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How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Digital Marketing Agency?

By Cameron Taggart on

If you're about as familiar with digital marketing agency costs as fractal geometry, we have some good news for you. You're not alone. Nowhere near alone. While I won't go so far to say the industry is intentionally cloak & dagger with its pricing, a lack of familiarity from the customer base accomplishes the same result. Simply put, many B2B companies just don't know enough about agency pricing to distinguish a fair price from an outlandish ripoff.

To help you dip a toe into the digital marketing agency waters, I wanted to run down some typical price ranges you might find for various digital marketing services. The way I see it, the more familiar you are with the marketplace, the better prepared you are to work with an agency, be it the best one in the world or the marketing startup down the street from your office.

Inbound Marketing

Given how expansive inbound marketing can be, it only stands to reason that price points have a pretty broad range. As you might expect, it really depends on what you're looking to accomplish with your content marketing, as well as the techniques you use to get there.

From content creation to sharing that content on social to drive traffic – and several points in between – a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy entails quite a few different pieces. Therefore, while an inbound marketing retainer is a single dollar figure, that retainer will encompass a bunch of separate but connected services, often including:

  • Creating custom content for each stage of the buying process/sales funnel
  • Conversion paths across your website
  • Gated content – guides, whitepapers, infographics, etc.
  • Email nurturing campaigns
  • One-off email blasts
  • Chatbots

I could go on for a few more pages on all the different things that an inbound marketing retainer can include, but you get the idea. Ultimately, the goal is to drive more traffic, convert more leads, and nurture those leads into becoming customers. Once you reach that point, you want your inbound strategy to transform those customers into brand promoters so they'll go out and preach about your company and attract new visitors. And the cycle continues from there.

Inbound Set-Up & Ongoing Costs

Before I jump into monthly retainers, you have to factor in set-up costs for your inbound marketing campaign. An agency will have quite a bit of upfront work to do before you're up and running. For your inbound to find any success, it's important to first research your competition, develop buyer personas, and establish an overall inbound strategy, including any specific goals you want to attain.

Developing your content strategy is a massive component of this set-up stage since it functions as the backbone of your entire inbound campaign and will drive many – perhaps even most – of the inbound activities. When done correctly, content strategies require an awful lot of research, expertise, and time, all of which factor into your set up fees. Generally, you can expect to pay between $3,500 and $7,500 for these onboarding fees.

Content strategy is a massive component of this set-up stage since it functions as the backbone of your entire inbound campaign.

Keep in mind, however, that technology costs can increase these price points. A website CMS, a social media automation platform like HootSuite, website hosting fees, MailChimp for email campaigns, and even Google Analytics can all increase both your set-up and ongoing costs. While I understand that this seems like an awful lot to absorb, remember that an effective digital campaign relies on technology to engage your audience in different ways.

As an alternative to that segmented approach with several different tools from multiple vendors, you can always use a marketing automation platform instead. While HubSpot, for instance, offers a free account with minimal services, its Professional-level subscription at $800/mo gives you most of the tools you need at a pretty competitive price point. If you're using HootSuite, MailChimp, a website CMS, and other separate vendors instead, there's a pretty good chance you're paying $800 per month anyway, just without the efficiencies that come with a marketing automation platform.

In other words, many companies find that the simple convenience of having all your marketing tools in one place, including Google Analytics, is worth the price, but that obviously depends on your marketing budget, needs, and goals.

Inbound Retainers

The size of your inbound marketing retainer depends on your marketing needs. Simply driving more traffic or nurturing existing leads won't be as costly as a more expansive approach that might include using a professional writer for copy, custom photography, and unique design.

That said, you can expect the starting point for inbound retainers to fall between $5,000 and $10,000 a month, once again, depending on your needs. Obviously, as the amount of work and frequency increase, your retainer can go up quite a bit from there. Alternatively, if you're only looking for a couple of blogs a month and maybe a few emails, your retainer will be significantly lower than those averages.

Read Next: How B2B Inbound Marketing Can Sustain Continued Growth

Also, keep in mind that agency retainers will vary according to age, seniority, reputation, experience, and other factors unique to the specific agency. Location also plays a significant role in determining your retainer. Digital marketing agencies in San Francisco or Manhattan will usually be significantly more expensive than ones in Dallas or Portland.

Paid Channels

I'm going to include paid media, paid search, and paid social in the same section because the pricing structures for each are pretty similar. When using any of these services, an agency could charge you in one of four ways:

  1. Hourly rate
  2. Revenue-sharing or percentage of revenue
  3. Percentage of spend
  4. A flat management fee

For an hourly rate, the agency will bill you for the amount of time they devote toward your PPC campaign. This can also be structured a bit like a retainer, where the agency will, for example, give you up to five hours a month and charge you an amount based on their hourly rate.

Revenue-based paid campaigns occur more on the e-commerce side of the industry, where a retailer, for instance, will agree to pay 3% of revenue stemming from the paid campaign. As I said, though, this isn't nearly as popular on the B2B side of the fence.

It's common for agencies to combine the final two, percentage of spend and a flat management fee, into a single price structure. Under this format, you'll pay a percentage of the spend for the paid campaign on top of a flat-rate fee. There's a caveat to this combined pricing structure, however – they typically coincide with a solid relationship between the company and agency as well as a long-term agreement.

In short, both sides have a fair degree of protection built into this arrangement, where a company can limit the amount they're going to invest if they foresee a significant spike in their budget. Likewise, an agency can count on that recurring revenue, regardless if the company decides to pull back on their total spend suddenly.

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For the most part, either a flat management fee or combination of a flat fee and percentage of spend are the only pricing structures that are typically considered appropriate for long-term agreements. Otherwise, my advice with paid media or paid search is to keep your agreements to six months or less. This provides you with a measure of protection and flexibility if the relationship goes sideways for whatever reason.

Naturally, the pricing structure you ultimately use for a paid campaign depends on your relationship with the agency and the amount of work you want from it. Generally speaking, the most common B2B pricing models and ranges are as follows:

  • Hourly – $50 to $150
  • Percentage of spend – 6% to 25%
  • Flat fee – $500 to $3,000 per month

It's important to note, however, that these flat-fee rates are only for a single channel, and include several factors that can affect the fee, including the channel itself. Also, any accompanying content or creative – from design to photography and video – as well as landing pages or nurturing emails, will all impact the fee as well. As I'm sure you guessed, the more that's involved in your campaign, the higher the price.

Set-Up Fees

Like inbound, an agency will have set-up costs for your paid campaign. And also like the inbound onboarding fees, your set-up costs for a paid media or search campaign will depend on what you're asking the agency to do and, just as importantly, how often they need to do it. On average, though, expect to pay between $1,000 and $5,000 for your onboarding. But to cover my own backside, please remember these figures can and do change drastically according to several variables, so always do your due diligence before signing on the dotted line.

Website Design

The website design side of the digital marketing equation is quite a bit different than what we discussed for inbound or paid media campaigns. First and foremost, remember that web development with a typical marketing agency will likely be a different experience than with a dedicated web design agency or firm. I don't want to paint all agencies with the same broad brush, but, for the most part, marketing agencies won't typically build you a completely customized website. Instead, you'll more than likely get something loosely based on an existing template or at least similar to their work with other clients.

When it comes to websites, think of the difference between a general digital marketing agency and one specializing in web design like a production line vs. a custom-made item. There's nothing necessarily wrong with buying something that's more akin to mass production, but the result usually won't do a great job of differentiating your business from everyone else. Alternatively, a website design agency or firm will provide you a more customized experience that integrates the small touches you want to use, all of which help separate your website and brand from the competition, albeit at a higher cost.

This is an area where our agency differs from many. Our marketing team includes a dedicated web development department that functions as a web design agency, only housed under our larger umbrella. This way, we can personalize the web design process and tailor it to your specific needs and goals. Sure, that might sound like a blatant sales pitch for my agency, but my point is to demonstrate the fact that not every agency is the same. While the vast majority provide cookie-cutter solutions for websites, that's not entirely true across the board.

Zooming in on the different price points, though, you can expect the following ranges for a basic website:

  • Small B2B company site (5+ pages) – $2,000 to $10,000
  • Larger B2B company site (25+ pages) – $10,000 to $35,000
  • Database-integrated site (20-1000+ pages) – $6,000 to $75,000

When I say basic website, that means those ranges will include copy, responsive design across desktop, mobile, & tablets, cross-browser support, baseline search engine optimization (SEO) set-up, and accessibility features. Things like custom photography or illustrations, CRM integration, and additional pages above the basic allotment would cost more. Essentially, features that go beyond just a basic marketing website would adjust the price upward.

Design & Creative

Out of inbound, paid media, websites, and design, the last of the four is the most difficult to assign a specific cost to. Like I said regarding websites and a production line mentality, some agencies treat design and creative almost as an afterthought, often including it – along with unlimited revisions – with an inbound retainer or website design cost. While that might seem attractive at first glance, there's an obvious downside to it as well.

Impactful creative that engages the audience doesn't fall out of the sky. In fact, creativity, in general, doesn't work well in mass production, at least if one of your goals is to differentiate your B2B business from the competition. But, once again, it all just depends on what your intentions are with your brand and website. If, for whatever reason, you just need a standard, run-of-the-mill website with the same creative you'll likely find elsewhere, then perhaps mass production and its cost-savings suit you well. Obviously, that notion doesn't apply to many businesses, though.

Read Next: How to Design eBooks and Other Inbound Content Offers

A graphic designer will typically have an average hourly rate between $25 and $150 per hour. Boutique agencies can cost a bit more simply due to a greater attention to detail and customization than larger, more general digital agencies that might lack the same level of in-house expertise. At Creative Cave, we have a full-time graphic design specialist as part of our marketing team. This way, we can provide the same attention to detail and customized creative that the design boutique agencies offer.

So there you have it. I admit that many of the costs I've listed are quite general, but that only speaks to the tremendous range of services available in the marketplace. My advice is to take a good long look at your goals and prioritize your objectives. If differentiating yourself from the competition is your primary focus, then paying a bit more for an agency that provides the tailored solutions you need to accomplish that goal might be your best bet.

Whatever you might need from a digital marketing agency, though – inbound, paid media & search, a website, design, or all of the above – I assure you that our approach at Creative Cave is different. Better. Every client is an absolute priority and receives the attention they deserve. And I promise that will never change.

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