Annual Budgeting Guide For The In-House Marketer

When Q4 rolls around, in-house search marketers, like me, probably feel a heady mix of anxiety, dread and oddly, excitement. All this can only mean one thing, it is annual budgeting time! Stressful deadlines, aggressive goals, but also great ideas and opportunities all roll into a couple of intense weeks (and I feel for those […]

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When Q4 rolls around, in-house search marketers, like me, probably feel a heady mix of anxiety, dread and oddly, excitement. All this can only mean one thing, it is annual budgeting time!

Stressful deadlines, aggressive goals, but also great ideas and opportunities all roll into a couple of intense weeks (and I feel for those retailers with a big holiday shopping season, you have that to contend with too). The key for success is not only to survive budgeting, but make the most of the opportunities for an in-house search engine marketer it presents.

Get Organized

The first step is to get organized, an ounce of prevention here leads to a pound of cure later as you scramble to run reports or find data when there’s an urgent need to refer to it. Being organized upfront increases efficiency, and makes budgeting easier, but nearly as important, it makes you look confident, thorough and prepared (because you are).

Convincing others is a big part of the budgeting process; an in-house marketer scrambling to find a report, not submitting budgets on time and just generally not looking like their act is together is not going to sell their plan very effectively. Pretend everything is due one day earlier than it is and start yesterday.

In practical terms, this means get your Excel templates set up, organize or run reports on annual performance to easily show year over year comparisons and really take a look at the data to make sure you thoroughly understand this year’s trends, successes and failures.

Also find out the development schedule for the coming year. Are there any projects that will impact search marketing by improving conversion, natural search traffic or providing new campaign channels, like video or mobile?

A timeline of development and degree of confidence on dates will aid in budgeting the timing of potential impacts, both from a cost and performance improvement perspective.

Take An Aerial View

Now is the on time of year to get out of the weeds and take a broader view of the organization’s search marketing program. Pretend to look down on yourself from on high, or as though you were a consultant brought in to improve performance.

  • What are major problems?
  • What are major opportunities?
  • Is resourcing adequate?
  • Is there any benefit from investment in tools or automation?
  • What are some great projects you’d like to work on next year?

Ask lots of these type of questions and try to give yourself unbiased and honest answers. Don’t thwart the process by guessing that others will just shoot these ideas down. Get everything out there.

Now prioritize and organize these ideas. What has the biggest positive financial impact on the business? What is achievable with current resources? What will strategically pay the best dividends in the long run? What just absolutely has to happen to keep things operating smoothly?

Craft Plans

At this point, there should be lots of ideas and options, not all of which are going to be feasible in the coming year. Now is the time to pick the cream of the crop. Anything that can currently be accomplished, or is absolutely required, should become part of the baseline budget.

Anything that is a large revenue opportunity or strategically vital is worth creating in another, optional budget that can be layered onto the main one.

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The Trifecta of Budgeting: Caffeine, Wine and Excel

Crack open the Excel and get some caffeine, it’s time to budget! Create a working budget in Excel and provide another document with commentary that explains in succinct points the budgeting assumptions and decisions.

This document should contain bullet points on estimated growth percentages, timing and impact of development projects, and any unbudgeted potential upside or possible serious issues. This commentary document will really help others, but it also serves a handy reference as you explain and justify the budget.

Sell It

The main budget serves as a great baseline. As part of the budgeting and review process meet with decision makers on all the fantastic, new ideas you could layer on top of it that you have outlined in the optional budget. Sell your vision for where search marketing, or online marketing generally, could go for the organization in the coming year.

At worst, others can see you are taking time to think strategically about search engine marketing and what is best for the business, and will be impressed at the thoughtfulness of what you present. At best, you get more resources, spend or a great new project to work on for next year!

Don’t be disheartened if not much of the optional budget looks like it will see fruition. These ideas often crop up again as reforecasts occur during the year, or priorities change. The job now is just to sow the seeds.

Take A Vacation

I say this not because I work in travel, and therefore, think everyone should travel (though they should!), but because burnout is no joke. Once budgets are done and the holiday shopping high season is over, take some time off. Lie on a beach, visit friends or family, but most importantly, just don’t work (not even to peek at AdWords reports!). If no one can cover for you, now is a great time for someone to learn a little. After all what would the business do if you quit?

Return in the New Year energized with all the great plans formulated during budgeting, and the rejuvenated spirit to get cracking on them!

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Kelly Gillease
Kelly Gillease is Vice President Marketing at Viator, the largest online provider of tours and activities worldwide. In addition to actively managing Viator's in-house search engine marketing efforts, she also oversees Viator's marketing in print, television and email, as well as affiliate marketing and other online channels. A frequent speaker at the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) conferences, Kelly is also a regular editorial contributor for Search Engine Land's 'In House' column. She is also the host of SEMcast, a search engine marketing podcast on

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