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The first question you may have when hearing the phrase “paid media” for the first time is: what is that? To put it simply, we’re talking about ads: social ads, search ads, display ads, retargeting ads—any digital advertising with a dollar attached to it. The term is a bit of a retronym, meaning a new name for an existing thing that is used to distinguish it from a newer form of the same thing. For instance, an acoustic guitar as opposed to an electric guitar, or a landline phone as opposed to a cell phone.
Ads used to all be paid, but years of content marketing have changed how online businesses (and users) view their lead generation strategies. Many effective marketing strategies have been built off high-value content pieces that get likes and shares among engaged audiences (what is often called earned media).
By contrast, paid media is a way for businesses without a large audience to gain some attention. It’s also broader than what traditional conceptions of media usually entail. Paid media can include influencer marketing strategies, as well as promoted posts—both kinds of content that blend into unpaid media.
But none of this is to say that paid media and traditional content marketing are opposing strategies. On the contrary: both are enhanced when used as part of a combined marketing plan. Here’s how to create a unified strategy for your business.
Every good marketing strategy should begin with audience research, but when it comes to paid media, knowing who will be most interested in your brand is even more crucial. After all, you’re paying good money to get your products in front of their eyeballs—if you aren’t targeting the right audience, you’re just wasting your money.
Your audience will probably be comprised of several segments, who may be interested in slightly different messages. As you think about the customers you have (and the ones you would like to have), consider how their needs and interests vary.
One final point: researching your audience will help you earn a higher ROI on your ad spend, but it also creates a better user experience for your audience. Ads don’t have to be ugly and aggravating. In fact, at their best, they should give users a feeling of relief or excitement.
Unless you’re completely new to the world of digital marketing, you probably have heard about keywords. These are the terms a web user might type into their search bar when browsing Google for information. SEO focuses on raising the search engine rankings for content pieces based on keyword searches, but that’s not the only way they come into play.
You’ve probably noticed many times that the top results of your Google searches are often ads. These ads are based on the keywords you searched for. Businesses who want to appear at the top of Google search results can bid on that top spot. To get the most traction from your ads, you want to bid carefully only on the keywords most relevant to your business.
That said, each advertising platform will have different mechanisms for setting up ads. On social networks, you will spend more time setting up audience profiles than choosing keywords, so bear that in mind as you create your campaigns.
There are many ways to set a budget for a campaign, and choosing the best strategy will depend on your business model and objectives. While many businesses follow a cost-per-click (CPC) model, we recommend following a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model.
CPC campaigns can be worthwhile if your focus is on drawing visitors to your site without the expectation of an immediate conversion. However, one frequent problem with running a CPC ad campaign is that you may end up spending a lot of budget on low-value clicks. Because Google sells its ad space by auction, you could also find that you’re paying more to out-bid a competitor—all for clicks that bring traffic to your site but don’t contribute to your bottom line.
Target CPA-based campaigns are a little more complex, but tend to yield better results in terms of intent based traffic and actual conversions, especially when compared to CPC-based campaigns. Because you’re paying for acquisitions rather than clicks, there’s actually an incentive for Google to try to optimize traffic to your site that will result in conversions. You set up your campaign budgets, and Google will adjust the target bid based on the expected value of a click and charge an average based on conversions.
Google isn’t your only option for paid media. Social networks, display networks, content platforms, and industry influencers are also key avenues for paid media. In fact, if you’re working with a very niche company, finding a hyper-specific place to advertise can boost the ROI on your ad through the roof.
For instance, if you know of a specific industry publication that is widely read by your audience, running a display ad on that site can help your business gain credibility by association. Customers are more likely to trust brands that show up in spaces that they trust.
The best ad campaigns don’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they recognize that each audience segment has different needs and interests. One of the most common examples of this we come across is in the non-profit space, where an organization may be trying to attract both donors and volunteers while also raising their profile among people who need their services. The same ad simply won’t work for all three of those audiences!
Think about how you may want to edit the text and imagery on each ad to reflect the audience you want to attract. Remember that you will probably only have a few seconds to capture attention, so choose words that deliver a clear message and pair them with relevant imagery.
When someone clicks on your ad, where do they go? The answer will depend on the ad. If you’re advertising a product, you will want an ad for that product to land on a specific product page. If you’re trying to sell tickets for an event, you will want to land clicks on an event page—and so on and so forth.
For some businesses, however, the sales path isn’t so direct. They may have a longer pitch to make before a customer is ready to send them an email or pick up the phone. In this case, creating a dedicated landing page is the correct strategy. For each landing page, you want visitors to have a clear call-to-action that they can take on the page (for example, “join our mailing list,” “download our buyer’s guide,” or “email Randy right now!”) It’s worthwhile to think through your landing page strategically. What stage of the buyer’s journey will your customer be on when they land on it? Will they be ready to make a purchase, or do they need some reading material to digest first? What messages do they need to hear, and what customer testimonials might win them over?
Someone completely new to your brand may need some time to warm up to you before they’re ready to make contact. If they leave your landing page without taking action, you still want to be sure they take away a good impression. To that end, your landing page should pass a scan-reading test: take 10–15 seconds to glance over your landing page, then close your eyes. What do you remember of the copy and imagery? Do the most prominent elements on the page communicate the right message? If not, you may need to go back and make them more clear.
Finally, no ad campaign is good if you can’t measure it. How much did you spend on it, and how many clicks did you get? Did those clicks result in conversions, and if so, how many?
Every ad campaign is a learning opportunity. If you don’t see the results you were hoping for, look for ways to tweak and improve. Approaching paid media in a spirit of experimentation will get you far.
We’ve long preached the virtues of a good content marketing strategy, and as we said at the beginning of this piece, content and paid media go hand-in-hand. The content on your site is a key factor in how Google measures its quality, which affects how much you pay for ads. A good social media strategy can keep audiences engaged after they leave your site, and a beautifully-designed PDF can win over a conversion on your landing page.
Paid media can also get you a lot of traction in a short amount of time. The content marketing flywheel takes time to build momentum, and in the meantime, paid media is a powerful boost. Best of all, it’s accessible: you don’t need to have a budget in the tens of thousands to run an effective campaign. Even a few hundred dollars can get you movement.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to start a paid media strategy for your business, we can help. As experts in the field of content marketing, we can guide you through every step of the process, from audience discovery research to campaign creation and reporting. Contact us today to get started.