The Ultimate Guide to Paid Content Marketing
Congrats, your content marketing efforts have been implemented and you have a steady stream of content in the pipeline. Creating ideas isn’t easy, but through planning and implementation you feel okay about how you’re performing so far.
But what if I told you there’s a way to give your content marketing a little boost in views and engagement? How, you ask?
Enter: paid content marketing.
Paid content marketing is how you can artificially push your existing efforts in front of your customers’ eyes in the online spaces they frequent.
Here’s a quick brush up on content marketing and digital marketing strategy from our friends at Semrush:
Paid content marketing only works if you already have good content marketing practices, so let’s start with why you should be using content marketing in the first place.
What About Organic Content Marketing?
You need to adopt a solid content marketing strategy to maximize the eyes on your product. It’s easy to forget about in the hussle, but crucial to your short and long term sales goals for your business.
On average, it takes about 3-4 months of consistent, quality content to see larger yield. One article per week is a solid start, but getting into a daily rhythm of publishing will give you the quickest result over a shorter period of time. This process is especially beneficial for businesses that expect their prospects to seek education and information before they purchase. Creating context about why they need your item and leading them to the conclusion is key.
For example, let’s say your new product is an air purifier. Writing articles like The health benefits of having an air purifier, or Best appliances for your room will lead prospects directly to your site, right where you’re selling what they need!
Why the Pay to Play Conversation Is Getting Louder
The signs are out there. The purist approach to content marketing – where relevancy, quality, and an experience customers want is enough to drive traffic, generate leads, motivate engagement and boost sales conversions – has been, officially, tainted.
That doesn’t mean we have to march with our heads hung low back to the ad age. It just means content marketing has got to keep evolving. It’s time to get smarter.
So, Coke got rid of its CMO role last year in a big leadership shake-up, eliminating a lifelong Coca-Cola marketing executive from their staff. This was a guy who championed storytelling.
Even the most hardcore organic content thought leaders like Neil Patel, and Jodi Harris from the Content Marketing Institute, are now discussing the best strategies to use to boost your content marketing reach with what some would consider its antithesis…advertising.
Digital ads on social media. Google PPC advertising. Influencer advertising. The idea is, you’re going to need to up your organization’s ad spend in order to get your content marketing to do what it used to be able to do on its own.
But, what happened to the original, defiantly authentic nature of content marketing?
Change. Content marketing is just adapting. But – there’s more than one way to adapt. Keep in mind, usually, the easiest way isn’t the one that lasts.
You’re not going against your pureblood content marketing principles by embracing a little advertising. You’re responding to those pesky external changes. The channels themselves have changed – Facebook, LinkedIn, Google – making it harder to get your brand’s content in front of the eyes of your target audience without a little boost from paid ads.
Content marketing is far from being all about pay to play. But it may be worthwhile for some to start playing around with the use of paid options in the content marketing grand plan. Maybe. Ultimately, it depends on what’s right for your organization.
The Case Against Content Marketing
Do you have to pay to play? If you already have a healthy lead gen and conversion engine chugging along, why fix something that isn’t broken? But, if you’re seeing your content marketing performance metrics shrivel and you need a short-term solution while you work on improving your content, or your organization is trying to scale your content, you may benefit from some juice.
There are also some voices saying content marketing in itself is not sustainable. Can’t say I agree, but it’s useful to take a look at the arguments.
Mark Schaefer is one of the most respected voices of the “content marketing isn’t sustainable” theory. He’s been sparking the debate for years – these arguments aren’t the result of the relentless Google algorithm changes and the latest sky-is-falling Facebook news. I even moderated a panel at Content Marketing World a few years ago where Mark advocated for unsustainability against Marcus Sheridan, a friend of Mark’s but an ideological adversary when it comes to content marketing.
Here’s a summary of Mark’s argument:
His theory is called ‘Content Shock.’ The idea is that the amount of content will keep increasing, which will make it increasingly more difficult to have consumers’ limited time and energy focused on your brand’s content.
This is where paid methods are becoming more widely adopted as part of some organizations’ content marketing strategies. Instead of focusing on making content better or using creative and innovative ways to build authority and trust, the obvious, relatively low-risk fix is to pay for people’s attention.
Mark does suggest that what will push us out of the Content Shock phase, as he coins it, isn’t necessarily a shift to tons of paid content promotion but rather the emergence of a new era – which he says will be “enabled by augmented reality and wearable tech.”
Which means, content marketers may want to think about investing more into marketing technology – not ads – as a long-term strategy for sustainable, impactful content marketing. After all, modern marketing is about innovating with the rapidly evolving digital times, not running back to where we came from when we get freaked out.
Paid Social Media Promotion
How’s your social media presence? If your answer is we have none or not great, chances are your visibility is low. Being plugged into your target communities builds brand recognition and trust with prospects.
If your answer is pretty good, actually, paid social media promotion might be one of your best options when considering your paid content marketing strategy.
All of the more popular social media platforms have their own take on promotional advertising. Twitter and Instagram use advertisements that are camouflaged into users’ timelines.
While anyone paying mild attention knows the difference between an advertisement and a real post, the post still inserts itself right in the middle of their screen.
These companies have their own algorithms and targeting practices so that you know your advertisements are reaching your target audience and buyer personas. By paying your way in with your social media content you can gain followers and engagements on your posts to attract new customers.
There’s also an emerging backlash from using social media for content marketing in the relatively simple way most have been practicing. If your social strategy is limited to posting links to your other digital content, you’re going to have to take a more dynamic approach.
- Social media sites have a duty to users to ensure brands don’t take over, drowning users’ feeds with both organic and paid content.
- And, these free sites aren’t public services. They are businesses who want to grow. So, they are probably going to increasingly push towards more paid content and thin out the organic marketing content, which we’ve already seen on some social platforms.
As a result, both platform policy changes and algorithm changes have made it more difficult to reach the same audience without paid promotion, in addition to organic content on social media.
Unless you start thinking outside the box with social. There’s a lot more that can be done to engage your audiences:
- Creating more user-generated campaigns
- Being a part of Groups and industry conversations
- Connect directly with followers, answering questions and even asking them – you’ll gather some useful buyer persona data this way as a bonus
- Interact with other industry experts, not just sharing their content but providing reviews of their work, requesting interviews, collaborating to create content with double the thought leadership
- Focus on building a community with things like contests, rewards programs, shout-outs, and more live interaction – live video, live interviews, educational webinars, and, of course, leading your brand’s social community offline to be a part of your in-person events and other types of experiential marketing
How about a different way to advertise on social media? Influencer marketing is sending money to users with prominent follower counts to demonstrate or promote your product or service.
Let’s borrow from the gaming industry for our example. When Respawn Entertainment launched their free-to-play title Apex Legends Battle Royale they targeted popular Twitch and YouTube streamers who played similar titles to play their game on opening day.
The result? 122.1 million hours of live viewership, with 657K max concurrent viewers in their first month of launch. With a little bit of advertising money they were able to get their game in front of hundreds of thousands of their target audience.
The point? People like seeing their favorite social media stars showcasing products and their favorite companies. Lately companies like Hello Fresh and BetterHelp have seen record sign-up numbers with targeting paid advertising on successful podcast channels of diverse genres.
Influencer marketing may be new to the fold but it’s definitely here to stay. How can your company utilize it?
Google something. Anything. Chances are that the top 2 or 3 sites are promoted or paid to be ranked that high. Companies in every industry often commit funds to put their sites above the competition.
Google Ads is Google’s own form of an auction that you can bid on. Typically you’d bid on keywords that are relevant to your topic or business’ product or service.
Wordstream.com lists the typical list of criteria that contribute to the likelihood of your link getting promoted:
- The relevance of your ad to the search query
- The relevance of the keyword to your ad group
- The relevance of your ad to its landing page
- The historical PPC click-through rate (CTR) of the ad and its ad group
- Overall historical account performance
This goes back to what we were saying earlier, you already need to have a solid content marketing foundation to thrive under paid promotion. Costs for this service vary, but it often depends on cost per click and keyword popularity.
Depending on what kind of business you’re in and the size of your competition, this could be lighter or heavier on your budgeting wallet than you expected. This is why proper strategy and market analysis are needed when considering paid content marketing.
Don’t Turn Your Back on Good Content
There’s a danger of falling into the “pay to play” hype right now. Paid promotion is always a short-term solution. Get accustomed to relying on it to push your content marketing ROI metrics up, and you won’t have taken the hard road of trying out new tools, innovating with different techniques and technology, and really digging deep into your customer data to truly understand what your customers want and need. You won’t have the opportunity to hone your strategy.
Paid options may be able to help generate a few leads and get more traffic to your website temporarily – this can be a smart strategy for startups or during growth-oriented business phases. But, even the most subtle use of native advertising on social media to get your content out there doesn’t actually build trust. It doesn’t establish your brand as an authority. It doesn’t tell your brand story.
Paid content marketing is a great way to get that extra edge on your existing content marketing efforts that you’ve been looking for. But don’t forget, paid promotion works best when you’re already putting the work in. It isn’t a get out of jail free card, it’s meant to enhance great work you’ve already done!
And, sorry Coca-Cola, the story – the heart of your brand’s reason for existing – is the only thing that will authentically resonate with your audience and motivate them to care. That’s what is sustainable. That’s what will compete with the idea of ‘too much information’ and cut through the saturation. That’s what good content marketing is all about.
You’re equipped with the know-how, start planning out where the best places are for your company to implement a paid content marketing strategy!
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