Football players have been known to take ballet lessons to improve balance, footwork, and other skills that give them a competitive edge on the field. In a similar way, content marketers can use pay-per-click (PPC), a seemingly unrelated discipline, to tune up critical components of their game.
PPC campaigns provide useful data that can help you create more effective content marketing — i.e., improving the impact of your messaging and increasing conversions — by answering questions such as:
- Which parts of the country or world are most interested in our stuff?
- What are our most effective offers?
- What is the most effective way to phrase an offer?
- Who, exactly, is interested in our offers?
- How do prospects talk about our products, services, and industry?
How a PPC campaign works
Here’s a brief overview of the process involved in conducting a Google AdWords or Bing Ads campaign:
1. Conduct keyword research: Suppose you want to advertise packaging products. The first step is to identify a broad range of keywords potential customers might use in search queries for your type of service — for example, “buy packaging products,” “national packaging contracts,” “packaging supplier,” etc.
2. Create the campaign structure: After you assemble your keyword laundry list, it’s time to analyze the data, looking in particular for thematic patterns. From this comes the creation of ad groups, which are clusters of keywords around a particular theme. Three ad groups for a packaging campaign could be “packaging products supplier,” “packaging designer,” and “low-price packaging.”
3. Create the ad and landing page experience: It’s important to shape the offers and content for PPC ads and landing pages to fit the target audience of the ad group. For instance, the “packaging products supplier” ad group target would be purchasing managers in midsize and large firms, whereas the “packaging designer” ad group target would be in-house marketers or packaging engineers.
4. Create a split test for each ad in every ad group: When you are ready to launch your PPC campaign, it’s advisable to split test (aka A/B test) from the start, so that you have the data you need to continually make improvements. The main variables you will likely want to test include:
- The offer — e.g., “Free consultation” vs. “Free merchandise”
- The call to action — e.g., “Call now!” vs. “Click here!”
- Credibility — e.g., “Since 1996″ vs. “BBB accredited”
- Ad title — e.g., “Solve Packaging Problems” vs. “Low-price Packaging”
- Display URLs — customized URLs sometimes boost click-through rates (CTRs)
- Price — e.g., “$25/each” vs. “10% off”
5. Configure campaign settings: Campaign managers control the time of day ads display, where ads display geographically, in what language ads display, and other factors. All forms associated with the campaign’s landing pages should be tested to make sure they are intuitive and function properly.
6. Collect data: Depending on the size of the campaign, the first round of data collection can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks. So as not to change tactics or strategy prematurely, it’s important to be patient and wait for a critical mass of information.
7. Review data, and adjust the campaign: As you learn which keywords are generating the best CTRs and conversion rates, eliminate or pause low-performing phrases to improve the visibility of those star performers.
Connecting PPC campaigns to content marketing programs
Suppose you’ve been running a PPC campaign for packaging products for several months. Here are some things to look for in your results which, in turn, can be used to increase the success of your content marketing program.
Geography: Are there any parts of the country where demand is particularly high? If so, reach out to blogs, websites, and print publications that serve those geographic regions, enabling you to target brand building in areas where it will do the most good. In addition, target online press releases to those regions.
On the flip side, if there are regions where PPC response is low, a strong content marketing push could help build brand awareness, laying the groundwork for a more successful PPC campaign in the future.
Audience: If your PPC campaign converts a lot of in-house designers but very few purchasing managers, cultivate that design audience by creating new content — and repurposing old content — to emphasize the design strengths of your business. Also reach out to new publishing outlets (such as trade publications, websites, or blogs that you haven’t approached before) that cater to the industrial design niche.
Conversion: Several points about conversion are worth mentioning:
- If people are lining up to take advantage of a free consultation but not responding to a discounted price, for example, try testing the better performing offer in your sales collateral, on your company site, in the footer of your company’s blog, etc., to see if your findings are consistent.
- Communication should flow the other way, too. Depending on how an organization is structured, PPC campaigns can exist in something of a vacuum. If content marketers are aware of offers that perform well on a company’s website or blog, they should advise the PPC campaign manager so those offers can be tested.
- A PPC landing page frequently includes secondary offers, such as free downloads. Pieces of content that generate the most downloads can be repurposed, given more exposure, or otherwise built upon for use on other content platforms.
- A situation that often comes up in PPC landing page development is when the campaign manager says something like, “It sure would be great if we could offer content about our company’s ‘X’ service as a download…” By staying connected to the PPC campaign, content marketers can discover important new content opportunities.
Messaging: If an ad titled “Solve Packaging Problems” outperforms “Low-price Packaging,” you have data to support a messaging approach that emphasizes solution selling over price — proof that you can use to inform your content approach, or justify content decisions to get executive buy-in. Intuitively, content marketers may gravitate to solution selling anyway, but having supporting data always helps, especially when there’s internal resistance.
Messaging strategy gets more interesting in situations where “Price” substantially outperforms “Solutions,” or some other counterintuitive theme. Here, PPC can be very useful in terms of challenging assumptions, or alerting us to words and phrases customers like to use that we haven’t paid much attention to.
Context: Of course, there’s a caveat here. Users who click on a PPC ad may differ in intent (or in other ways) from those who click on organic search results, as well as from those who discover a firm’s content through other channels, such as social media. Making across-the-board changes to messaging strategy based on PPC data could be an overreaction.
Most PPC advertising is geared to people who are pretty far along in the buying cycle, and are ready to take action. Back to the “Price” versus “Solutions” illustration, it stands to reason that price becomes more of an issue the closer a person gets to making a purchase. Visitors to a website or blog may be early on in the buying cycle, or not in a buying mode at all. Thus, PPC data may suggest a price-centered offer will be highly effective on the site, but not that the firm’s value proposition should center on price.
Over to you
Share your experience with the CMI community. Have you used PPC to enhance your content marketing activities? If so, what have you learned?
You’ll find more tips for creating effective content by leveraging complementary marketing techniques at Content Marketing World 2013.
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