Should You Promote Your Website Content with Paid Advertisements?
Most business owners blog this way: they write content they think is great, they hit “Publish” on their websites, and they wait.
And wait some more.
The hordes of traffic they envision rarely materialize; generating traffic by “going viral” is basically akin to winning the lottery at this point. Yes, there are things you can do to increase the odds that interested prospects will find your content. You can share your articles on social media and email newsletters, and you can encourage the people who wind up reading to share your work with others.
But when these tactics alone don’t pay off, is there something more you should be doing? Is it time to consider paid advertisements to boost your readership?
How Paid Advertisements Drive Content Views
Before we get further into this debate, it’s important to recognize that there’s more than one type of paid advertisement.
If you have content you want the world to see, you might:
- Use Google AdWords to get your content placed at the top of Google’s search results whenever users enter in the specific queries you’ve identified as being relevant to your content.
- Use a native ads publisher like Outbrain or Taboola that’ll include your content in the blocks of recommended external articles placed on sites like CNN.
- Use Facebook Ads or another social media paid advertisements service to show off your content to users who match the targeting options you select.
Each of these strategies has pros and cons – one might be right for your content, while another might leave you stuck holding the bill for ads that didn’t result in any worthwhile interest. Let’s break them down individually, before moving on to discuss whether or not you should invest in any of them.
Google AdWords (and related programs on other search engines) is a pay-per-click advertising service with two components: search placements and display network placements.
With a search placement, you specify particular keyword phrases and what you’re willing to pay to have your content piece presented on top of the organic search results. AdWords then calculates where, when and how often your ads should be placed, based on the average bid for each query you’ve selected, as well as the quality of your site.
In the example below, you can see two paid search placements for the keyword phrase “quick easy recipes”:
Advertisements run through AdWords display network may appear in similar blocks, except that, instead of being presented in the search results, display network placements are incorporated into the content of external websites (Google claims its network “spans over two million websites that reach over 90% of the people on the internet”).
Image Source: ShivarWeb
The benefits to using Google AdWords content placements – on both search and the display network – is reach. With the click of a button, you can get your content in front of as many people as you want. That is, as many as you want within your budget.
Therein lies the challenge with Google AdWords (and most paid advertisement placements, as you’ll see throughout this article). Developing a sophisticated paid ads strategy that targets the right people comes with a learning curve. In addition to specifying the people you want to see your ads, it’s just as important that you block those who won’t be interested in your content, which can involve everything from the use of negative keywords to blocking the placement of your ads on particular sites.
While this is challenging, it is possible, but going through the process of optimizing your campaign comes with a cost as you test different placements and targeting combinations. It’s not uncommon for paid ads to require several months to demonstrate a positive ROI, yet you’re still footing the bill until you reach profitability.
Native ads are paid content placements that are presented as if the sponsored content pieces are a part of the site’s actual content. Here, a native ad block on CNN is presented in the same style as CNN’s internal content, only under the header of “Paid Partner Content.”
Native ad orders are placed in a similar fashion to Google AdWords pay-per-click ads, in that users specific where and when they should appear, while also defining the ad’s creative (either a picture or the headline and link text that will be displayed).
By some estimates, native ads receive higher click-through rates than traditional display network promotions, though it’s worth noting that the difference is an average rate of 0.16-0.38% versus the 0.08% estimated for traditional display placements.
On top of the profitability challenges native ads face, controlling the specific sites on which native placements occur represents a significant challenge. If you’re using native ads to promote individual pieces of content, it’s crucial that your placements only occur on sites that your target users are already accessing.
You wouldn’t, for example, want ads for content on your realtor website to appear on an adult website or a gambling platform. Targeting options exist on most native ad platforms that let you hone in on the right publishing opportunities, but you’ll need to put some time into selecting the right placements.
Paid Social Media Ads
One final option you’ll want to consider when it comes to paid content placements is paid social media advertisements. The benefit to advertising on these platforms is that, because so many users share the most intimate details of their lives on them, the networks have a significant amount of personal data that can be used to target advertisements.
For example, in the screenshot below from Facebook’s paid advertising platform, you can see the detailed targeting options that are available that let you specify audiences by interests, hobbies and more. The search term “sports” alone brings up sub-groups who have expressed an interest in everything from sports games to sports journalism and more.
If your content piece was specific to sports journalism, targeting options like these would make it easy to ensure your advertisement was placed in front of the right people.
That said, on top of the ROI challenges described earlier – which are very much present in paid social media advertising – you also have to contend with the fact that people don’t go to social networks to discover new content. They go there for mindless entertainment and to connect with family members and friends. Advertising your content on the social networks, therefore, requires that you’re able to overcome members’ initial reticence with being advertised to in what they perceive as a social space.
When Should You Pay to Advertise Your Content?
While some of the cautions above – such as the challenge of attaining profitability or the need to overcome advertising resistance – may sound like we’re making the recommendation that you never pay to advertise your content, that isn’t the case. Instead, what you need is a savvy plan for deciding when to make the call.
Specifically, we recommend that you only use paid advertising when:
- You have the available budget to do so
- You have a special piece of content to promote
- You’ve tied that content piece to a CTA that can drive results for your company
- You have the systems in place to measure the impact of your advertising
- You have the time, ability or resources to fine-tune your targeting and placement options
Let’s break that down a bit…
Don’t use paid advertising to promote your content if you’re working on a tight budget that you rely on to drive leads or sales for your business. Because it may be months before your paid campaign is profitable, you need to have some amount of disposable advertising spend that you can use for testing purposes.
Further, unless you’re working with unlimited resources, it’s wise to deploy paid ad campaigns only when you have something truly worth promoting (and something that drives results for you, which we’ll discuss in a minute). Your regular Monday blog post, for instance, may not be worth promoting. The infographic that you put months into developing, that has genuine value for your users, and that has a high likelihood of going viral? That’s the kind of content you want to pay to promote.
The third and fourth bullet points in the list above will help you get the most value out of your paid ad spend. If you simply promote content to get people to consume it, you’re missing out on the value that can be had by pairing that same content with a call-to-action that produces results for your company.
As an example, using a CTA that asks viewers to share your infographic can help increase the mileage you get out of your promotion. Having the right systems in place to measure the impact of this broadened exposure (or whatever other metric you’re trying to track) will help you iterate your paid campaigns and ensure your spend is deployed as effectively as possible.
Finally, paid advertising of content is best avoided until you have the time to research and implement different campaign options – or until you have the money to hire a firm that specializes in this type of work. If you’re simply winging it and hoping for the best with paid ads, you’ll never see a positive return on your investment.
Do you use paid promotions to advertise your content? If so, share any other tips or tricks you’ve picked up by leaving us a comment below: