If you hopped into a time machine and traveled back to the early 2000s, and interviewed a thousand marketers about their impressions of content marketing, most of them would wonder where you got a time machine and would quickly derail any attempt to get a good survey result. If you didn’t tell them you had a time machine, they would probably tell you about how it doesn’t seem to make much sense, and that if anything, a basic site with an FAQ and some tossed-up basic pages is perfectly fine.
Content marketing has existed for decades, in some form or another. Bill Gates wrote an essay about it in 1996. However, it’s only since 2011 or so that true, modern content marketing has taken the stage. I give primary credit for this to Google, though they were largely following the trends of what people want out of the web.
It is no longer a question of whether or not you should invest in content marketing. If you want to have a chance of ranking in the modern web world, you absolutely need to. The question today is how much money you should allocate to your content marketing?
There are a lot of elements that go into content marketing, but I’m not going to cover every one of them. Content marketing as a whole covers the research that goes into creating content ideas, the creation of content itself, and the promotion of that content once it has been published. In some cases, this can even include the cost of paying for guest post slots, and other unorthodox forms of marketing.
What I’m going to focus on is two things: content ideation and content creation. I am also going to categorize content marketing into three broad categories.
The first is the cheapest in terms of money, because you’re doing the legwork yourself. You will have to pay for tools, but you save a lot of money in the actual creation process.
Minor outsourcing and major outsourcing are a kind of sliding scale. I consider minor outsourcing to be a relatively cheap plan, where you buy some tools and do the work to come up with content ideas, but you pay to have those ideas turned into content. Major outsourcing, meanwhile, is pure blog management outsourcing. Everything except some content guidelines is done by another company you’re paying.
Almost every level of content marketing involves purchasing some tools that can help you. There are a ton of tools available that can help you, for all levels of budget. I’ve listed a few here, but for a more in-depth list, you can check this article on the subject.
BuzzSumo for content idea research. This tool allows you to search for topics and see the existing content, what sort of trends are going on in that niche, and what influencers are present. It’s great to keep an eye on trends, find influencers to engage, and generate content ideas. It’s also expensive, at $80 per month for the cheapest version.
Canva for visual design. While I’m not strictly covering the graphic design element of content creation, it’s still an important aspect, and using Canva allows anyone to be at least a mediocre designer. Professional graphic design is always an option, and I recommend hiring a freelancer or two when you get the budget, but Canva can fill in the gaps until you can. It’s also relatively cheap, though the price depends entirely on how many graphical elements you need to license for your project.
Evernote for organization cross-platform. Evernote can be used for free with some strict limitations, including a limit of two devices and only 60MB of upload space per month. You can upgrade this to unlimited devices and 1GB of data for $35 per year, or 10GB and a bunch of additional features for $70 per year.
Again, there are far more tools than I can cover here, and it’s not really the point. The idea is to illustrate the kinds of tools you might be looking at buying. All of these have alternatives for lower prices or even for free, but they won’t be as good. That’s the sacrifice you generally have to make. Personally, I think it’s worthwhile to buy a few tools than struggle with cheaper options, but it’s up to you and your budget.
So if you’re going the DIY route, one thing you need to do is figure out how much you, and whoever else in-company you have working on your content marketing, are paid per hour. This hourly rate should be balanced with the number of hours you spend working on content. If you figure that you and two teammates combined are paid $100 an hour and you spend eight hours a week on content marketing, that’s $800 worth of man-hours you’re spending per week, or $3,200 per month. Could you find a content marketing company willing to work with you for half that? Probably.
I understand that not everyone has the flexibility of budget to do this. Just because you’re spending $3,200 in man-hours every month doesn’t mean you can dial back and spend that $3,200 in liquid assets elsewhere. You’re not taking a pay cut for your content marketing, right?
It’s just an idea to show you how much content marketing is actually worth to you. You’re spending that time and money on your own salary to do the work, so don’t balk at a price point lower than that to have someone else do the work.
How much would the complete DIY be looking at spending, if you ignore your own salary? Probably not a lot.
In terms of content idea generation, you might use something as simple as a title generator or some basic scraping tools for free. Again, it takes time, but it ends up with a $0 price tag. You can also do research with scraping tools or free versions of tools like BuzzSumo for free.
Then comes content creation itself. You can split this into two segments; the content itself and supplemental content like images and videos.
For the content itself, as long as you’re competent with the English language, know modern web writing standards, and have enough knowledge about your topic or the ability to research it, you can create it entirely free. Writing a blog post on your own costs $0. However, there can be hidden fees for this. For example, you might want to access some paywalled research material, which can cost something. This is generally the exception to the rule, though, so it’s often simply free.
For graphic design, if you’re not a designer, you should hire a freelancer to do it for you. A tool like Canva can work, and you can create good graphics for $15 or less each, but composition might suffer. It depends on how you want to go about it. Some graphics don’t need much, just screenshots, and that’s free. Others might need more work, and could use a professional designer. A professional might charge anywhere between $50 and $1,500 for an image, though often on the lower end.
Videos are harder, and unless you have the equipment and expertise to make them yourself, I recommend going with a program like Animaker. It’s free for short videos, or can go up to $50 per month for half-hour videos, lots of exports, full HD quality, and more.
Overall, your content marketing budget for a DIY plan is probably somewhere between $0 and $200 per blog post, depending on various factors. At three blog posts per week — $600 on the top side – that makes $2,400 or so per month. Allocate $3,000 per month and you have plenty of wiggle room.
When you’re outsourcing your content creation, at a low level you’re likely just paying freelancers to do it for you.
For the content ideation, you’re probably going to want to keep it in-house. You might spend a bit on some tools for keyword research, title generation, and brainstorming, but you won’t be spending more than $100 per month on them most likely.
Actual content can be as cheap or as expensive as you’re willing to make it. I’ve been able to buy 1,000-word blog posts for $12, and I’ve seen them even cheaper. The caveat here is that the ultimate cheap ghost writing is going to be, well, abjectly terrible. If you’re buying 3-star content on Textbroker, you’re going to get a pile of letters that you’ll be lucky to find form into words, let alone sentences. Meanwhile, you can find a good freelancer willing to work for $100-300 per blog post, depending on the length and the requirements of that post. You can consider that to be an industry standard rate. You can also find high profile freelancers willing to write for your blog for a substantial fee and pay $1,500 or more per blog post, but it’s pretty unlikely that you’re in that niche when you’re still in partial DIY mode.
As for graphic design, again, you probably want to hire freelancers, and you don’t want to go with the cheap ones. You can get some good images on Fiverr for $5, but you don’t know if the “designer” stole the design or is referencing something you might not want to reference. You also don’t know if they actually have the rights to the images they’re using. You don’t want to open yourself up to copyright claims because of cheaping out on graphic design, especially when you’re creating your brand identity.
According to this article, graphic designers tend to charge by the hour and will range from $20 to $350 per hour. You can expect to be paying in the range of $50 per hour, and it often won’t take more than an hour for simple blog images. However, since each post needs 1-3 images, it can be $150 or more in graphic design per post.
At three blog posts per week, with a blog post casting $350 between the content and the graphics, you’re looking at $4,200 per month. Keeping this in mind, however, by outsourcing you’re also freeing yourself up to work. You can get a lot of work done on other essential projects while you’re outsourcing your content.
If you’re going the full-on blog management company route, you have to be aware of the pitfalls. Some of the cheapest low-end blog managers are pretty terrible at what they do. Oh, they’ll keep content coming on your blog, but that content is likely going to be outsourced in turn to cheaper freelancers, or it might just be superficial in nature and not very valuable.
If you’re going to outsource your blog entirely, you have to be willing to pay for it. The good news is, you aren’t necessarily going to have to pay too much. The bad news is, every company is different, and content marketing management companies tend to not have simple package pricing. In fact, if you’re looking for simple buy-and-forget packages, you’re looking in the wrong direction. Instead, you should be looking for companies like Salted Stone, SmartBug Media, or any of the other HubSpot Agency Partners.
On the other hand, if you’re outsourcing your blog entirely, you’re generally not concerned with your budget as a whole. You can afford just about anything, and your concern should be more towards getting quality out of your blog manager rather than getting a cheaper price.
That said, I don’t have specific pricing for you for this. It can be $300 a month, $300 a week, $300 a day, or $300 an hour, and I have no doubt that the blog managers hired by Fortune 500 companies cost even more. The sky is the limit; just pay for what you can afford.
This is where a little research might come in handy. Rather than thinking in terms of prices, think in terms of percentages of your marketing budget. On average, companies are spending 28% of their budgets or more on content marketing. How much is that for you?