Marketing on the Web Really Is Not Free
- 14 Comments
- December 19th, 2008
The Website Doctor raised an interesting discussion about startup costs. He pointed to a Paul Graham article, where Graham suggests that the costs of starting a business today are lower than 10 years ago:
“… [E]veryone in the startup business knows by now: it has gotten much cheaper to start a startup. There are four main reasons: Moore’s law has made hardware cheap; open source has made software free; the web has made marketing and distribution free; and more powerful programming languages mean development teams can be smaller. These changes have pushed the cost of starting a startup down into the noise.”
Now, I realize Graham is making broad definitive statements to emphasize his point, partly for effect.
Even so, I don’t agree with one of his points, where he says “the web has made marketing and distribution free.” Maybe the distribution part, but marketing certainly is not free on the Web.
There are costs — big costs — to marketing. The startup entrepreneur has to pay those costs either in time or in money.
- Optimizing a website for the search engines takes many many hours of knowledge, or you have to hire an SEO firm. If you try to do it yourself, you’re faced with the fact that more people are aware of SEO today and so there is more competition for top rankings. And if you decide on a professional, remember that good SEO professionals don’t come cheap.
- Advertising through Google Adwords or other online advertising venues takes money. Google keeps making Adwords more complex and expensive. It’s not just the per-click charges. A cost that is just as big is to manage the pay-per-click ad campaigns and all the nuances you need to master.
- Blogging, email marketing and social media optimization may be cheap if you do it yourself. But each takes a pretty significant commitment of time to execute well. As John Battelle notes, we’re all in the media business in addition to our regular businesses. This may not be a big burden if your business happens to be marketing related — you may have people in your startup who love to write on blogs and play around with Twitter and the like. But if not, you could find these activities at odds with your team’s skillsets, and a major distraction to your core business. As a result, you may be forced to outsource these activities.
Sure marketing can be done on the cheap if — if — you have the knowledge and time to do it yourself. If not, it requires that you have a marketing budget.
The challenge that I see with that statement “marketing on the web is free” is that it may be setting entrepreneurs up to have false expectations. In turn, it makes the job of marketers who might serve startups that much more difficult if that’s what entrepreneurs have been led to believe.