“How long will it take to get results? How long before we get a return on investment?”
These are commonly asked questions from business owners considering an investment in online marketing. And they are completely understandable. Businesses need to make sure they are spending their hard-earned money wisely.
Although we don’t have a crystal ball and can’t answer these questions with certainty, our many years as online marketing practitioners have given us a sense as to when results typically begin to take hold. Our stock answer is that the goal should be to break even over the first twelve months and to expect a positive, and growing, return in years two and beyond.
This of course will vary from business to business depending on issues such as competition, length of sales cycles, current online activities, etc. But in general terms it takes twelve months to build momentum and generate consistent results. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get to a positive return as quickly as possible. But it’s also in everyone’s best interest to proceed with realistic expectations.
The most important thing to recognize is that online marketing is about the long game. It’s about doing the right things consistently over time. Not about quick hits. As with business in general, and marketing more specifically, there are very few “overnight successes”.
Why Twelve Months?
There is a tried and proven path to a positive return on investment, and this path starts with a strategic online marketing plan. The plan answers questions such as:
- how do my typical prospects behave online and what information are they expecting to find?
- what are the right online tactics to employ?
- how do I measure results?
- what are my competitors doing online?
- how much do I need to budget?
- what skill sets and technologies are required?
Strategic planning typically takes one month to complete and sets the stage for the next step in the journey, which is building the online marketing infrastructure to execute the plan. This can include updating the website so it is optimized for search and conversion, putting analytics tools in place, cleaning up social accounts, and confirming a twelve-month content calendar. This phase can take up to three months.
Once the infrastructure is in place, then it is time to “flip the switch” and move to relentless execution. It is during this phase that you consistently engage in and execute the tactics identified in the plan. The goal of these activities is to build a body of work that gains credibility with search engines, increases visibility and mindshare within the target markets, differentiates you from competitors, and drives website traffic and inbound leads.
Once you move into this phase, it also imperative to use analytics data to make the adjustments necessary to get better results.
The on-going cycle is execute, analyze, adjust, and it is the learning that drives future decision making. All in all, this process typically takes twelve months to kick into high gear, which is when you get to predictable and sustainable results.
A Real Client Example
We started working with a client five years ago. At the time, 20% of their business came from the internet and 80% from other sources. Within one year, the ROI from the online activities we implemented and executed was slightly better than breakeven – an 18% return on investment.
After our fifth year, online marketing activities generated an 800% return! 80% of their business is now generated from digital marketing and 20% from other sources.
By sticking with the plan, and by making data driven adjustments, we have been able to build momentum, realize sustained revenue growth, and brought them an ever-increasing return from their online activities. This client understood from day one that this was about long-term success, and that commitment has paid off considerably.
The Bottom Line
A positive ROI should absolutely be expected from online marketing, but it does require a multi-faceted, strategic approach. Once the right mechanisms are in place, and you are relentlessly executing, monitoring activities, and making refinements, you will build momentum. And its momentum that drives revenue growth and a return on investment.
Like most things worth doing, online marketing requires time and effort to generate tangible results. It’s not about quick hits. You must take a longer-term view. If you commit to doing the right things consistently day in and day out, you will get results.
If you are considering making investments in online marketing, think in terms of breaking even in year one and then achieving a consistent and sustainable increase in ROI over time. Ultimately, if you stick with it, online marketing will help you achieve your revenue and profit growth objectives.
The buying process has changed. Prospects have become increasingly dependent on online means to research their options and to make informed buying decisions. You must meet their expectations in the online realm, and this requires investments in skill sets, technology, and infrastructure.
As online marketing practitioners, we’ve seen time and again that this is the pathway to desired business outcomes.
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