How to Trim the Online Ad Budget

  |  September 25, 2009   |  Comments

Even the smartest online marketer can get into a comfort zone and miss seeing fat in their budgets. Here are some places to look.

I hear one big question over and over again when I speak: where do I trim the fat from my online budget?

If you aren't being asked to do more with less, then just wait. You will.

Online marketers that have well-monitored stews of traffic on their site are hesitant to do anything other than add to the traffic pot. The thought of shifting or slashing online budgets and risking traffic is surely keeping many marketers up way past their bedtimes. They feel like their marketing/traffic mix is some house of cards and the most delicate of movements will send traffic and conversions into the ether.

However, when I talk a little deeper to many of these marketers, I find their conversion rates are pathetic. Truth is, many are justified in being afraid. But often many fear the wrong problem.

Most sites I analyze don't have traffic problems. Only very small startups or small businesses that barely crack 1,000 uniques a month should be concerned about traffic. What happens to the traffic once it hits a landing page or clicks deeper is more troubling.

No online budget doesn't have some fat to trim. Recently, a prospect assured me that their spend was efficient and they doubted I would find anything they could afford to cut. I should have made a bet with them.

After a little digging, I learned they spend a fair amount on secondary search engines and obtaining a small return. I convinced them to cut the spend on the secondaries and allocate a portion of the budget for landing page optimization. Many of the visitors were bouncing despite coming to the landing pages after searching for keywords revealing some intent.

If you have traffic that wants to buy, why not shift efforts or budget into to ensuring they do exactly that on your site?

This may seem elementary, but often even the smartest online marketer can get into a comfort zone and miss seeing fat that has been right under their nose the whole time. Many just have never had to dig deep enough.

What If...

If you believe you can't afford to cut any of your budget, then think differently about the traffic that comes to your site. To think differently, you often have to put yourself in a less comfortable place.

What if you had to cut your marketing budget in half immediately?

Ponder that question. Look at your budget through this lens. Look at your metrics. No matter how wise you think your spending is, you'll find some things that you can do without.

Perhaps you buy some terms for little more than comfort. Perhaps you should have given up on or modified campaigns a long time ago. Maybe a resource is overcharging and underperforming.

Now that you see it's indeed possible to cut some things, you're likely starting to see some things that are "untouchable." Some marketing efforts are your big performers and can't be cut under any circumstance. What could you do to improve the results from those efforts? Or is it all about getting more traffic?

Now that you've pondered a painful cut, let me give you another 10 percent to spend. Now you have 60 percent of your original budget in hand. Maybe you can put something from your old budget back in? Or now that the slate is clean, is there something else you suspect would give you a greater return than a tired old line item?

A budget cut is one way to shake up the status quo. Just because you have always bought something doesn't mean you have to buy it again.

Consider cutting terms that are expensive and ineffective in terms of conversion. Mostly, these broad terms don't reveal customer intent. You can use Steve Jackson's spreadsheet to determine how well your terms are doing.

Looking for Little Opportunities

Are you hunting for whales and missing smaller fish? Sometimes, a minimal effort can pull several small fish in the boat at pennies on the dollar.

Maybe a few real-time searches on social media would help you find active buyers today. Maybe doing PPC (define) for long-tail terms might pay more than buying the pricey but easier broader terms. For example, if you sell exclusive models and aren't doing well organically, maybe a little budget spent on SEO (define) would help.

Looking at the Long Term

One of the biggest opportunities is finding customers early in their buying process. Build a relationship with customers before they're ready to buy. Look for opportunities to market to these types of customers; it's usually cheaper because your competitors are only looking for those customers with their wallets out now.

Shifting on Dime

Be smart and nimble. Successful online marketers can shift tactics on a dime and are never territorial or idealogical. Do what works. They know that something that worked today may not work tomorrow. Or vice versa.

Cutting budget or making changes is never fun. But it doesn't mean you can't get better results.

How did you handle a recent budget cut? Let us know.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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