Are Billboards a Good Option for Small Businesses?

This question actually has a multi-faceted answer, and to introduce the topic, I unfortunately have to give the always-irritating non-answer, “Well, yes and no”. I hate to start this article off with a non-answer, but by the end of this post, you will have some solid answers to the question in the headline that are actually useful for your business.

In the simplest of terms, billboards are great, but they work better under certain circumstances than others. Let’s get started by looking at how they work as a marketing tool.

How Effective are Billboards as a Marketing Tool?

We have grown up with large signs next to the road which advertised everything from health care facilities to used car dealers. The fact that roadside billboards still exist, and increase in numbers all the time, shows clearly that they definitely work.

Yes, billboards can be an effective marketing tool, but the real question is whether or not they are the best use of your resources to advertise for your business. A few decades ago, when marketing options were more limited, it was a pretty solid way to get your name out there; however, the marketing options available to small businesses today are numerous and more cost-effective.

A sign placed on the side of the highway is one way to get noticed, but the amount of exposure you will gain is extremely limited compared to SEO and other strategies.

Billboards Are Not Efficient for Targeting Your Market

When you start looking into the option of taking a good chunk of your marketing budget to put up a billboard, this should be one of your key considerations.

Even while you can make sure that a lot of people will see it, there’s not a whole lot you can do to target a demographic with a stationary sign next to the highway. The best you can do is to put it on a specific roadway and choose the town or city where it will be displayed.

Again, it can definitely work because a lot of people will see the sign; however, your budget is most likely better spent elsewhere. For the amount of money you would spend on a billboard, which is hitting a melting pot of all kinds of people who may or may not be your customers, you could put that money towards far more efficient methods of advertising.

Focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) alone can yield an incredible amount of new sales, and while it takes a bit more time to do it properly, you can quickly learn how to target precisely the people who are your customers at a minimal cost to your business.

That being said, we would be remiss to omit the fact that there is something fantastic about billboards, and that is that they are simple. You basically set them and forget them, with pretty much zero maintenance.

So, that’s the essential trade-off with billboards vs. online marketing. Billboards will probably cost you way more than online marketing methods, but they don’t really require that you do anything to make them work.

Getting a Billboard May Not be Feasible for Your Business

Under certain circumstances, getting a billboard is a remarkably easy way to get your name in front of a ton of eyes, like if you have an unlimited budget, for example. If you’re like most new businesses trying to gain some traction, however, then you have to be very careful when you decide to use this method.

First of all, you’re going to need a highway that sees a lot of traffic, for it to work well. Most billboards are obviously usually installed next to roadways with heavy traffic because the installing companies know that it isn’t worthwhile in low-traffic areas, but those billboards may have been there for a very long time. It’s possible that the area doesn’t see as much traffic as it did in the past.

This is exactly why you have to do your own independent research, as we’ll mention below. The bottom line is that, as a new business, it’s likely that a full-size billboard is just not in your budget; that said, there are other similar options you can use in a city, besides the large billboards.

It Depends on What Kind of Billboard You Want

Other than the traditional, full-size billboards that we’re all familiar with, there are quite a few other options you can utilize for a lower cost while reaching a lot of people. Here are some of those advertising options with general estimates of their cost:

*These rates are price ranges for a 4-week period unless shown otherwise.

  • Airport, Banner: $15,000-$30,000
  • Airport, Digital Display: $3,500-$9,500
  • Commuter Train, Station Domination: $25,000-$75,000
  • Commuter Train, Backlit Diorama: $400-$1,950
  • Commuter Train, Interior Display: $50-$150
  • Bus Stop, Non-Digital: $150-$600 (small to medium markets) / $3,000-$6,500 (high-income areas)
  • Shopping Mall, Banner: $1,500-$10,000
  • Restroom: $300-$600
  • So, you can see that there are a ton of places where you can advertise, with varying degrees of exposure, and it’s up to you what you can afford and what will be the most worthwhile for your business.

    A traditional billboard is the most well-known type, but once you do your homework regarding all the different venues available (there are a lot more than these we’ve listed), you may find that it’s more cost-effective to go for the smaller scale, instead.

    Classic Print, or Digital Billboards?

    The first question you should probably ask before getting a billboard is whether both of these types available in your target area. Digital billboards have a number of advantages over the print ones, such as the ability to make changes to your ad if needed, whereas print ads are just glued up there.

    A digital billboard is generally more expensive than an old-school print billboard, but the digital kind are going to be higher-quality and less prone to environmental damage such as bad weather and wear & tear.

    With a printed sign, however, it’s all yours, 100% of the time, while you’re probably going to be sharing your digital sign with other businesses because they like to put three or so clients on each board, rotating between them equally.

    Content & Social Media Marketing for a Better ROI

    TBefore you go out and get a billboard, you may want to first look into content marketing as an alternative to conventional advertising. Both channels can be effective if you organize your efforts well, but you can actually create and market your own content, via blogs and social media campaigns, and gain a huge amount of traction through SEO for a massively lower cost to your company.

    Even if you have to hire someone to create and manage your content campaign, it’s still going to cost you less than buying a billboard or constantly renting space on one. If you find that you’re good at social media marketing, then you’re already poised to generate a ton of new sales because that’s where consumers’ attention is right now.

    Content marketing helps you to target the place where your potential customers are actually voluntarily placing their attention. The difference between this and conventional advertising is that billboards try to break into the attention of people who probably don’t even want to be driving on that road in the first place. The last thing you want to do is to annoy people with unwanted advertising.

    It is Critical to Do Your Own Research

    There are many factors you can look into when doing your due diligence, of course, but primarily, you just want to make sure that there will be sufficient eyes on your billboard to make it worth your while.

    When you have a general area where you want to advertise, find out how much success other businesses have had at that same spot, if possible. If your business is scalable enough to spread to other areas, look into advertising in those areas, as well. There’s no rule that says your billboard has to be in your immediate geographical region.

    You could potentially have a billboard in every major city, if your type of business allows for that scale. As with any other advertising medium, you simply have to leave as little to chance as humanly possible. Again, though, remember that a billboard is not the only way to achieve a lot of exposure for your business, and there’s probably a more effective option for you to use as a small business.


    Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

    Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

    StephanieAre Billboards a Good Option for Small Businesses?