Is the internet still free?

cost of internet

It seems like ever since the internet was invented, there’s been a belief that using it comes at a high cost. Sure, you may have to pay a monthly fee of around $70 a month, but considering the high frequency that we use the internet and our extreme dependency on it, $70 a month is a price that most don’t mind spending. It sure beats being charged for every search query and website visit, right? For these reasons many individuals still see the internet as being relatively “free.”

But is it really free? It seems like users are paying more and more to use the internet, especially marketers. Gone are the days where $70 a month for hosting was all a marketer would have to pay to be present on the web.  Now it’s becoming more costly to stand out online.

Paying to be social

No digital marketer would refute the importance of having a presence on social media in 2016. But that is no longer enough. Now marketers must invest in a variety of Facebook Ads if they want to be seen on the network. Just when we started to accept that we’ll have to pay if we want to see any website clicks or conversions or gain any new followers, Facebook dropped yet another bomb on us. They began to show organic content less and less in news feeds. The way around this? Boosting posts. Simply put, if you want to be seen, you better pay up.

Facebook isn’t stupid. It knows that it has become a powerhouse for marketers looking to advertise their businesses, and that they will jump through all kinds of hoops to get results for their business even if it means coughing up some dough. Now, after seeing Facebook make billions of dollars (last quarter alone Facebook reportedly made over $5 billion thanks in a large part to ads) off of its paid advertising platform, other social networks are jumping on the bandwagon.

Twitter and LinkedIn have been offering sponsored posts and other ads for years. While their organic reach isn’t nearly as terrible as Facebook’s, many marketers and users are catching on to the fact that paid advertising will allow them to reach a larger audience at a quicker pace. For many, it has been a worthwhile investment. And it doesn’t stop there.

Pinterest launched its Promoted Pins platform a few years ago. While still in limited release (you have to apply and be approved for them first), they have quickly grown on users looking to receive maximum engagements. I have personally observed that my organic Pinterest pins typically go unnoticed and receive little to no engagements, but when I invest even just $20 in a promoted pin, I’m guaranteed to get hit with a number of repins, comments, and likes. With over 50 million pins cluttering Pinterest, Promoted Pins seem one of the most effective ways for growing your Pinterest presence and increasing engagement.”

Instagram also jumped on the advertising bandwagon this past summer by allowing users to invest in paid ads in the form of website clicks, video ads, engagement ads, app install ads, and more recently, promoted posts. This is not at all surprising being that Instagram is owned by the champ of social media paid advertising: Facebook. In fact, many of the Instagram ads are only available if used in correlation with a Facebook ad. This just further drills in the point that effective social media marketing is no longer free.

Going beyond social media

If you think the answer to avoid paying to use the internet is to simply cut all ties with social media, think again. Social media may be the front-runner in internet marketing expenses, but they aren’t alone. SEO marketing comes with a slew of hard costs now, too.

Simple tasks that used to be free like guest blogging or creating business listings for SEO purposes are beginning to come at a high cost. Many blogs refuse to publish guest contributions (especially if it contains an affiliate link) unless you’re willing to pay. The average cost is usually around $100-$150, with some of the more popular and well-known bloggers charging as much as $500 or more for a single guest post. As for local directories, while some are still free, the most effective ones seem to be a part of Yext, and a subscription will cost you a minimum of $500 a year.

Some marketers are choosing to abandon SEO marketing altogether now since it takes a lot of time and effort and doesn’t always guarantee results. Why bother wasting time and effort on something that is essentially a gamble when marketers can simply pay Google for pay-per-click advertising and have their ads displayed at the top of search results? This seems like a much more efficient means of marketing, and naturally, Google agrees.

In fact, Google is now making pay per click advertising even more expensive. More recently, Google decided to remove pay per click listings from the right side of search results, meaning that they now only display at the top of the results. This means that pay per click advertising is more competitive than ever before. If you want your PPC campaign to be successful, you may need to reconsider your keywords and ad bids, which could mean paying more.

Where do we go from here?

Why are we paying such a high cost to use the internet these days? The answer is simple: because we want to be found. We invest a lot of time and effort into our businesses, blog posts, and social media pages. If nobody sees it, it all goes to waste. The only way to guarantee that our content is easily visible to our target audience is to pay to have it promoted and made visible. And because we keep paying for it, people keep charging for it.

If we want to make the internet free and eliminate all of the hard costs that are now associated with using it, then we need to stop paying into the ideology that the only way to advertise a  business is to pay for social media advertising, pay-per-click, and other paid promotions.

We need to get back to the way things once were – back to engaging with users organically on social media by responding to their content and making a genuine effort to connect with them. We need to stop advertising and marketing to people, and instead build relationships with them. There is no price that can be put on the foundation of relationships. It is the most time-consuming form of marketing, but also the most effective and rewarding.

The internet is no longer the “free” service we always thought it was. It’s getting more expensive by the day and we have no one to blame but ourselves. However, we do have more power to stop it than we think. It is up to us to determine the fate (or the expense) of using the internet in the future.

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