The old maxim in advertising is: "Half of my advertising budget is wasted — I just don’t know which half." It’s been a saying for a long, long time, and attributed to a lot of smart people.

With many forms of online marketing, this old saying doesn’t have to be true. We actually can know which half isn’t working, or at least which half isn’t working right now. But only if we configure things properly and monitor them. I’ve had several requests in the past few months to help people figure out whether something they are doing is working or not. Being a Web analytics junkie, this sort of thing is what I do for fun.

But even boiling traffic down to a simple conversion rate isn’t always so simple. And sometimes what’s good for the short term might have implications in the long term.

This week, let’s look at some different marketing channels and consider why we might want to cut their budgets, and also some reasons why maybe we should be doing more with them.

Cutting back on social media

It seems that all the SEO snake-oil salespeople moved on to social in the past couple years. Every time I turn around, someone is offering me a new package that will manage my Twitter account or post things on my Facebook page, or something like that.

Either that or I’m wondering whether all this hype on Twitter and Facebook is just that: hype. "My employees are spending all day telling random strangers what they had for lunch." That’s what I’m hearing from real estate business owners who fear that social media has ended their agent productivity forever.

It’s easy to poke fun at all the poking, so I’ll take the other side: Why you should keep your social media budget (or time)?

  • Ability to focus on your geographic region keeps you in active conversations with your customers.
  • Ability to honestly listen to the needs and desires of your customers improves your service and understanding of changes in the market from a customer perspective.
  • Ability to demonstrate that you are the most knowledgeable and helpful at what you do — not just say that you’re the "No. 1 agent."
  • What you learn from listening to customers in social media can magnify your efforts in other channels.

Cutting back on traditional print media

Since measuring the impact of print media on our bottom line isn’t as straightforward as the possibilities available to many online channels, cutting the print budget is the rallying cry of the online marketer.

"If real estate professionals spent only 10 percent of what they spend on the newspaper then I’d have a great business" is one of the phrases I hear often from tech vendors of all types. And it’s true. The vendor would have a great business.

But print still has its place. I think it’s changing, and how it’s used needs to be updated, but it can still be a useful channel.

It’s easy to look at most organizations’ print budgets and say, "This has got to go." So I’m going to take the other tack: Why not keep your print budget right where it is?

  • Very focused on a specific, known geographic area — spending where your audience is.
  • Provides best opportunities for high-quality photography.
  • Demographics of readership can be favorable.
  • Large physical sizes and print quality for branding work.
  • Trackable with vanity URLs and custom toll-free numbers.

Cutting back on paid online media

Banner ads and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising online was supposed to kill off the old impressions-based advertising media business model years ago. It hasn’t yet.

In fact, when I ask people about whether they’ve tried PPC advertising I often hear, "Oh, I tried that and it didn’t work." But when I press a little deeper, I find that the advertising was often poorly set up or lacked honest calls to action.

It’s pretty easy to give something a half-hearted or ill-conceived attempt and then give up on it. So instead, I’m going to take the other side: Why you should keep your online paid advertising budget (or start one).

  • Intent-focused advertising. The ad is tied directly to the customer’s desire (aka what they typed into a search engine).
  • Budget control means that you don’t go over budget on traffic, ever.
  • Research opportunities. Knowing which headlines people click on can help make your website, your print and other media better.

Cutting back on search engine optimization

"No one uses Google anymore. They only ask their friends on Facebook. So the search engines must be toast." Well … maybe not.

While it’s hard to downplay the influence of our friends and family in making decisions, those influences have been there and continue to be there, whether or not there is an Internet.

When people have a question about something, they still type it into a search engine. Here’s why you might want to keep up your SEO efforts:

  • Like PPC advertising, your work is focused on the intent of the customer.
  • Unlike PPC advertising, you aren’t paying every time someone clicks on your link.
  • Search brings a demographically and locationally diverse audience to your site.

It’s all about execution.

These are all reasons to keep doing things. But really, it’s all about the execution: How good you are at producing marketing stuff for each of these channels.

If you aren’t a good listener (or you’ve hired some people who aren’t good listeners) then social is going to be difficult for you to execute well. If you aren’t capable of producing or approving great design and copywriting, then traditional print advertising is going to be a weak performer for you. Can’t write? SEO will be a money pit. Don’t want to take the time to configure your online ad campaigns? Online paid advertising will be a major money pit.

Each of the different channels outlined above have their advantages and disadvantages. None of them is always the right thing to do all the time, for everyone. You’ll need to know your capabilities or the capabilities of your marketing team to figure out how to best use your human resources in marketing.

Or you can just sort of keep doing whatever you’re doing now, if it’s working.

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