid marketing is helpful, and can transform your business. If you’d like to learn more about our paid marketing services, please get in touch today.

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    Jake Albion

    Albion Digital Web Studio

    I'm the founder of Albion Digital Web Studio. I focus on understanding your business to help you tackle business challenges on the web. I've grown with marketing and its expanding technologies since 2013 and moved my focus to website solutions in 2017 and look forward to sharing how we can help you.

    I'm the founder of Albion Digital Web Studio. I focus on understanding your business to help you tackle business challenges on the web. I've grown with marketing and its expanding technologies since 2013 and moved my focus to website solutions in 2017 and look forward to sharing how we can help you.