What is the Cheapest Way to Advertise?

Cheapest way to advertise

The cheapest way to advertise is social media ads and classified ads, generally speaking. These kinds of ads can be placed starting as little as $20.

But in the realm of cheap advertising ideas, if you shop around for media outlets in smaller markets you maybe able to advertise inexpensively on radio, trade magazines, websites, local coupon books and even cable TV — starting at a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

You may also be able to do Every Door Direct Mail campaigns through the U.S. postal service for a few thousand dollars. Pay-per-click ads can be cost effective if you know what you’re doing and target carefully; otherwise, you can burn through your budget fast. These cheap advertising methods are important but there are other options.

The cheapest way to advertise your small business depends on a number of factors. Factors  include the kind of audience you are trying to reach, where you choose to reach them, the size of the audience, the design skills needed to create the ad — and what you get for your money.

Ad rates vary widely. Even the way rates are calculated varies by the type of media outlet or format.  So always shop around

Cheapest Way to Advertise

Now let’s look at benchmark costs and advertising cost ranges for a variety of types of advertising.  These benchmarks are generalities — you can find less expensive prices through careful shopping. You may also encounter more expensive prices.

Newspaper Display Ads

Basis for Charging

Newspapers traditionally have charged per column inch (PCI) for display ads. That means the bigger your ad, the more you will pay. For example, a half page horizontal ad might measure 6 columns by 10.5 inches — a total of 63 column inches.

Newspapers today are trying many different types of ad rates, including flat fees and combined deals for both print and online ads. To advertise you will need to contact your local newspaper and ask for their rate card.

Typical Budget Range

For example, the Cleveland Plain Dealer may charge $596.00 per column inch. If your ad requires 10 column inches, the price would be $5,960.00. If you wanted a half page ad using our example, it would be $37,548 for a half page ad (63 x  $596.00).

Don’t be put off by a hefty example. Smaller papers and weekly papers charge substantially less.  Don’t assume advertising will be too expensive – always inquire about rates.

Newspaper Classified Ads

Basis for Charging

A relatively cheap advertising idea is newspaper classifieds. Newspapers typically charge for classifieds based on the size of the classified (in some cases the number of words), the number of days the ad runs, and the type of classified.  Classifieds sections with more competition may cost more. Many newspapers today have self-serve online dashboards where you can compose your classified ad and pay with a credit card.

Typical Budget Range

Depending on the kind of business and the size of the newspaper readership, you might be able to place a classified ad starting for only a bit more than $5 a day.

Or a classified can run $200 to $300 if it runs for 30 days in a popular section of the classifieds, such as autos, or in a midsize to larger newspaper.

What is the Cheapest Way to Advertise?

Radio Ads

Basis for Charging

Radio advertising can be considered one of the cheap ways to advertise, but you have to  shop carefully.

Radio advertising is often sold based on a “4-week total rate”.  You pay based on the size of the audience reached. Obviously that means you’ll pay more to have your ad spot run in a popular drive-time show than at 3 a.m. when fewer people are listening.

This kind of billing is referred to as CPP which stands for cost per point or cost per rating point.

CPP determines the ratings or popularity of the radio show where your ad appears.

Typical Budget Range

To reach a market with 1 million people, a typical radio show ad budget range might be $12,000.  In a larger market of 5 million people, a 4-week total rate budget might be $60,000.

The rate card from iHeartCommunications, formerly Clear Channel Communications, owner of 855 radio stations in the United States, gives a good overview.

Television Ads

Basis for Charging

As with radio, advertising spots on television depend on the popularity of the time slot in which they appear, the market size, the length of the commercial and other factors.

In local TV, figure to pay starting at around $5 for every 1,000 viewers in a medium-sized market, for a 30-second ad slot.  According to Skyworks Marketing, that’s a low-end rate. It could be higher.

Typical Budget Range

Television ads tend to be expensive.  For a 30-second TV ad spot, a typical budget for a small business might be $5,000 to $20,000 to reach an audience of between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 viewers — as a low estimate.

National TV ads cost much more and would be completely out of the reach of small businesses. For example, according to Ad Age, advertisers would have paid $400,000 for an  ad on the AMC hit show “The Walking Dead.”

With TV ads, also budget for the production cost.  Producing a television ad for a small business might run you anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000, depending on how sophisticated the ad.

What is the Cheapest Way to Advertise?

Pay Per Click Ads

Basis for Charging

Pay per click ads (or PPC ads) are what they suggest — you pay only when someone clicks the ad. Two common pay per click options are Google AdWords and Microsoft Bing Ads. Your ad is  seen in Google or Bing searches and on other websites in their networks. You can also buy ads on a per-click basis on some social media and other sites.

Typically you buy PPC ads on an auction basis, meaning you bid a certain amount you are willing to pay per click. You bid based on keywords or other factors.  As a general rule, the more you bid, the better position on the page your ad gets.

You set up a budget using the self-serve, online dashboard provided by the ad system. The technology will automatically keep your bids within your pre-set budget.

Typical Budget Range

For example, a keyword phrase like “ways to promote a small business” with an average of 10 to 100 searches a month might cost just $1.90 per click. Meanwhile a keyword phrase like “advertise local business” with an average of 100 to 1,000 searches per week might cost $12.78 per click.

You can set a budget of say $3 a day and a total of $10 a week if you wish. However, if your budget is too low you may be disappointed with the results.  Some experts suggest allocating at least $1,000 per month toward PPC ads to get an impact.

According to Robert Brady, a Certified Google AdWords partner with Righteous Marketing, the trick to spending wisely in pay-per-click is conversion tracking. “Set up conversion tracking before you spend any money on PPC. It takes some time and effort, but if you want the accountability, customer insights and persistence mentioned above you have to lay the foundation with correctly installed conversion tracking. And after it’s installed, make sure to test it. Then, and only then, do you turn on your ads.”

Not always a cheap advertising idea, but pay per click ads can drive good ROI if done right.

Banner Ads Online

Basis for Charging

Banner ads or display ads are graphical ads that run on websites. These typically are charged on a cost per thousand impressions basis, or CPM.  On smaller websites, display ads are sometimes charged on a flat fee basis, such as $X per week or month. Usually the larger the ad, the higher the rate. Also, ads above the fold (higher up on the website) usually cost more.

Typical Budge Range

It’s quite possible to spend as little as $100 up to many thousands depending on how many times your banner ad is shown.  A rate today might be $10 CPM, meaning you’d pay $10 per every thousand impressions (i.e., number of times your ad is displayed).  For example, if you purchase 500,000 impressions at a rate of $10 CPM, you would pay $5,000, calculated as follows:

  • Divide  500,000 by 1,000 = 500.
  • Then multiply 500 x 10 = $5,000.

You also must factor in the cost of creating the banner ads. Simple banner ads can be created in common sizes for under $50 per ad, at Design Pax.  Advanced ad formats, such as rich media ads or video ads, cost more to create.  If you are using Google Adwords for display ads, there’s also a built-in tool you can use to create simple ads with images.

Retargeting Ads

For many online ads, there’s a powerful technique to consider.  That’s called “retargeting.” On Google Adwords the term used for this technique is “remarketing.”

With retargeting, you are able to have your ad shown to someone who has visited your site or browsed your product online — even after they leave your site.  It’s a powerful way to turn an abandoned shopping cart into a sale, if the shopper sees the product several times again. But it can be used for other purposes too.  You can set retargeted ads to show to those who visited your site and encourage them to come back and register or sign up for your newsletter.

Retargeting dramatically increases the likelihood of getting more clicks on your ads — and a click converting into action. According to Wordstream, previous site visitors are 2 to 3 times more likely to click on your ad.

Retargeting or remarketing typically requires you to insert a small piece of software code into your website.  Usually inserting this code takes just a few minutes for you or your webmaster.

Social Media Ads

Basis for Charging

Social media ads are considered a cheap advertising idea. Social sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, offer affordable options, depending upon the audience you hope to reach.

You can “boost” a social post or video you’ve created, by paying a few cents per view, for instance.  Or you can create a true advertisement and run that.

Social media ads are placed by going online to a self-serve advertising platform provided by the social site.

Typical Budget Range

For a budget as small as $30 you can reach an audience of several thousand depending on the specifics of gender, age, geographic location and interest you select when defining your audience.

Social media ads can be very affordable. But be sure to have a clear plan of what you want to achieve with them and why.  Are you looking to boost your channel engagement? Get traffic back to your website? Sell a product? Get newsletter subscribers? Something else?  Boosting a post simply because Facebook suggests it has gotten more engagement than your other posts, doesn’t make sense. Have a goal.

“Social media sites offer a new ability to understand your audience beyond simple demographics like age, gender and geography. Advertisers can now target based on factors like job title, purchase behavior and interests. As you track those clicks based on their targeting you can know how these highly focused groups are interacting with your content, how often they visit your site and how often they buy,” says advertising expert Robert Brady of Righteous Marketing.

What is the Cheapest Way to Advertise?

Yellow Pages

Basis for Charging

A decade ago printed yellow pages books were a staple for local small businesses.  Today, the majority of yellow page activity has moved online. Printed books are being drastically scaled down and phased out completely in some markets.

With the move online, yellow pages ad solutions have evolved into online visibility packages. Packages may include business listings in places that consumers search, along with a website. You can also opt for search engine optimization services and related marketing services.

Typical Budget Range

Packages on YP.com, for example, start around $79 per month for a 5-page mobile-friendly web presence.  At $79 per month you are looking at just under $1,000 a year. Additional services and add-on features would cost more.

Keep in mind that if you stop paying, you lose your web presence. You’d have to rebuild on a different platform from scratch.

Local Deals

Basis for Charging

Local deal sites like Groupon offer the ability to set up special discounts and deals for shoppers.

Also, remember that you must also offer a discount.  That means you’ll be getting less for your product or service offering, in the first place.

Typical Budget Range

There is no upfront cost to create a Groupon local deal. However, Groupon will take 50% of the sale once a consumer purchases (redeems) your Groupon offer.

The thing to focus on with Groupon is not the upfront cost but the amount you end up with at the end.

For example, your product normally costs $48.  You create a Groupon local deal for $19.00 (offering roughly a 60 percent discount). Groupon takes $9.50 (50 percent of what you would otherwise receive on the discounted price). That leaves you with $9.50 — on a product you typically charge $48.00 for!

Native Ads

Native ads are meant to resemble content rather than a traditional style of advertisement.

Often these native ads promote informational content such as blog posts or videos, instead of products directly.  Native ads are one of the most effective kinds of advertising because they captivate attention through intriguing the reader. They come across as less commercial

Native Ads are a good complement to a content marketing campaign, because you can promote your content to give it wider reach. They’re not as good for driving direct response sales.

Basis for Charging

The cost of native ads varies widely depending on the site’s traffic, placement on the page and other variables.  Native ads can be purchased on a cost per click basis, or a CPM basis like banner ads, or flat fee.

You can purchase them directly on the website you want to appear.  Or there are networks like Taboola and Outbrain — even Google AdWords accommodates them. However, keep in mind that some networks have gotten a reputation for low-quality native ads. Your ad may appear next to an ad displaying the latest Kardashian wardrobe malfunction or another sensationalized image.

Typical Budget Range

For native ads sold on a cost per click basis, you set a maximum you’re willing to pay per click – say 75 cents per click.  So $100 would get you 133 clicks to your content if you bid $0.75 per click.

Magazine Ads

Basis for Charging

Magazine ads are typically charged based on the size and placement of your ad on a magazine page.  Common sizes are full page, half page, third page and quarter page ads. There are also two-page spreads which cover two full pages.  Some magazines sell the back cover, or inside the covers, as ad space. And there can be special advertorial pull outs, card inserts and other options. Usually magazine ads are sold on a flat fee per ad.

Some magazines have a digital version and a print version, and ads typically apply to both.

Typical Budget Range

Ads in a national magazine like People can cost $375,000 for a full-page, 4-color ad for nearly 3.5 million subscribers.

However, ads in a local city magazine or a trade magazine are considerably less. You might pay $3,000 – $4,000 for a full-page color ad in a publication with 30,000 subscribers.

Contact the magazine and ask to see its advertising rate card.

What is the Cheapest Way to Advertise?

Outdoor Advertising and Billboards

Basis for Charging

Outdoor advertising is no longer limited to billboards along roadsides. Today you also have digital sign options (the electronic signs you see on buildings, at conventions and sporting events).

Outdoor billboard advertising is generally charged based on the size — and by the amount of time your message remains up.

Typical Budget Range

Billboard ads by companies like Blue Line Media, which can offer bulletin board placement in 300 cities estimates ads will cost from $30,000 per location over a four week period for its largest placement to just $300 per location for four weeks for it’s smallest.

Digital or LED bulletin boards are charged at a different rate and can cost businesses anywhere from $3,500 to $25,000 per location per four week period. However in this case, your message would be run in rotation as an 8 second spot during a 64 second loop.

Direct Mail

With the explosion of the internet, the volume direct mail has declined. However, it’s far from dead.

Direct mail can take a number of forms, including mailing samples, letters, uniquely shaped mailers and catalogs.

Basis for Charging

For direct mail pieces, there are several cost components:

  • designing the mailer
  • printing mailers
  • purchasing a mailing list
  • postage costs

The most common form of direct mail used by small businesses is postcards.

Let’s say you decide on 4×6 postcards, a cost effective size that qualifies for First Class postage rates.

Typical Budget Range

It’s possible for a shoestring budget to do a direct mailing of 5,000 postcards for around  $1,500.

A custom design can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.  One way to keep costs down is to go to work with a do-it-yourself free template to avoid incurring a large design cost. Or work with a print service that offers cost effective design services for a small fee.

Printing costs vary based on the size, quantity and any special effects such as gloss coatings or double sided printing desired. It’s possible to get 5,000 basic postcards printed for under $300 at an online print outlet. At a local print place like Staples the cost might be closer to $500 for 5,000 postcards — or 10 cents apiece.  However, at a place like Staples you might be able to get one day turn around.

First class postage for a 4×6 postcard is currently 34 cents each.  Mailing 5,000 pieces via first class mail will cost $1,700 if sent by first class mail to a list you have.  Plus you may need to purchase a postage permit or use a vendor with one.

Keep in mind, the post office has a number of different postage rates. The rules around rates, mailer sizes and other conditions can be complex.

Some small businesses choose to go with a direct mail service in order to not have to deal with all the complexities.  If you choose to go with a direct mail service provider, just be sure to compare prices and the services offered, to make an informed decision. Some services can charge hefty design fees, mailing list fees, and printing fees.

Every Door Direct Mail

An affordable direct mail option is the USPS’s Every Door Direct program. This program allows you to avoid purchasing a mailing list. Every Door Direct has a mapping tool allowing  you to map out and target mailings by neighborhood. You can even see demographic data for each neighborhood.

In addition, Every Door Direct Mail offers much lower postage costs, with no permit required.

Basis for Charging

You incur the costs of designing and printing postcards — which could be in the $300 to $500 range for 5,000 postcards typically. You can avoid a design fee by using a free template provided by some printers.

You also pay for postage.  Postage is roughly half the cost of the First Class rate, at $0.177 cents for a postcard.  And you can send larger sized postcards compared with First Class.

Typical budget range

Mailing 5,000 postcards under Every Door Direct would run you $885 in postage at the rate of $0.177 each.  No postage permit is required. Also, by using the mapping tool you would have no mailing list costs.

Along with a few hundred dollars for printing the postcards, it is very possible to do an Every Door Direct campaign of 5,000 postcards for under $1,500.

Advertising MethodBasis for ChargingTypical Budget Range
Newspaper Display AdsPer column inch (PCI)Varies based on ad size and publication. Smaller papers can be substantially cheaper.
Newspaper Classified AdsBased on size, duration, typeStarting at $5 a day, up to $200-$300 for 30 days in popular sections.
Radio Ads4-week total rate (CPP)Varies based on audience size and show popularity. Could range from $12,000 to $60,000 for 1 million people market.
Television AdsSlot popularity, market size, length, etc.Small business budget: $5,000-$20,000 for 30-second ad reaching 1-4 million viewers. National TV ads cost much more.
Pay Per Click AdsAuction basis (PPC)Varies widely based on keywords and competition. A budget of at least $1,000 per month is suggested for impact.
Banner Ads OnlineCost per thousand impressions (CPM), flat feeRange from $100 to many thousands, depending on impressions and ad size.
Retargeting AdsCPC, CPM, or flat feeCosts vary based on impressions and clicks.
Social Media AdsSelf-serve advertising platformBudgets as low as $30 can reach thousands based on audience targeting.
Yellow PagesOnline visibility packagesStarting at $79 per month for basic packages, additional services cost more.
Local DealsDiscounts, percentage of salesNo upfront cost, but Groupon takes 50% of sale.
Native AdsCPC, CPM, flat feeVaries based on site traffic, placement, and ad type. Budgets can be set.
Magazine AdsFlat fee based on ad size and placementVaries widely, from $3,000-$4,000 for local or trade magazines to $375,000+ for national publications.
Outdoor AdvertisingBased on size, durationBillboards can range from $300 to $30,000+ for four weeks, depending on location and type.
Direct MailDesign, printing, mailing list, postageAround $1,500 for 5,000 postcards, including design, printing, and postage.
Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM)Design, printing, postageUnder $1,500 for 5,000 postcards, including design, printing, and postage.

Exploring Alternative Advertising Methods

While the previously discussed advertising methods provide valuable insights into various options and their associated costs, it’s essential to explore alternative approaches to maximize your advertising efforts. Here are some additional strategies to consider:

  • Influencer Marketing: Collaborating with social media influencers who align with your brand can be a cost-effective way to reach a broader audience. Influencers can create authentic content that resonates with their followers, potentially leading to increased brand awareness and sales.
  • Content Marketing: Invest in creating high-quality, valuable content that educates and engages your target audience. This can include blog posts, videos, infographics, and podcasts. Content marketing helps establish your brand as an authority in your industry and can drive organic traffic over time.
  • Email Marketing: Building an email list of interested customers and sending them targeted messages can be highly effective. Email marketing allows you to nurture leads, share promotions, and build a long-term relationship with your audience.
  • Local Partnerships: Collaborate with other local businesses to cross-promote each other. This can include joint marketing efforts, co-hosting events, or offering special discounts to each other’s customers.
  • Community Involvement: Active participation in your local community can generate goodwill and brand recognition. Sponsor local events, volunteer, or support charitable causes to show your commitment to the community.
  • Guerrilla Marketing: Get creative with low-cost, unconventional marketing tactics that grab people’s attention. This could include street art, flash mobs, or eye-catching stunts that generate buzz and social media shares.
  • Customer Referral Programs: Encourage your satisfied customers to refer friends and family to your business by offering incentives like discounts or rewards.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Invest in optimizing your website to rank higher in search engine results. Organic search traffic can provide a consistent stream of potential customers without ongoing advertising costs.
  • Networking: Attend industry events, join business associations, and engage with potential customers and partners in person. Building relationships can lead to word-of-mouth referrals and collaborative opportunities.
  • Public Relations (PR): Crafting compelling press releases and reaching out to media outlets can help you gain free exposure through news stories and features.
  • User-Generated Content: Encourage your customers to create and share content related to your products or services. User-generated content can provide authentic endorsements and expand your reach.
  • Social Responsibility Campaigns: Develop marketing campaigns around social or environmental causes that align with your brand values. Consumers are increasingly drawn to businesses that prioritize social responsibility.
Advertising MethodDescription
Influencer MarketingCollaborate with social media influencers to reach a broader audience through authentic content.
Content MarketingCreate valuable content such as blog posts, videos, infographics, and podcasts to engage your target audience.
Email MarketingBuild and maintain an email list for targeted messages, lead nurturing, and long-term relationship building.
Local PartnershipsCollaborate with local businesses for mutual promotions, events, and customer discounts.
Community InvolvementSponsor local events, volunteer, or support charitable causes to boost brand recognition.
Guerrilla MarketingEmploy creative, attention-grabbing tactics like street art and stunts to generate buzz and social shares.
Customer Referral ProgramsIncentivize satisfied customers to refer friends and family through discounts or rewards.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)Optimize your website to rank higher in search engine results, attracting organic traffic.
NetworkingAttend industry events, join associations, and build relationships for word-of-mouth referrals.
Public Relations (PR)Craft compelling press releases and reach out to media outlets for free exposure through news stories.
User-Generated ContentEncourage customers to create and share content related to your products or services.
Social Responsibility CampaignsDevelop marketing campaigns around socially responsible causes aligned with your brand.

Negotiating Discounts when Advertising Your Business

No guide to small business advertising would be complete without discussing the topic of discounts. The secret to the cheapest way to advertise is to negotiate for discounts.

Many traditional media such as print newspapers and magazines are struggling for ad dollars today. This increases the chances of you being able to negotiate a discount. On the other hand, if you place ads through a self-serve online method such as AdWords, your ability to negotiate discounts is nil.

So remember, anytime you are dealing with a human being who is selling ads, rates are open for negotiation. Advertisers that advertise throughout the year should ask for frequency discounts.

Or sometimes media run seasonal specials or other reasons for discounts.  For example, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, at least one media outlet in Florida offered small businesses a “hurricane discount” on advertising.  Always ask about discounts to get the cheapest way to advertise your small business.


Read the complete Small Business Advertising Guide:

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Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and has been with the team for 17 years. He is a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

2 Reactions
  1. I think that you should not go for the cheapest option right away. Instead, you should focus more on what will have better conversions for your business. At the end of the day, it is still how much money you make.

  2. Advertising can now be fairly cheap. In fact, you can now advertise on social media for pennies. It is about learning how to transform pennies into profits.

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