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Digital marketing is essential to modern business. It’s hard now to imagine a world where we weren’t able to advertise and promote services, products and brands through digital platforms such as social media, websites, email, and search engines.
But when you’re running a business, digital marketing can feel like both a blessing and a curse. It’s a huge opportunity, but there are also so many ways you can get it wrong (or feel like you have).
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And while everyone seems to promise quick fixes, in reality, it often takes a long time to see results. This is true whether you do your marketing yourself – or whether you use an agency.
The internet and digital have meant that even the smallest businesses can now reach huge audiences, and convert them. And this isn’t just because it means you’re not restricted to small local audiences.
Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing enables precise targeting, immediate feedback, and measurable results. In the hands of expert marketers, these things mean it’s possible to constantly tweak and optimise any campaign to get better and better results.
While old school marketing techniques (such as delivering leaflets or creating billboards) produced results that were hard to measure and couldn’t easily be optimised, when they worked, they often worked fast.
But the digital space is so vast that it often takes some time to reach your target audience and see real results. Consistency is key – as any good agency marketer will tell you.
Your digital marketing campaigns might take a long time to show results for several reasons. Some of them are things you can’t change (like the nature of your business). Others are things that either you or your agency can influence, at least to a point.
The level of competition in your particular market significantly affects how long marketing takes to work. If it’s saturated with competitors all using similar digital marketing strategies, it may take longer for your audience to connect with your brand.
That said, you might be able to jump the queue if you can come up with a clever or unusual strategy.
Understanding your target audience is crucial in determining how long it’ll take for your digital marketing to work. The more accurately you can identify and understand your audience, the more effective your strategies will be. This can reduce the time it takes to attract the right customer and generate results.
But it should be said that more sceptical audiences will take longer to convert, and be harder to convert, even if you understand them well.
The size of your business can also affect the timeline. Smaller businesses with smaller budgets may need more time to gain traction compared to larger companies with bigger budgets.
But budget isn’t everything, and a clever marketer should be able to help a small business punch above its weight. We’ve done this many times in our agency.
The digital marketing strategy you adopt naturally plays a vital role in determining how long it will take to see results.
Strategies that are well-researched, data-driven, and constantly optimised should always produce results faster than strategies built on assumptions.
The digital channels you see in your marketing strategy can hugely affect the time it takes to see results.
For example, SEO is a long-term strategy and it can take several months to start seeing improved search rankings. But PPC ads can get results almost instantly (though they may require a larger budget).
It’s natural to want your marketing to work quickly – especially if you’re spending money on an agency to help you.
But it’s important to have realistic expectations, both about the time you’ll need to see results, and the amount of work that might be needed.
Let’s run through some of the common digital marketing techniques and how long they usually take.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a long-term investment, as it often takes months to start seeing improved search rankings.
It takes time for search engines to index and rank web pages, and to build up the quality content that’s needed. Of course, sometimes you’ll see results faster (especially if you have an experienced SEO on your side).
But even if you don’t, the benefits of SEO are well worth the wait, as high quality, increased website traffic should lead to higher conversions and more revenue.
Content marketing is another long-term strategy.
It involves creating and sharing valuable content such as blogs and social posts to attract and retain an audience. But even if your content is amazing, it takes time for your reputation to build and your audience to grow.
Over time, content can establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry, leading to increased engagement, website traffic, and customer loyalty.
Email marketing (which shouldn’t be confused with cold email outreach) can work fairly fast for people already on your list, but it takes time to build up that list.
Ecommerce brands can often do it relatively fast by giving people the option to subscribe when they purchase. Other brands can use lead magnets to attract subscribers, which can be highly effective or not, depending on whether you find something that resonates.
Once you have a solid list, how fast you get results will be influenced by how well you target and personalise your emails.
Ads are the quickest way to get results – and usually the most expensive. But even if your ads work fast, you should be looking to keep on optimising and improving so that your results get even better.
Once you start running ads, you get data on what works best, and can test different creatives with different audiences until you find the most effective.
As well as sometimes being slow to work, digital marketing is complex. If you’ve been doing your own marketing until now, and are beginning to struggle either with the workload, or how to execute it, you might be thinking of hiring an agency instead.
One thing should be clear: don’t hire an agency just because you want faster results. You may well get them, as agencies will have access to knowledge and tools that you probably don’t. But, for all the reasons just outlined, there are no guarantees.
Marketing agencies typically have a wealth of experience and a broad skill set among their staf, meaning they usually find it easier than you would to navigate the fast changing waters of digital marketing.
They might be working with several other businesses like yours, and will be able to draw on their successes or failures with them to create a strategy that works faster for you. And because they can spend all their time on marketing rather than having to run the business day to day as you do, they may be quicker to implement.
DIY marketing, by contrast, requires a steep learning curve. You might need to constantly learn new skills as well as finding time to actually run campaigns. The process of trial and error, which is part of any kind of marketing, often takes longer when you don’t have access to up-to-date knowledge and tools.
However, speed isn’t the only consideration. If you’re thinking of using an agency, you’ll also want to think about budget. But this isn’t just about whether you can afford an agency – it’s about whether you’ll see a return on your investment and how long that might take.
Choosing to work with a marketing agency often involves a considerable investment, and understandably, you want to know when they can expect to see a return on this investment.
There are several factors that influence this – and it can vary considerably.
Firstly, the type of marketing strategy your agency uses. Many agencies can get very quick results with ads, because they know how to use the data they produce to speed things up. A PPC campaign run by an agency like ours will show ROI in weeks. An SEO campaign will always take longer. Even though we know how to speed things up as much as we can, the ROI will naturally take time.
Your industry and market competition level play a crucial role, just as they would if you were running your own campaigns. If your niche is in a saturated market with fierce competition, it will always take longer than if it’s not. We might get results faster than you could if you DIY, but we can’t get them instantly.
Each agency’s expertise and resources can also impact the timeline. Experienced agencies with access to advanced tools and a deep understanding of market trends and consumer behavior are often better positioned to craft effective strategies and get you faster ROI.
How much marketing you’ve done so far, and how effective it’s been, are also big influences. If you already have a strong online presence and good reputation, we’ll usually get quicker results than if we have to build from scratch or re-work a lot of your existing marketing.
Finally, how engaged are your audience? If you have a big email list, or a social audience, full of people who are already familiar with and interested in your products or services we can leverage that to get you a quicker ROI than if we had to build those audiences.
It’s important to remember that marketing is not a quick-fix solution, but a long-term investment. Instantaneous results are rare. And whether you use an agency or not, you should focus on consistent, quality marketing that connects with your audience.
Depending on all the factors above, you might see ROI within weeks, or it might take months. It’s important to talk to your agency about this at the beginning. If your budget is tight, ask them if they can focus on high ROI activities first. We always do this at Traffic Radius – because we know it’s important to most businesses.
Digital marketing is a marathon not a sprint. It requires thoughtful strategies, patience, and consistency.
It takes time, whatever you do, and any agency that claims to be able to get instant results is almost certainly either lying or using discredited techniques. And even if they are able to get quick results, the question is: can they sustain them?
We work with businesses who are planning to be here for the long term, and we create strategies that will work in the long term, not just the short term.