The important role of paid media in the new content paradigm

Each time a new trend shakes things up in the digital space, marketers need to figure out how it complements and enhances the rest of the ecosystem. Channels, tactics, and tools all exist within a highly integrated environment. Any innovation or adaptation that happens in one area affects many different parts of the whole.

If Content is King, Where Does that Leave Paid Media?

Most recently, the industry’s focus on content marketing and other unpaid media leaves marketers wondering about the role of paid media. Is it still relevant? Does it still deliver value? How does it fit into the ever-changing digital marketing landscape? As brands begin to invest more aggressively and consistently in content marketing strategies and resources, will they (should they) change their approach to paid media? 

The most ardent supporters of content marketing contend that all you need is great content. As content marketers ourselves, we at iProspect are already fervent advocates of creating helpful and inspiring content to create rich and engaging digital experiences. Content underpins performance across all channels and is critical to your digital presence. However, we are not fans of the “build it and they will come” approach to digital marketing.  In our experience, the evidence shows that there is a better-performing and more reliable strategy.

Better Together

The reality is that content and advertising have always gone hand-in-hand. While content educates and engages, advertising amplifies and ensures that the content fulfills its highest potential in terms of reach and conversion. Content may be king, but paid media is the herald that gets his message out to the people.

Experienced search marketers know that they’ll get the best results by combining organic and paid search tactics. This integrated approach helps them increase visibility, engagement, and conversion. By combining earned and paid opportunities, these marketers are able to hold more of the available search real estate and effectively block competitors from even being part of the consideration set.

It’s important to remember that strong natural search rankings are not an indicator that your brand should reduce PPC spend. Being in both places – paid and unpaid – is a much sounder strategy. It allows you to maximize your presence and minimize your competitors’ presence. Though a strong natural presence gives you the flexibility to shift spend, it’s a better long-term plan to own more of the page than less.

The question has never been whether you should use organic or paid search tactics. The right question to ask is how can you combine organic and paid tactics for the best results?

Supporting Data

In a study iProspect co-authored with comScore on the Real Branding Implications of Digital Media,  we found that a combination of organic and paid search strategies resulted in substantially higher lift across several key metrics:

Brand Favorability:

Paid search impressions create substantial 28% lift
When paid search impressions are paired with organic search impressions, lift increases to 40%

Purchase Intent:

Organic search impressions generate a 26% lift in likelihood to purchase
Paid search impressions generate a 44% lift
Organic impressions paired with paid search impressions yield the greatest lift: 73%

Likelihood to Visit a Website:

Organic impressions only: 42% lift
Paid search impressions only: 53% lift
Organic impressions and paid search impressions together produce the greatest lift: 95%

We’ve had many opportunities to test the performance of different search strategies in our work with clients across a wide range of sizes, goals and verticals. We’re consistently able to deliver the best results when we take advantage of both organic and paid search. For instance:

  • In 2013, we did a study for a large, international apparel brand to see how paid search affected incremental traffic and sales.  We found that paid search was providing 39% increase in additional revenue above natural search alone.
  • When another global, high-end apparel brand opted to turn off all paid media, they experienced an immediate 9% drop in overall traffic. They also saw a 28% drop in conversion rate, suggesting that much of the lost traffic was from the highest converting audience segment.
  • An international, upscale department store brand found that the paid promotion of content not only exposed that content to consumers who would otherwise not have seen it, but it also delivered a CTR that was 2.5% higher than display.

Conversely, great content can improve the performance of paid search. Working with an international retail client, we saw substantial improvements in key metrics when the client published content that was on-brand, timely, personalized to the audience segment, and shareable:

  • Cost per engagement dropped from $25 to less than $5
  • The number of Likes skyrocketed to more than 6x the baseline

When quality content receives more engagement, it is rewarded by Facebook in their ad auction, thus leading to additional qualified impressions served at a lower CPM and a lower cost-per-engagement.

Paid media is a smart complement to social campaigns in general; especially since Facebook has made it nearly impossible for brands to get consistent News Feed visibility without paid media support. We helped an international consumer electronics brand maximize their social content by supporting it with carefully planned paid media. As a result, they saw:

  • 100% monthly increase in new organic fans/followers when paid ads were running
  • More than double the impressions for promoted Facebook posts vs. even the top-performing organic posts
  • 43% more impressions, 37% more engagement and over 25x the number of new followers generated by 23 promoted tweets vs. thousands of organic tweets

The Best of Both Worlds

The expansion and improvement of organic content marketing tactics and platforms provides brands with exciting new opportunities. Never before have marketers had so many creative ways to connect with and engage their customers. Content helps marketers create conversations and encourages deeper, more consistent engagement, loyalty, and – ultimately – conversion.

Paid media dovetails perfectly with these organic, content-driven opportunities. While organic search is a customer-initiated conversation, paid media is a brand-initiated one. Organic assets help customer navigate their experience, while paid media assets help to refine that experience and act as a highly targeted closer. Organic elements are especially good for boosting consumer confidence and reaching a large, broad, self-selecting group of consumers. Paid media is the best choice when you need a highly targeted and measurable way to quickly find and engage a very specific group of consumers.

The potential of digital performance marketing lies not in isolating any one solution, but in understanding the importance of integration and convergence – both on the consumer experience side and on the back-end. A well-designed strategy that combines organic and paid is a perfect example of how forward-thinking brands can maximize their presence and effectiveness across bought, owned, and earned media.