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Where to Invest Digital Marketing Dollars in 2019—the Basics

two marketers discussing a project budget

2019 is just around the corner. The wise marketer is now starting to adjust his or her budgets accordingly. If you’re looking for the goods on how to plan your digital marketing budget for 2019, you’ve come to the right place.

Since I’m a list-loving fellow who loves organization, let’s break it down like this: the Basics of what you need to make sure you’ve got nailed down in order to be successful, what Intermediate areas you should be exploring if time, budget, and sophistication allow, and finally, what Advanced marketers should be looking to do at the fringes of their budgets.

Let’s look at a hard and fast rule for just how to split your digital marketing budget before we get too far along on where to spend it.

The 70-20-10 Rule

At Inbound 2018, HubSpot’s annual marketing conference, keynote speaker Beth Comstock (CMO of GE) mentioned her “70-20-10” rule for where to focus marketing efforts, which breaks down like this:

  • 70% of time spent on “Now”
  • 20% of time on “Next”
  • 10% of time spent on “New”

That coincidentally is also a wonderful way to think about where to plan and spend your budget for digital in 2019. Focusing on the now—both in terms of the immediate marketing needs of your organization, and the technology and tactics that we know are fruitful - is an awesome way to split apart your budget.

70% of your digital marketing budget allocation should be going to the things that you know work well: search, web optimization, email and automation, content, and paid media. It should be focused on the products and services that make the most revenue for your business, in the channels that are the most effective.

Once you’ve figured out what dollars are going to those big dogs, you can start figuring out your 20% of what’s on the horizon—both in terms of the business (new products and services, a new market segment, etc.) and expanding technologies and marketing channels.

Finally, your 10% will be the outer limits, fringe territory—budget that you’re not counting on to make you look like a hero, but boy oh boy if it lands, what a hero you’ll be. This is where new and emerging technologies, testing, and wild ideas get their wings. Depending on your 2019 business goals and how conservative your leadership (and marketing budgets) are, 10% may seem like too much, or maybe too little, but I like it as a rule of thumb.

But Really, How Much Should I Plan on Spending?

Look, this question is different for all organizations. One loosely defined rule I’ve also felt was useful was this: plan on 10% of overall company revenue as a baseline for a marketing budget. Now, typically, that includes everything, and I mean everything: your overhead costs (salaries, assets), operations costs (software and whatnot), advertising spend, and marketing programs and campaigns.

While it’s tempting for me to say, “spend this much here, and that much there,” or to tell you what your Now, Next, and New categories should be, every business is different, and every marketing team has its own level of sophistication, budget, and risk tolerance. What I can do is arm you with what you should be doing for sure, and help guide you towards the more sophisticated digital thinking as we go along.

The Basics

Okay, so ask yourself, “how sophisticated is my digital marketing today?” If you’re not sure how to answer that, 1) I’m betting it’s not very sophisticated, and 2) I’m here to help by giving you a few guidelines.

At a bare minimum, the very basics of what you should be proficient and excelling at as a digital marketing organization include the following: marketing analytics, website management, marketing automation, competitive intelligence, search, and your overall messaging and communication strategy.

Messaging and Communication Strategy

Your marketing communication strategy is likely not solely the responsibility of the digital marketing team. But it damn well better be something that your team is intimately familiar with and executing with precision on a regular basis.

In the era of impatient customers who expect everything now, their way, right away, your messages absolutely must be critically aligned with one another and working together. It simply will not do to have a website, social, email, and non-owned channels representing different messaging to prospective customers. That’s a sign that you don’t have your act together.

If that sounds like you, stop reading this and start thinking about how to spend your 2019 budget on some branding, creative, and overall marketing messaging strategy. Come back to this after you’ve got that worked out, please.

Marketing Analytics

Look, I’ll admit—I’m a “foundations” kind of guy. And yes, while that means I do enjoy the Isaac Asimov novels of the same name, in this case I mean the barest of the basics, and that means tracking as much of what you do as a marketing department as possible.

In digital, this starts (and sometimes ends) with your marketing analytics platform. You shouldn’t have to spend much to use it effectively—but you might have to spend a little to get it set up the right way. Additionally, you’ll want to invest time in tag managers, UTM tracking codes, event tracking and the like. And, if you’ve got even a roundabout idea of the value of products and services you sell, and the conversion points on your website that capture the sell (or parts of that process, like sales appointments, dealer locators, and other SQL and MQL activities), you can program your analytics platform with those values so you can see the value of certain channels, web pages, user flows, etc. If you’ve not made that investment yet…well now, that’s why it’s in the Basics, isn’t it?

Website Management

Ok. Mar-Com Strategy? Check. Analytics set up to prove we’re a bunch of revenue-generating badasses? Check. What’s next?

Managing your website is one of the simplest but also oft-overlooked functions of the marketing department. Look, you probably paid what felt like a lot of money to build the thing. You better be keeping tabs on crawl errors, 404 pages, overall engagement and conversion metrics, site user flow, and the like. One tool that is absolutely indispensable in this endeavor is Google Search Console (or whatever webmaster tool you prefer).

If you’ve got problems there, fix ‘em. If you don’t know how, plan to spend some time, energy, and yes, some of your budget, to find someone who can and who can do it right. This basic-level, “Google says all websites should be doing X-Y-Z” stuff is beyond foundational. Once you’ve got it down, you’re ready to add content, work on user flow and conversion optimization, etc. It’s also critical for search optimization, good ol’ SEO, which we’ll visit here in a moment.

Don’t neglect the more technical side of website management, though—things like website hosting, website speed, security, and the like. Cleanliness is as close to godliness as your website code can get, and making sure your website is also hosted right, optimized to fly faster than an Asimov rocketship, and as absolutely secure as you can get it should be considered table stakes for moving forward.

Marketing Automation

What is a modern marketing strategy without automation? Not very modern, if you ask me. So we’re putting this in the Basics bucket, because if you’re not doing it then you’d better start now.

And by doing it, I mean doing it—all the time. Because, as discussed in my own speaking session at Inbound 2018, marketing automation is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Like our man Emerson said, “marketing automation is about the journey, not the destination.”

What that means for you is that you should be consistently monitoring, and periodically adjusting, your email marketing automation environment.

Email, along with search (stay tuned, we’re getting close, I know, I’m excited to talk about search too!!!), is still one of the top tools for marketers to drive value, and I mean real value, in terms of products and services sold, revenue generated, and badassery delivered by ye old butt-kicking digital marketing team. Email may feel like it’s from the Stone Age, but it’s still the most effective outreach method by far—just look at the latest Content Marketing Institute survey, eMarketer poll, or Marketo case study. Email matters. Your automation matters. Reviewing it, testing it, working it…it’s child’s play.

If you’re not planning and spending time on your marketing automation and email, please plan to start doing so—or finding a partner to help you—in 2019.

Competitive Intelligence

Quick: name the top five online competitors for your company! Can you do it? If not, keep on reading…

Not sure if you were aware, but this crazy thing we call the internet keeps on…changing. Evolving. Growing ontothings. What crept into our phones soon came calling for our watches, then our televisions, home appliances and more. What that means is that the savviest among us are the ones who stay tuned in—not just to future technologies (which we’ll talk about soon in the Intermediate and Advanced sections), but also to who’s doing what in our own backyard.

At a very basic level, you should have a subscription to some competitive intelligence software. I like SEMrush for search, Buzzsumo for content, and good ol’ fashioned online stalking for social and email—and you should be dipping into it no less than quarterly to review what’s new with your competitors in the online environment. Monthly would be even better.

Don’t be surprised, especially if you’ve done your research correctly, if you start to see some of your assumed competitors not there at all, replaced by organizations who feel unrelated but who may be taking up big real estate where you want to stake your online territory. It’s less common these days, but as little as five years ago it was shocking how many clients had no idea who their online competition was—sometimes completely oblivious and determined that offline competitors were the only ones who mattered.

Most of us have grown up, or at least wised up, by now. Figuring out who your online competitors are for attracting the attention of new prospects, converting them to sales opportunities and eventually customers, and retaining them and keeping them happy once they’ve joined the family—which, by the way, could mean there’s three or more layers of online competition that you’re dealing with—is paramount to your digital marketing success.

Invest in the tools. Invest the time. Competitive intelligence is powerful knowledge you can put to good use in your marketing efforts. Make it a part of your 2019 digital marketing budget plan.


When you are thinking about how to allocate your digital marketing budget for 2019, keep in mind how much basic organic search plays into the success of our online environment.

According to Moz CEO Sarah Bird’s 2018 Inbound presentation, organic search accounts for 62% of clicks within Google, compared to 2.8% for paid search. What’s shocking is that on average, organizations spend 10% of their search budget on organic, and 90% on paid.

Those numbers are staggering. Staggering. And as we’ll see in our Intermediate and Advanced segments, organic search is the magic wheel that makes the digital marketing world go round—the gateway to the internet, and the lifeblood of our future technologies like voice search, chat, and more.

Search is a topic worth a dozen blog posts, a few case studies, a quarterly survey and more—but trust me when I say you had better be investing in search. We’ve already covered many of the technical basics above in the website management portion, but there’s some dedicated work left to do.

Killing it in organic search, once you have your technical SEO down (all of the webmaster guidelines checked and crossed off, hosting and speed issues solved, etc.), it all comes down to content. Content still begins and ends with your end users, which means, contrary to the oft-repeated cries of their demise, keywords are still where content-oriented search begins.

Once you’ve got your keywords right, learning how to craft content that fits the new Google format, now a land of Featured Snippets, sidebar callouts, reviews, local listings, maps and more, is of paramount importance. Make sure your content, both the backend with metadata and schema markup and the front end with user-friendly lists, imagery, and video, is up to snuff, or you will be behind in everything else surrounding your marketing efforts—including those upcoming future technologies.

What About the More Advanced Stuff?

There’s plenty left to discuss for the 2019 digital marketing budget allocation and how you’re planning the year—but I’ve gone and written a ton about the basics. We’ll cover the Intermediate and Advanced digital marketing tactics you should be looking at next year in part two of our 2019 budgeting breakdown.