As the world of digital advertising continues to evolve, with trends and tactics coming and going in a flash, small businesses shouldn’t forget about an older method that remains effective: billboard advertising.

According to research from the Nielson Norman Group, mobile and desktop users have trained their eyes to dodge internet ads as they navigate their devices. Billboards guarantee an audience because they can’t be ignored.

How Much Does a Billboard Cost?

To put up a billboard ad, you’ll need to rent a billboard.

You’ll pay a monthly rate to have your ad displayed on the billboard. The monthly cost depends on the billboard’s location as factors such as visibility and impressions determine the ultimate price. Other factors are the demographics of the passerby population and the surrounding billboard competition. Here’s a look at the average cost for billboard advertising in 5 different cities:

Cost by Location

According to Times OOH Media:

CityAverage Monthly Cost for 1 Large BillboardApprox. City Population
St. Louis$1,358311,800
Naples, Fla.$1,94019,700
Detroit$4,268687,400
San Diego$8,7301,311,600
New York$10,1859,378,900

Factors Affecting Billboard Advertising Cost

As you can see, cities with larger populations have higher billboard advertising costs as each billboard gets more exposure, giving it more value for advertisers.

How is a billboard’s exposure determined? Each billboard location is audited by Geopath, formerly called the Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement Inc. Geopath is a nonprofit organization governed by a board comprised of advertisers, agencies and media companies. By auditing billboard locations, Geopath determines the value (and thus, the cost) of a billboard based on how well and how frequently it’s viewed.

Here’s a breakdown of the variables that play into the costs of billboard advertising per month:

Circulation

Geopath audits the circulation of a billboard, which it defines as the volume of traffic that passes by it. Geopath collects information from local transportation authorities, then converts the data into an estimate of how many people pass a billboard.

This is a starting point for determining the number of impressions a billboard gets, as Geopath takes other metrics into consideration.

The “contact zone” determines the reach of a billboard based on the likelihood of people looking at it.

Contact Zone

The “contact zone” determines the reach of a billboard based on the likelihood of people looking at it. In general, the larger the contact zone of a billboard, the more it will cost.

To calculate the contact zone, auditors look at the size of the billboard and the distance at which viewers can see it. The placement of the billboard also matters because it affects the likelihood of travelers seeing the billboard while taking their route. Whether the billboard is on a winding or straight road matters, too, because it affects the contact zone.

With a larger billboard, you end up with a larger contact zone because it can be seen from further away. Large billboards, known as bulletin billboards, are 14 feet by 48 feet. Poster billboards are 10 feet by 22 feet. Junior poster billboards measure 6 feet by 12 feet.

Traffic Speed

To help determine the cost of a billboard, auditors look at the average dwell time, or how long the viewers stay in the contact zone. This way, they’re looking not only at the size of the contact zone, but the speed at which people move through it.

Data from traffic analytics provider INRIX is used to track speed. Auditors use these averages to calculate “dwell time,” or the average time spent in the contact zone. The longer the dwelling time, the higher the odds are of a given passerby seeing the ad.

Demographics

Geopath uses travel surveys to gain a picture of the consumer group that mainly passes by a billboard. Locations frequented by people with higher incomes cost more.

Competition

In areas where there are many billboards competing for impressions, the price to rent a billboard goes down. Some cities have regulations that require billboards to be 500 to 1,500 feet apart to prevent overcrowding. Others have no regulations.

Rates are cheaper where billboards are close together. On the other hand, if you’re looking to rent a billboard ad and there aren’t many other billboards around, the price will be higher.

Digital billboards can feature motion graphics to draw viewers.

Physical vs. Digital Billboards

In exploring your options for a billboard design, consider whether you want a physical or digital display. This is another element that will affect the cost as you can expect to pay more for a digital billboard.

Physical Billboard: Benefits

Physical billboards are less expensive and widely available. The existing infrastructure has been in place longer, so there’s more inventory to choose from.

While physical billboards can be illuminated for 24-hour display, they aren’t affected by power outages in the daytime. Plus, you don’t have to share your billboard with other advertisers, since the ad is static.

Digital Billboard: Benefits

Digital billboards feature electronically-displayed images that change at automatic intervals. The content is brightly lit and can feature motion graphics to catch more eyes.

A major advantage is that you’re able to change your digital ad display and have it switched out during different times of the day or when you have a special promotion.

Keep in mind digital billboard advertising costs more than a conventional billboard.

Additional Costs to Keep in Mind

Construction Expenses

Besides the monthly cost of renting a billboard, you’ll need to pay for the production of the ad. The standard material for billboard ads is vinyl, which is weather-proof, ultraviolet-resistant and cost-effective.

Regardless of the design or colors used, a vinyl billboard ad will cost you about 50 cents per square foot. For a 14-foot by 48-foot billboard, that comes to an estimated production cost of $336. The exact price will vary by retailer.

Design Costs

You’ll need to hire a graphic designer or design firm to produce the graphic image for your billboard. On average, this will run anywhere between $500 and $1,000. Billboard design requires a special designer with billboard design experience to ensure your efforts are matched with a high-converting ad design.

Factors such as location and traffic affect the costs of billboard advertising.

Should You Use Billboard Advertising?

Still not sure if billboard advertising is right for your business? Here’s a look at the pros and cons:

Pro: Attract Attention

Billboards are placed in locations that get vehicle and foot traffic, which draws eyes and delivers a message about your brand. They’re large, attention-grabbing and all but impossible to miss, giving you guaranteed impressions on a nonstop basis.

Pro: Bolster Brand Awareness

By seeing your ad repeatedly over time, billboard ads make a bigger impact on viewers. It can offer a tempting look at your product and leave a potential customer with a lasting visual impression. Even if your product or service is for a target demographic, increasing public awareness of it helps increase brand credibility, social proof and word-of-mouth advertising.

Pro: Promote a Nearby Business Location

Billboards are a great way to make locals aware of your services, and even direct them to your location with instructions such as “Take Exit 207 and turn left.” Local residents who see your billboard practically every day will think about your business when they need a service you provide. By putting up a billboard near your venue, you can attract local customers who are near you.

Con: Targeting Can Be Difficult

With internet advertising, you can leverage keywords to target your exact customer base and achieve a higher return on investment (ROI).

With billboard advertising it isn’t so easy, because you’re opening your ad up to the general public. If your product or service is geared toward a small niche group of consumers, the majority of your impressions may be from people who aren’t interested.

Con: Information Is Limited

While billboards are great for getting repeated exposure, the information they provide viewers is limited, and viewers can’t leave you their information, either.

With internet ads, users have the option to click and learn more, but with billboards, lead nurturing is more difficult. Viewers can’t take the immediate next step in their customer journey or sign up their information to be contacted in the future.

Con: Hard to Measure ROI

Online ads help you optimize the ROI of your ads by measuring performance metrics such as click-through rates and conversion rates. Since you can’t track what happens after someone views your billboard, it’s more difficult to track, measure and optimize the ROI of a billboard ad.

The Bottom Line on Billboards

Indeed, billboards are a great advertising strategy for building brand awareness because they get you guaranteed views and let you put out a memorable representation of your brand. They also can help you lure customers to your local business.

In deciding whether billboards are right for your business, consider the factors that affect the cost and placement.