Search Vs. Social: How To Reallocate Your Online Marketing Budget for Maximum Performance

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent countless companies scampering online in an attempt to keep their businesses afloat. With traditional marketing options strangled by quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, an abundance of marketing resources has suddenly been funneled towards digital marketing in never-before-seen quantities.

As many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), in particular, have arrived in the e-commerce scene, they have quickly become aware that organization and planning are essential if they’re going to successfully adapt to the online marketplace.

One of the most critical decisions that must be made is how to allocate their resources, particularly when it comes to the nebulous-yet-effective tactics of search engine marketing and social media marketing.

Reassessing a Tight Digital Marketing Budget

Most companies put some money into digital marketing, but SMB owners are particularly aware of what it’s truly like to participate in digital marketing on a budget. When you’re strapped for cash, deciding how much money to put into your marketing strategy typically revolves around a handful of different digital marketing options:

  • Creating and updating your website represents a necessary though fairly predictable expense that can easily be controlled through a service like Shopify or Big Commerce.
  • Cultivating an email list is common and the cost is directly proportionate to your success — i.e. you pay more if you have more email subscribers (which is a good thing).
  • Focusing on content marketing to strategically create and distribute content that is relevant, relatable, and valuable to your target market.

When used in concert, your website, email list, and content marketing can lead you to your Robert Frost moment — that is, they can help you create and use content that allows you to take “the road less traveled,” helping you to affordably and uniquely stand out against your competitors and find success.

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Search or Social? That Is the Question.

While your website and email list are fairly predictable expenses, content marketing can be a bit of a wild card. The two areas of content marketing that can quickly become prohibitively expensive are search engine marketing (SEM) and social media marketing (SMM).

Both of these options offer incredible potential for businesses great and small. Both have aspects of organic and paid marketing and require patience, organization, and innovation to properly utilize. With so many similarities, the primary struggle comes from trying to decide which one to prioritize.

Fortunately, breaking both down in order to study their uses, benefits, and weaknesses can help to direct your money allocation efforts. Use the information below to consider how both SEM and SMM can benefit your business in particular. Then consider your digital marketing budget and use your analysis to decide how much of money you can put toward each marketing tactic.

Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing can be defined as how you get traffic and visibility through search engines. Search engines are a critical channel for marketing, as billions of searches are executed each day. By tailoring your content to show up in search engine results, you can tap into some of that traffic and direct it towards your site.


Some of the primary costs that come with using SEM include:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) analysis: Hiring a professional SEO expert to tailor your content costs money.
  • Content creation and management: You need a content manager (even if it’s you) to help create, manage, publish, and oversee your content.
  • SEM tools: Many good SEO tools, such as Moz and Ahrefs, require monthly subscriptions.
  • PPC ads: You can purchase pay per click ads for search engines.
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Pros and Cons

Search engine marketing can be powerfully effective as a way to drive quality traffic to your site, as it:

  • Tailors your content to provide unique value for readers.
  • Establishes you as an authority within your industry.
  • Once created, provides long-term, organic traffic long after your initial investment.

While it comes with benefits, there are a few important considerations for SEM. For instance, it:

  • Doesn’t provide quick results, as it takes time for the search engine algorithms to discover your content.
  • Can be expensive to pay upfront for the creation of new content.
  • Is fairly limited in scope, as it only focuses on traffic and general exposure via search engines.

Social Media Marketing

In comparison to SEM, social media marketing also uses content — this time uniquely created for each social platform — to foster engagement and encourage sharing. In other words, it uses social media to reach and interact with consumers in a variety of different ways.


Most of the primary costs associated with social media marketing include:

  • Management: Managing social media accounts can be extremely time-consuming.
  • Content creation: The perpetual need for new content can also take up significant amounts of resources.
  • Influencers: The time and cost spent interacting with influencers on social media can add up quickly.
  • PPC ads: You can purchase pay per click ads on social media as well.

Pros and Cons

While an effective tool, social media also has some pros and cons worthy of consideration. On the pro side of the leger, social media marketing:

  • Allows you to reach a nearly-infinite number of potential customers.
  • Can be used for outreach, lead generation, and customer service.
  • Helps with fostering brand awareness and customer loyalty.
  • Doesn’t cost anything to set up and maintain an account.
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Set against these benefits is the fact that social media:

  • Is extremely time-consuming.
  • Can be expensive and exhausting to come up with content.

Deciding Between SEM and SMM

The truth is, there’s isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for allocating your digital marketing budget — especially when it comes to search engine marketing and social media marketing. However, that doesn’t mean a solution cannot be found.

On the contrary, take the time to plan out your post-COVID-19 digital marketing budget and figure out how much money you have to spend after your website, email, and other fairly predictable expenses are added up. Then consider your business’s particular situation and whether an SEM- or SMM-focused approach is more effective or practicable at the moment.

Do you have the time to invest in a long-term SEM strategy? Do you require customer service, lead generation, or other SSM-related results as quickly as possible? Can you divide your time and resources in order to develop both simultaneously?

As you parse through the specifics, do so with the understanding that you should reevaluate things on a regular basis in order to discover if a further reallocation of resources is necessary.

Maintaining an adaptive, growth-oriented mindset towards your digital marketing is the cornerstone of finding perpetual success, especially as you navigate the turbulent waters of the new normal created in the wake of the coronavirus.


Guest post courtesy of Beau Peters

Mercy - CBNation Team

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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