Content marketing: not just a buzzword anymore. Having proved its worth over the past decade, content marketing now plays a major role in many companies marketing strategies. Despite its growth within the industry, it is regularly misunderstood and incorrectly used.

Much of this has to do with marketers preconceived notions about what content marketing is, and how it can grow a business. It is often assumed that in order to build an audience and succeed with content marketing, considerable amounts of money must be spent. Whilst it isn’t going to be wholly free, it is possible to make content work even on a shoe-string budget.

💡 Read Creating a Marketing Strategy that Works: Benefits, Steps, Tools

Though the optimization of content marketing is somewhat beyond the scope of this article, many of the low budget options involve maximizing value through cost efficiency, thereby increasing ROI.

Here are 11 top tips for creating cost-effective content:

1. Know your audience

Perhaps this comes across as condescending to the experienced marketer, but customer preferences are often overlooked in content marketing. Spending the extra time researching will reduce man-hours in the long-term, and therefore expenditure.

Research allows for the production of content that will genuinely interest the target audience. Not every type of content will be suitable for every business, and this depends largely on the nature of the product/service. Create buying personas for customers, and beyond the basic demographics ask questions such as:

“What type of content are customers looking for?”

Are customers looking to ‘lean back’ and consume long-form, detailed and informative content (serious, technical articles), or are they interested in more fun and casual pieces (behind-the-scenes video content).

“Where do customers access this content?”

The device with which content is accessed affects the mode of content – detailed infographics are unlikely to come across on a relatively small smartphone for example.

“In what form is this content most digestible?”

Discussions/opinion pieces may be most emotive and effective in podcasts for example. E-books may be preferred when distributing in-depth content where required. These answers allow marketers to focus resources on types of content that is likely to generate interest, and ultimately, ROI.

2. Know your competitors

It is now commonplace for businesses to take part in content marketing and as such a brief competitor analysis can provide significant ‘inspiration’. Choosing companies with similar value propositions, marketers can find relevant topics for content and estimate their efficacy.

Lifting a topic that has proved successful, competitor content can be improved upon or covered from a new angle, adding value for the customer and bringing new relevance to the subject.

Measuring how effective competitor content has been at generating engagement can be done using various (usually paid) online tools, however, for marketers on a budget, a rudimentary way to do this is simply checking the numbers of likes/comments/shares for each post. This understanding will reduce the generation of content with low ROI.

3. Amplify by Social Listening

Social listening may sound like a techy buzzword, but it is the simple process of listening to your customers online and evaluating it. Think of it as a more in-depth version of social media monitoring.

Social listening begins with collecting data on all mentions of the brand across all media channels, similar to social media monitoring.  Social listening however also implies taking action on your findings, often in the form of two-way communication directly with customers.

Whilst social media monitoring is the analysis of metrics such as Click Through Rate (CTR) or Conversion Rate (CR), social listening looks for the ‘why’ behind these metrics.  In this sense, social media monitoring can be said to be more quantitative data, whereas social listening is more qualitative.

Social listening can help to build a community around your brand as you interact with users online.  In this way, it is possible to convert users into brand ambassadors for your content, increasing its reach to network social network.  Assuming that consumers with similar preferences enjoy similar content, using social listening you are likely to see a higher ROI using this technique than more randomized methods of amplification.

4. Collaborate with guest content creators

Whilst cost minimization is often associated with the handling of all marketing efforts single-handedly, it is important to remember that time has a high value and is in short supply. Relinquishing control over parts from the marketing process may be necessary to maximize ROI.

Guest content creators are a popular resource as the collaboration is both free and mutually beneficial. Benefits for the guest creator are varied: they may be seeking exposure (links to their website or Linkedin), or simply wishing to be published (validating their work by being featured on a credible domain).

In exchange, the marketer has access to free content from professional sources. This method has the added bonus of link-building with other quality referral domains – a pillar of SEO. Collaboration with guest content creators can be particularly useful for those forms of content that typically cost the most to produce (video, animations, etc).

5. Hire an intern

The term ‘hire’ is used somewhat loosely here, as interns are typically unpaid. Interns are generally a huge benefit for marketers on a shoe-string budget, and in some cases, are the cornerstone of the business model.

Interns are easy to find on the various job-seeking platforms (Linkedin, GraduateLand… Facebook if strongminded), and are usually eager for the opportunity. Interns prove to be of particular value when they have some form of technical skill, for example, those with a design background or a knowledge of coding.

Remember that the value of a free resource is still measured in the quality of its output. Quality and commitment are likely to vary, and requesting some form of preliminary assignment can weed out most of the dross. For certain projects, it may be advisable to pay staff with specific technical skills.

6. Use a paid content service

Assuming options three and four are unavailable, paid content creation services are increasing in relevance. The recommendation of this service is limited to written content. This content is usually the cheapest to purchase and flaws in the content produced are most easily remedied.

These services range in price, with the quality of work varying accordingly. It is recommended to avoid using the absolute cheapest of these services as the content is likely unusable, however for an affordable price a workable piece can be purchased. Perhaps the most well-known option here (though not strictly a content provider) is Airtasker.

Frequently, these services act as preliminary pieces and require reworking. The time saved researching the topic and setting a structure for the article is generally worth the money spent.

7. Optimize for SEO

For content marketing to work on small budgets, the value per post must be maximized, as posts will be less frequent. In SEO terms, the most valuable content includes as many longtail keywords as possible.

When creating content cover the topic from every angle. This will provide a base from which to generate the most keywords. Once the structure is established, add many relevant words and phrases.

When selecting keywords, it is helpful to consider the Keyword Effectiveness Index to determine which keywords have the most potential. It differs from the platform, for example, Ahrefs and Moz present the data in different ways. And link-assistant has a great tool called “rank tracker” that uses the data very well, the only downside is that it is incredibly expensive.

8. Repurpose content

Rather than creating original content, time can be saved by simply repurposing content that already proved successful. This can include updating older posts with minor changes or transforming content into another form.

Having already researched the topic extensively, very little will be required to produce seemingly new content. Updating content is especially relevant when time-dated figures can be added for the latest financial year. Alternatively, transform content into another form that reads well with the target audience. If it is possible to make the information more clear in doing so, this is an added bonus. Examples include blog posts turned into a podcast, or infographics into an animation.

Repurposing content has the added benefit of bringing content to new customers, as an audience is likely to change over time.

9. Content creation apps

Marketing on small budgets, video content can often seem out of reach. For the daring marketer, a little experimentation and a GoPro (or even an iPhone), can produce surprising results.

A plethora of apps lie at the fingertips for those with a Spielberg-ian flare, for both long and short form videos. Apple and Android stores have the video filming/editing app that’s just right for you… It just requires a little experimentation and a lot of patience.

Though this tip won’t increase your cost-efficiency initially, it will add substantial value to your work and save considerably on the hiring of a videographer. For video making, try KineMaster or Magisto, and for editing start with iMovie or VigoVideo.

10. Promote your content

If starting from zero, content created and placed on a company’s website will have zero audience and no reach. Consumers rarely search for new content without being guided towards it, and a range of free and accessible options for promotion is available.

Content can be shared across social media platforms and other owned media channels to drive traffic to the post. This has the added benefit of supporting social media channels and facilitating communication on the content.

A link-building strategy should also be employed, similar to point three. Collaboration, or simply reaching out to relevant websites can bring your content to new audiences, and if selective here, their target audience will likely overlap with yours.

Beyond strictly free options, influencer marketing may be employed. The price will depend on influencer reach and promotion required, but rates for an established influencer will be substantial. It is possible to consider micro-influencers here, as they are often willing to accept much lower prices or some non-monetary form of compensation. Remember to always request media kits when negotiating prices and ensure the audience matches the content.

11. Don’t forget, content is still Marketing Communications

With the crushing pressure of deadlines and the nature of a regimented posting schedule, it can easily be forgotten that ultimately this content has a purpose. Writer’s block can hamper the production of engaging content, and marketers all too often suffer creativity burn out. In these situations, take a step back and return to the project with fresh eyes. Ask:

“Is this content engaging?”

If the answer is no, falling back on some of those classroom marketing models can prove useful. The STEPPS model provides a jump-off point for creating content that is likely to interest the customer, and whilst not directly applicable, the 4 C’s of communication is also helpful (in particular the elements of Clarity and Consistency).

It is important to remember that one highly engaging post is worth the 100 posts that no one reads, and for tight budgets, getting the maximum value out of each post is critical.


It is entirely possible to perform content marketing on a minimal budget. It is also possible to create amazing quality content, that no one reads. Content marketing can produce a substantial return on investment, provided a robust content strategy is in place. Don’t write just for fun.

Bear in mind that content marketing won’t see returns overnight. A large following is not instantaneous, and no one is going to consider the company a ‘thought leader’ no matter how original the content may be. Crave a niche for the content based on the target audience, and focus on that.

Finally, don’t forget that success is measurable. Incorporate your SEO and analytic tools into your content marketing strategy. Find out what works and fine-tune accordingly, and don’t be afraid of increasing your budget in line with your audience.