When it comes to driving shoppers to your online store, what gets more attention: Google AdWord ads, or a website full of blog posts, articles, videos, and other compelling content?
An article in the New York Times from a couple of years ago described how the owner of a small-scale vacation rental service in Georgia turned to cultivating better content as a supplement to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google. When his PPC costs climbed to $140,000 per year, he set up a blog. Six months later, he had cut his PPC budget to $100,000, his organic traffic was up 91 percent over the preceding year, and conversions were up 37 percent.
Does that mean developing content is more cost-effective than PPC advertising?
"I can't imagine a marketing plan that doesn't revolve around content," says Jason Lancaster, president of Spork Marketing, which provides Internet marketing services and specializes in the automotive industry. Lancaster works with content as part of an overall marketing plan that includes PPC, email marketing, and social media.
Other businesspeople have also said that, by focusing on blogs and other content - and getting other sites to write about them - they were able to cut PPC costs substantially.
Nellie R. Akalp, founder and CEO of CorpNet, which helps businesses create ecommerce websites, covers all the bases when it comes to content. Her own site includes a blog, which is updated regularly. But she also spreads her name and that of her company far and wide by writing articles for high-profile publications like those of Entrepreneur, Forbes, and the website Mashable.
"Spending tons of money on PPC/Google ads only to find out that an article in Entrepreneur can send just the same amount of people to the site really opened our eyes to change our entire marketing strategy in the last quarter," she observed. She and her staff focus on two main types of content to drive traffic to CorpNet:
Write for others. Akalp points out that it took her several years to work her way up to big-name outlets. "My tip for others who are looking to become expert contributors is to really be patient. You won't start contributing to Entrepreneur right off the bat, but there are plenty of smaller blogs that will be open to your content. Start there, grow your portfolio and establish yourself as an expert in your niche. Even a smaller blog will help get some links out there and clicks to your site."
Connect with your customer base on social media. "All of the social platforms that I was wary to join a few years back are now in our top 10 traffic referrals. My husband/business partner and I didn't understand the real value of having a Facebook, Twitter or even Google+ page. But now when we look at analytics and see these platforms sending people to our site it is amazing. Those that are coming to CorpNet.com from our social platforms have some of the least-bounce rate off of the site."
Don't Abandon Advertising Altogether
Ashley R. Carrier, CEO of BonsaiOutlet.com, cautions other businesspeople not to give up on AdWords completely. "Articles, blogs, and videos are great, but they may serve to educate a buyer or get them familiar with your brand, not necessarily generate a sale," he says. "A multi-channel strategy that includes content, SEO, SEM, coupons, video, newsletters, and other tactics aligned to personas and buy-cycle is the path to success."
Carrier said he spent $105,000 on Google AdWords with a return on ad spend of about 400 percent, and a healthy conversion rate of 3.4 percent.
"Looking at my analytics, content has helped me acquire new traffic and has increased future "direct" traffic and sales," says Carrier. "AdWords complements those channel, but impacts today's sales numbers."
Mario Mirabella, founder and creative director of MSM DesignZ, also points out the immediate benefits that PPC provides. "While AdWords and Pay Per Click programs show immediate results, they are ineffective in maintaining a brand's awareness and reputation once the money runs out. However, organic SEO through blogging and content marketing are creating a foundation for the company. You create fresh links and backlinks on Google that won't go away. The organic SEO can be sustained for years and not go away when the money runs out."
Chris M. Sprague, cofounder of The Professional Practice Builders Society, says the fact that Google is de-emphasizing keywords in favor of natural language indicates just how effective good content can be.
"Good content - especially coupled with video - can drive more traffic than most PPC campaigns. Why? Because good content, written directly to your ideal client, will get them to find you when they are searching to relieve their pain."
Cutting the cord to AdWords might be tough and not even advisable for many businesses, but Dr. Tim Lynch of Psychsoftpc said PPC just doesn't work for a small player in the highly competitive world of custom-built computers.
"When Google changed their shopping service from free to PPC for sellers a few years ago, we stopped using that," says Lynch. "We frankly never had much luck with the traditional PPC ads that Google pushes because we are competing with the Dells of the world on keyword bids. The main thing for us has been to get other folks to write about our computers, get decent backlinks, and use Twitter and Facebook to attract customers through posts."