Content Advertising: How to Leverage Paid Ads in Your Content Marketing

Cover image for article on how to leverage paid advertising in your content marketing

In communities of marketers and SEOs, it’s a constant debate: do you grow a business using PPC or content marketing? The instinct is to choose one or the other — you can either pay to aim offers at a chosen audience, or optimize relevant content to reach your target demographic through unpaid channels.

But, we’re finding more and more that these don’t have to be two distinct strategies. Content marketing and paid channels like Facebook and Google Ads CAN be melded together, and what’s more, it may be more effective than using one or the other.

This is a discussion about how content and advertising can be used together in a cost-effective, high-ROI campaign.

What Is Content Marketing?

The first step to understanding how to mix content and advertising is to understand exactly what content marketing truly means. Many business leaders think that if they have a blog and post content regularly, it’s a content marketing strategy.

If you want your content marketing to not be a complete waste of time, though, you have to think hard about the goal of any given piece of content you create. Let’s say you write a blog. How can you get the work you’ve done in front of the right sets of eyes?

Valuable content can be truly invaluable when used with a variety of strategies, according to the Content Marketing Institute:

Content is non-negotiable in an SEO strategy; a blog post optimized for keywords, backlinks, and on and off-page best practices has the potential to multiply the number of views on a piece of content.

Email marketing: No matter the type of email list you have access to, thin content that isn’t relevant to your readers won’t get the clicks to justify continued use of the channel.

It’s crucial in social media; even loyal customers aren’t quick to engage with weak content.

ALSOSocial Media: How Does it Impact Your SEO in 2019?

Content Marketing and Ads: Addressing the Limitations of Unpaid Media

But, what happens when your organic and “unpaid” channels aren’t getting the results you need to promote your products and services effectively? If you’re a marketer for a smaller brand without the authority to compete on a level playing field with the big boys, SEO, email, and organic social media alone may fall short.

For example, email campaigns are generally high-ROI activities, but only if you have the email addresses to make it worthwhile. Social media is great for nurturing a warmer group, but organic posts are unlikely to reach colder parts of your target audience.

This is when it’s time to start pursuing paid channels. But, there’s a mistake that many marketers make when switching from content marketing to paid advertising: they de-emphasize valuable, high-performing content, with the expectation that adding money to the equation will make up for it.

Why Is Content So Important in Paid Advertising (and Vice Versa)?

Imagine you’re running a Facebook ads campaign. You optimize the targeting and reach perfectly. You do everything right, except build your ads on the back of a great piece of content that provides a solution to a relevant issue faced by your audience (psst… here are some examples of content that inspires and excites).

What’s going to happen? Most likely, your cost-per-click (CPC) will be high and your engagement rate low. In short, your ads will be a waste of money.

The same goes for something like Google PPC. Without valuable content to direct people who click, your opportunities to get new leads without offering discounts or special promotions will be limited.

So, we’ve established that content can be limited without paid channels, but also, that paid channels can be limited without great content. Leveraging them both can be the answer.

Chart showing paid ad spend vs content marketing during different phases of a company
Ideally, as this chart shows, your paid advertising spend will decrease
as your content marketing efforts strengthen and show results.

How to Mix Paid Ads and Content Marketing

We understand that leveraging paid traffic with valuable, relevant content can address common roadblocks that can arise when you run a campaign using just one or the other. But, getting started can be tough. How do you know what to do first?

Most marketers agree: content comes first. You need to identify your strongest content and work backward. But, how do you decide which content to use? Here are a few examples of how to identify valuable content and use it effectively in content advertising.

Identify the Best Content for Your Chosen Paid Channels

The harmony between your content and the way it gets distributed should be top of mind.

Andy Mura, Head of Marketing at Userlane: “when it comes to paid promotion for top-of-the-funnel content, the first — and highly important — step is to identify the kind of content that will yield the best results.”

Andy Mura from Userlane commenting on paid advertising with content marketing strategy

The goal of this practice is to find something that marketing guru Larry Kim calls “unicorn content”. This is content that ranks high, gets tons of engagement on social channels, and outperforms relevant KPIs. But, how do you single out this rare type of piece?

Look to the Past

This is where having a breadth of content-focused campaigns in the past can give you the advantage. Based on past results (traffic, click-through rates, and other data), you can identify high-performing content to promote through paid channels.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming something that performed well in the past will simply work in the future, however. Here are some tips to refresh old content for a new purpose (or in this case, paid promotion).

Consider the “How”, Not Just the “What”

What’s the risk of choosing the wrong content for a given channel? Low engagement and poor ROI. Imagine you’re using a Google ads campaign to break into a new market, and research has uncovered the potential to reach new leads. If you build your ads on the back of content that’s more relevant to current customers than cold leads, you won’t get the response you’re looking for and that spend will go to waste.

But what happens if you don’t have the data on past content to inform future strategy?

Facebook Ads Content Marketing: You Can Use Paid Ads to Test Content

If you don’t have good data to use when choosing content to build a paid strategy on it, you don’t have to guess — you can build your own data.

For example: Facebook’s advertising algorithm gives marketers the ability to test content across a variety of different audiences, as well as test two pieces of content against each other to the same audience. This is the strategy used by Quincy Smith, a marketer at Ampjarwhen conceptualizing a paid content marketing campaign.

Screenshot example of setting up a split test ad campaign in Facebook Ads Manager
In this screenshot, you’ll see the option to create a Split Test campaign in Facebook Ads Manager as well as the different variables you can choose between.

Says Smith, “we have audience segmentation in Facebook that corresponds to our user-profiles and so we will promote pieces of content to these groups and see who responds favorably.”

Marketers who just use paid ads to boost content they already know to be “high-performing” may be missing out on using these channels as a way to identify new, strong content that may perform even better.

Content + Retargeting = Conversions

Most people are familiar with the concept of “funnel”. Top-of-funnel customers are those who know almost nothing about your brand. Bottom-of-funnel customers are those making a purchase.

You can use paid content marketing to push prospects along the funnel — simply promote broadly relevant content and track the hand-raisers. These are the people who will be more receptive to receiving narrower, “mid-funnel” content in the near future.

Simple diagram of a sales funnel explaining the process of even level
Using a blend of paid advertising and content marketing
can nurture customers through the sales funnel.

Facebook and Google ad channels provide an easy way to track this timeline: just build a Facebook ad promoting content to the coldest leads — those who have never even heard of your brand before. With the installation of a Facebook pixel on your landing page, you can build a list of users who are farther down in the funnel and thus, more likely to convert.

Paid Ads and Content Can Be Mutually Beneficial

By backing your paid advertising with great content, you can drive leads to your business, but that’s not the only potential benefit:

According to Abel Hegyes, Marketing Director at eBacon, “website visitors who are just looking for information have turned into customers along the line. So our PPC strategy helps to drive traffic to our informational content sites and targets customers who are in the educational stage of our sales funnel.”

This is a great example of the symbiotic relationship between content marketing and PPC advertising. In the best case, an ad campaign built on a particular piece of content will drive new leads to your business, but even if it doesn’t, traffic to the page from users looking to relevant answers will boost your SEO, even if your content isn’t destined to end up on at the top of a results page.

The Best Channels for Promoting Content

We’ve mentioned a few of the channels that will provide the highest ROI for content promotion: Google Ads is among the most commonly used, and for good reason — when leveraged with top-of-funnel keywords and match phrases and paired with unique, relevant landing pages, Google Ads can provide cost-effective promotion of a wide range of content. Facebook, too, has been successful in this purpose.

Some channels you may not have considered offer cost-effective native advertising on a wide variety of sites, meaning that you can see your content placed on domains that are relevant to your audience. Among the most widely used are Taboola and Outbrain.

Your Next Steps

As we mentioned, the content comes before you can think about injecting ad spend into the equation. This starts with figuring out what your audience needs, and identifying relevant posts, white papers, case studies and more that helps meet those needs.

This can take place using a content audit, an intensive process of indexing all the content you’ve created (and deployed) in the past. You may not have the type of content you need, however. Before you can start blending content marketing and advertising, you need to have a content creation process that yields valuable assets.

Eric Hoppe

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Eric has been working in marketing and product management for over a decade with companies in the software, eCommerce and content creation spaces. He’s particularly drawn to both content marketing and SEO and is excited that the two areas are increasingly converging. While he’s pretty serious about marketing, he does love to drop a great dad joke on occasion.

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