Paid or organic marketing? It’s a question for the ages. And if you oversimplify it to “paid vs. free,” the choice seems obvious. But there are many other factors to consider when deciding whether paid marketing or organic marketing is right for your brand (like the fact that “organic” really doesn’t mean “free”). Ultimately, a combination of paid campaigns and organic tactics is what will drive long-term, sustainable growth for your brand.
So, where does content marketing fit into this? It’s one of the most reliable, low-cost, and effective ways to nurture organic growth. And when combined with paid advertising, it’s a powerhouse that’s hard to stop.
Let’s look at both paid advertising and content marketing and explore how they work and why they’re better together.
What Is Paid Advertising?
In the broadest sense, paid advertising is any type of media placement you have to pay for. Back in the time of the dinosaurs, that meant TV, radio, and newspaper ads. Today, paid advertising most often refers to digital advertising. Also referred to as pay-per-click or PPC (though not all paid advertising is PPC), this type of advertising relies on a bidding system in which online ad space goes to auction, and marketers attempt to outbid each other in an effort to secure that space.
Often, paid advertising is used to secure quick results for emerging brands and startups — those that want to level the playing field with their competitors. Many think it’s an either/or when it comes to PPC vs. content marketing (or any organic marketing). But in reality, the two can play very well in the same sandbox — and deliver even better, longer-lasting results.
Types of Paid Advertising
As mentioned, while you might hear “PPC” used interchangeably with “paid advertising,” one is really just a sub-type of the other. Paid advertising is an umbrella term, and PPC is a type that falls under that. And within PPC, there are also a number of different types, which we’ll explore here in more detail.
Paid search ads, such as Google Ads, appear near the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), above organic results.
They are always designated with the word “Ad” beside the result. Search ads can be text only, but they may also be shopping ads, image carousels, or videos. You can also improve their efficacy by utilizing ad extensions to add phone numbers, locations, and more.
Social media advertising
Paid social ads come in all shapes and sizes and vary across platforms. Product carousels are common, as are video ads.
On most platforms, you’ll see paid posts marked “Sponsored” or something similar.
Display ads appear on websites across the internet and are served to users who fit the ad targeting parameters.
Most often, display ads are banners or sidebars. They may be static or include video or animation.
Retargeting ads are highly effective because they reach those who’ve already expressed interest in your brand or product — either by visiting your website or clicking on a previous ad.
Retargeting ads typically have high conversion rates and deliver the best ROI.
Affiliate marketing is a partnership between advertisers and other brands or networks that display their ads or products. Often, affiliate marketing appears within other content, such as popular, high-traffic websites and blogs.
Affiliate marketing is more complex than other forms of PPC and paid advertising, as it requires more time investment and constant monitoring and changing.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Paid Advertising?
Now that you’ve got an idea of what paid advertising is and how it works, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty — why a paid advertising strategy should (or should not) be part of your brand’s overall growth strategy.
We’ll start with the good news first.
Benefits of paid ads
Here’s the good news we promised: Paid ads offer a lot of benefits that make them a fantastic choice for many brands. Those benefits include:
Only pay when a user clicks your ad
Hop into your DeLorean and let’s go back in time. Back in the day, ad buying entailed buying real estate in the local newspaper or purchasing a time slot on TV (often based more on what fit your budget than any actual targeting). The ads were then published or broadcast to the masses, and you crossed your fingers and hoped for the best.
No more, friends. Today, you can target the exact audience you want with the exact message they want to hear. And instead of paying for a mass audience to hear or see your ad (no action required on their part), with PPC, you only pay when they actually click on the ad…getting them one big step closer to conversion.
Get on top of Google quickly
SEO is a highly-effective form of organic marketing, but it takes time. You might be waiting for months to see any meaningful results from your SEO strategy, leaving you lingering at the bottom of the SERPs.
With PPC, you can guarantee a spot near the top of the results — even beating your major competitors. Paid search puts you and the competition on equal footing. It’s less “paying your dues” and more “paying to play.”
Minimal impact after algorithm changes
Algorithm updates can wreak havoc on your SEO efforts. You could spend months or even years optimizing your website, updating your keywords, and crafting SEO-friendly content…but then one major algorithm change can send you plummeting. PPC guarantees a high spot in the results, no matter what cute animal-themed update Google makes.
Affordable for certain industries
Sure, highly competitive fields are going to cost more per click than others (like legal). But in many industries, you’ll find that PPC is a budget-friendly option to get your brand to the top of the results page and get more visitors to your site.
You’ll want to evaluate the average CPC (cost per click) in your industry and take a look at what your competitors are doing. Then, with a smart bidding strategy, you can stay within budget while still getting traction with your ad placements.
High return on investment
According to Google, paid search offers around a 2:1 return, but many ad networks, agencies, and PPC platforms say it can go even higher. The great thing about PPC is its flexibility. You can adjust your bids and your overall budget to stretch a campaign as long as you like and boost your ROI. If you’re still paying, the results are still rolling in.
Conversion rate on most PPC landing pages is less than 4.5 percent. But when someone visits your landing page and then sees a retargeted ad for the same offer or product, the conversion rate soars. PPC makes your retargeting ads more effective and more targeted so the right people are getting the right message…and are more inspired to click.
Compete even as a new business
It’s difficult for new brands to get their foot in the door, especially when it comes to SEO and SERP ranking. The competition has spent years getting those top spots, and it’s something most startups can’t compete with.
Until PPC. The paid advertising model means even brand new companies can vie for (and win) the top spot. It’s a great way to build early brand awareness and acquire your first customers.
Improve brand recognition
Your first PPC campaign may not wow you with results. Even if conversions are low, keep an eye on traffic. If that’s going up, you’re exposing every visitor to your brand. And even if clicks are down, rest assured that your ad is appearing to many prospective customers, and even if sales aren’t skyrocketing, your brand recognition is.
Disadvantages of Paid Ads
You can’t take the good without the bad, and paid advertising is no exception. Here are the biggest downsides of PPC:
Not sustainable because it’s expensive to run
PPC can be extremely cost-effective — in small doses. But if you’re expecting to run a lengthy PPC campaign, get ready to spend some big bucks. PPC offers easy buy-in for most brands, but if they want to continue, they have to keep paying. Because once the money dries up, so do the results.
Risk of generating junk traffic
Yes, you only pay per click, but what if the clicks themselves are bad? You will definitely have instances of mistaken clicks, where the visitor immediately bails without a second glance. You may also find some shady competitors clicking your ad just to drive up the price. It’s not super common and usually doesn’t amount to much, but it’s a risk you have to take into consideration.
Visibility disappears when the money stops
As mentioned above, no money = no results. PPC is always best for short-term gains. When creating a PPC campaign, it’s best to always have a timeframe and budget laid out before you begin. Just understand that when you reach the end of the time period and/or the end of the money, you’ve reached the end of your PPC success (until next time, of course).
What Is Content Marketing?
PPC is a highly effective form of paid advertising, but what if you’re looking to keep things organic? If that’s your goal, one of the best places to start is content marketing. Content marketing involves creating different types of content that engage and inform your audience. It offers them something of value, often at no cost to them or in exchange for their contact information. Content marketing helps brands acquire leads, keep them interested, and give them a reason to come back.
There are many types of content marketing. Let’s explore!
Types of Content Marketing
Content takes many forms, and all can add value to your organic growth marketing strategy. You might find success with a particular type of content (like a blog), or you might get better results if you switch it up and offer different content formats for different reasons and with different marketing goals in mind.
A blog is quintessential content marketing. Having a brand blog positions you as an expert and thought leader in your field. It keeps your audience informed and engaged and can boost brand reputation and trust.
Is radio dead? Who knows? But one thing we’re sure of — podcasts have a life of their own, and they are quickly taking over as one of the most popular forms of content marketing.
Podcasts can be a successful element of your content marketing strategy. Like a blog, a podcast positions you as a thought leader and increases your brand authority.
Video content is a huge driver of growth for many brands. It’s less of a “nice to have” these days and more of an absolute necessity. Among content marketers, they find the most success on YouTube.
Infographics are powerful, shareable pieces of content that accomplish many goals. They inform your audience about something meaningful to them, they engage them by prompting them to share, and they keep them coming back because they know your brand is an authority. Plus, when there’s important information you need to convey, an infographic helps it stick — even better than other content forms.
It can feel overwhelming to think about all of these different types of content and wonder where you’ll get the time to create it all. But sometimes, you don’t have to. User-generated content can be extremely valuable to brands that want to increase their authenticity and audience perception. And as a bonus, the content is already created — all you have to do is share it.
Nearly 70 percent of B2B marketers believe that case studies are the most powerful tool in their content marketing arsenal. It’s also increasingly popular in the tech industry.
Case studies demonstrate real success or positive experiences actual users have had with your product or service. It increases brand reputation and builds trust with prospective customers.
Email marketing is a classic form of content marketing. And with more email users in the world than ever before, it’s one of the most effective types of content you can use.
With results like those, email marketing as part of your content/organic strategy cannot be ignored.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Content Marketing?
As with paid marketing, there are upsides and downsides to content marketing. Let’s find out what they are, starting by accentuating the positive.
Benefits of content marketing
We’re of the opinion that the benefits of content marketing significantly outweigh any risk, but take a look and decide for yourself:
Launch a PPC campaign today, get PPC results today. Launch a content marketing strategy today, get results for years to come. The great thing about content is that once it’s created, it can be endlessly updated, refreshed, and repurposed — so the lifecycle of a piece of content far outlasts a single ad.
Build authority and become the reliable source of truth
Much of the content formats mentioned above work on positioning your brand as a trusted thought leader. When you have a voice of authority in your industry, customers see your brand as reliable, authentic, and trustworthy. And when you do that without demanding anything in return, their positive perception of your brand grows.
Full circle picture of the customer journey
When you’re creating a PPC campaign, you’ll need to narrow your target to a specific stage in the funnel or buyer’s journey to ensure maximum success. With content, you aren’t bound to a single funnel stage. You can create content that appeals to your buyer persona at every single stop in their journey. When you find what works, you’ll get a clearer picture of how to get leads into your funnel and nurture them through successfully.
Align with SEO growth
We’ve said it before: SEO and content go together like peanut butter and jelly (or any other power couple). Your SEO and content strategies should support each other with similar goals. The content you create should work to improve your search rankings, while your SEO tactics should drive visitors to relevant content. It’s a cyclical process, and it’s one of the most effective ways to find organic marketing growth.
Attract relevant traffic
This is where it pays to be smart and strategic with the content you create. Every piece of content you push out should be crafted with your buyer persona and your funnel in mind. Each piece should then be optimized for search. By aligning your content with search intent and making it highly relevant to your audience at different points in their journey, you’ll make sure the traffic you’re bringing in is the right traffic.
Higher quality leads
PPC will get you clicks for sure, but not all of those clicks have the same value. Some will be accidental or mistaken clicks, while some will just be those who aren’t really interested in your product or don’t find your ad relevant to their needs. With content, you’re creating pieces that are tailored to your audience, with exactly the information they want to see. That means any leads you get will be highly qualified and much more likely to convert.
Content takes time, yes, but the overall investment is far lower than paid advertising — especially considering the results last much longer. You’ll need time and people power to actually create your content, but once you’ve got it, you can use it in a variety of ways and across multiple platforms to get maximum value out of it. In fact, old content is typically the most valuable, as it improves your search rankings and can be repurposed and updated to drive new results.
Support other marketing channels
You need content for pretty much any type of marketing you want to use. That includes SEO, lead gen, and even PPC. Your ads will be more effective with relevant and well-written landing pages that contain content necessary for conversion. Even ads designed to raise awareness or generate leads will perform better if you offer relevant and valuable content in exchange for a form fill or signup.
Cons of content marketing
Now for the negatives (even though they aren’t all that terrible):
Take longer to see ROI
Just like SEO — and really, most all forms of organic marketing — content takes longer to deliver meaningful results. That might be a dealbreaker if you’re a startup looking to play with the big dogs and get sales right away. But for most brands, the results will be worth the wait.
Requires industry knowledge and expertise to execute
Content creation is time-consuming, and not just anyone can do it well. You need talented writers, designers, and strategists if you want your content to be successful. That might mean tapping your company’s internal resources, seeking out freelancers, or finding help from a trusted agency partner with expertise in content marketing.
What Happens When You Combine PPC and Content Marketing?
Simply put — magic. Fireworks. But also growth and measurable results, now and into the future. If you’re considering PPC vs. content marketing to grow your brand, we’ve got the answer.
You need both.
PPC gains the attention of potential customers, but content really sells it. A slick ad will prompt them to click, but it’s what happens after the click that really determines whether or not you’ve got a conversion coming. Content supports your PPC ads by lending relevance and credibility to your landing pages, making visitors feel safer and more trusting of your brand.
When you create a killer piece of content, you want to make sure it gets seen. Of course, you’ll put it on your blog and on social media, but there’s really only a chance it’ll get in front of your ideal audience. With PPC, you can guarantee the right eyes will be on your content, with the type of targeting you can’t get with organic marketing.
Improve testing and results
PPC provides immediate and in-depth data as soon as your campaign launches — that’s something you might have to wait months for if you’re doing content marketing alone. By using your real-time results, you can design A/B tests for your landing page, so you know exactly which content is working and which needs to be adjusted.
Give your audience what they want
You’ve created great content for your audience, but they still aren’t converting. What gives? Maybe they just need another chance. If they’ve already visited your site and viewed your content, you can set up a PPC campaign to retarget them. Chances are, if they click on the retargeting ad, they’re far more likely to convert because you’ve given them exactly what they’ve already shown interest in.
How to Combine PPC and Content Marketing for Better Results
So, do you believe us now that PPC and content marketing are better together? We hope so! But you’re probably wondering now — how do you pair them up? No worries, we’ve got that covered.
Use paid ads to promote content
Your content is valuable, especially when it really resonates with your audience. Some of your content (like blogs and infographics) should remain ungated. But some highly relevant and high-value pieces (think whitepapers, guides, and ebooks) are better off being gated. In this way, you can promote them via PPC. You aren’t selling anything, but in exchange for some personal information, they can acquire something of great value with a single click.
Use the same keywords for content and ads to improve search engine visibility
Your PPC and content marketing strategies can actually join forces to boost your SEO performance — a win-win-win situation. That’s because both content and PPC are heavily reliant on using the right keywords. You’ll optimize your content with the keywords you want to rank for, and then you’ll select those keywords when targeting your PPC ads. The result is often an improvement in ranking. And when you move up in both organic and paid spots, you’re more likely to get better positions overall, more clicks, and — eventually — more conversions.
Use PPC data to find keyword ideas
The instantaneous results PPC delivers can be put to good use for your content. Pay attention to the keywords you’ve set for your PPC targeting to find out which drives the most traffic. Use those keywords throughout your content. Then, if you notice some high-performing (but high-cost) keywords, move those exclusively into your content (because you already know they work) and replace them with lower-cost keywords in your PPC campaigns.
Use social media ads to find viral content ideas
If you’re creating content, you’re probably sharing it on your social media profiles. Take some time to research your competitors and find out what types of content they’re promoting that’s performing well and which they’re putting ad dollars behind. Then use your social media analytics to find your highest-performing posts that have content attached. Those are the posts you want to boost or run a paid ad for. You already know your audience is interested and engaged, so it will be worth the spend.
PPC vs. Content Marketing: Which Should You Choose?
Not to sound too repetitive, but honestly, there shouldn’t be any “PPC vs. content marketing” debate. Bottom line: You need both. If you want immediate results plus long-term growth, you’ll want to utilize both paid advertising and content (organic) marketing as part of an overall growth strategy.