Zach Mandelblatt
By Zach Mandelblatt | SEM | June 18, 2014

DRA Chat #1: Making the Most of a Limited Budget

From time to time, Ben Childs and Zach Mandelblatt will exchange emails over in a series we are calling “DRA Chats”. Today’s topic: How to make the most of your limited internet marketing budget.  




When choosing how to spend an internet marketing budget, many choices present themselves.  Should that additional dollar go into AdWords?  SEO?  Improving or redesigning the website?  Ben, what statistics do you use to guide how to spend a limited budget?


I think the answer “it depends” is always a safe one. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked: what’s your time horizon? Obviously the “long-term is Content/SEO” and “short-term is Paid” dichotomy applies here. However, if you’re asking about marginal dollars spent, I would take it in a different direction: the higher your total traffic, paid or otherwise, the riper you are for Conversion Rate Optimization and/or Remarketing (which I consider a sort of backwards CRO).

The marginal value of a 1% improvement in conversion rate on someone with 100 visitor may not be all that fantastic, but get up to 100,000 visitors, and now we’re talking 1,000 more conversions. I hope you’re sitting down Zach; most marketers aren’t doing this math. Obviously, everybody deals with “limited” budgets in their own way, and the 100,000-visitor-site’s limit is (hopefully) much more than the site with 100 visitors.
If we’re talking about the much smaller site, I think impression share in AdWords is as good of a guide as there can be. If you have a great CPA in a campaign that’s losing 50% of it’s Impressions due to budget, well, that great CPA can be doubled in volume.
That assumes that Analytics/Conversion tracking is working correctly. For a website with any real inclinations to improve, Analytics/Conversion tracking should be the font from which all knowledge  flows.


  1. Large “limited” budget – Conversion Rate Optimization
  2. Small “limited” budget – Use AdWords Impression share figures to guide investments.
  3. Any website – pay someone to set-up your Analytics correctly


I agree that Step One has to be to get your Analytics set up properly.  You need to be able to actually pinpoint where your conversions come from and how your different investments are performing.  We’ve had clients who started spending additional budget on Pay-Per-Click and assumed that their increase in revenue was a direct result of this when, in fact, the Pay Per Click actually didn’t increase their revenue by a significant amount at all! They just happened to start that Pay-Per-Click investment at the same time that a Google organic algorithm update suddenly tripled their organic traffic, accounting for nearly their entire revenue increase.  They gave credit to the wrong traffic source and mis-allocated their future budget accordingly.  Proper Google Analytics set up, which we’ve covered herehere, and here, and, just as importantly, the ability to synthesize the data therein would have let them identify the traffic source that was actually providing value.

I also generally agree that very large websites with larger budgets should focus on making the most of their already significant traffic volume, while smaller should focus on acquiring more of it.  However, there is a whole grey area between 100 and 100,000 visits per month into which the majority of our clients fall, and there aren’t any hard and fast rules for those in that grey area about how to spend their budget.

For the marketing manager or small business owner working with a website traffic volume in-between small and large, I would suggest letting your relevant conversion statistics be the guide.  Is organic your main revenue stream but it has been falling since the latest algorithm update?  Invest in a stronger SEO effort to reverse that trend.  Is AdWords returning revenue 10:1 on your ad spend?  Pump more money into it.  Has your conversion rate been slowly dropping over the past year?  You are almost certainly best served investing in a new website.  Let the data be your guide!


Indeed, proper tracking allows you to avoid the most classic of quandaries: I spent $250k on AdWords last year, how did I do? Well, um… you see… without conversion tracking or Analytics goals… well, um… I have no idea.However, I feel like there may be some dodging of the question here. Where should you spend your next dollar? TRICK QUESTION, check your Analytics! Or, perhaps that will always be answer.

For fun, let’s say that there’s a client with a magical lock on their Analytics account that only the bravest hero can unlock. They approach, cautiously. “Zach,” they say, “I want to do internet marketing for my vaguely defined website, but for reasons that I’d rather not discuss, I can only pick one discipline…”

Which one would you say, and why? Under what circumstances (E-commerce vs. Leads, Phone vs. Online, Email list, etc.) would that answer change, and why?

Zach:  That is a tough question!  Can I say “Hire a hero who can unlock said Analytics account from the clutches of the anti-knowledge dragon spitefully guarding it?”

No Analytics data for you, sorry!

If I am really flying totally blind, I would adhere to the law of diminishing returns and use my limited funds to improve whatever discipline I’ve spent the least amount of resources on in the past.  Another idea that comes to mind is to make your website mobile friendly by implementing responsive design.  However, without Analytics to determine if mobile browsers are bouncing off my site at a higher rate or even data to determine if the investment I made showed a significant return, I would probably just crawl into a corner and cry… And then hire that Analytics Hero to free my data.

This concludes our first DRA chat. What statistics do you use to determine what to spend your limited budget on?  What discipline would you choose if no statistics were available to guide your decision?  Let us know in the comments below.

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