How to Combine Paid Ads and Content Marketing to Drive Sales

November 12, 2018

Should my business focus on paid advertising or content marketing?

This is a very common question from today’s marketers and there is a lot of advice out there arguing for one side or the other (comparing ROI, brand goals, etc.). But not enough people talk about how they can be used together.

If you have the resources, the optimal marketing strategy is to use both channels in conjunction in order to amplify your overall ROI.

Today, I’m going to show you several ways that you can combine these tools to bring in big results for your company.

Build a Social Promotion Ladder

Most content marketers know that a disproportionate amount of their results come from a small number of articles. It wouldn’t be practical or effective to run paid ads on every piece of content, but running ads on your best pieces can really amplify their reach.

But how do you decide which article is deserving of your budget?

Existing traffic is an easy place to start, but good SEO content isn’t necessarily the same as great social content. That’s why I recommend that you use a social promotion ladder strategy.

Start by posting your content organically on your existing social channels like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. If you don’t have a large following or want to get some more data, you can also use a content promotion service like Quuu Promote to distribute your posts for a flat fee. Then see which pieces get the most engagement and click-throughs. These are your rockstar articles.

Leverage your rockstar articles through paid promotion on these same social networks. Set your targeting to your customer demographics and interests and start promoting your content with CPC or CPM campaigns. This can be brand awareness content or content with a conversion goal, but the key is to generate a warm audience — people who are interested in what you are writing.

Then you can add retargeting campaigns that focus on conversion content like landing pages, buyers guides, or white paper downloads. As a bonus, you can add display network and paid search ads to your remarketing strategy using remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs).

Here’s an example of the ladder in action for a digital marketing agency:

      • You create useful marketing guides on your blog every week.
      • You post that content on your company’s social networks.
      • You notice that a particular article about link building is extra popular, earning retweets, comments and likes.
      • You start promoting that article on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin with paid ads.
      • Your reach grows and even more people read, retweet and engage with the content.
      • As they visit your site, they become familiar with your brand and expertise. You also tag them using a Facebook Pixel and Remarketing Tag.
      • You run remarketing ads for them, adding in display network ads via RLSA.
      • They will see more branded content around the web, increasing brand awareness, familiarity and expertise.
      • A few weeks later, they search for an SEO consultant or link-building service.
      • Your ads show up in their Google results from direct remarketing.
      • They arrive on your landing page and sign up.
      • You close the sale (assuming you can meet their needs) and celebrate!

Of course, every customer journey will look a bit different. But that’s the overall idea.

Leverage Pillar Posts

Pillar content is 10x content – and can be blog posts, infographics, videos, etc. – on one topic that can be broken into many different pieces and is the most extreme example of what we’re talking about here.

This content is the kind of evergreen info that people are always searching for and tend to rank well because they never lose relevance; they do exceptionally well both organically and with paid promotion.

These are typically the benefits you’ll get from pillar content:

        • Longer time spent on your site’s pages
        • A decreased bounce rate for round-up posts
        • Generates a ton of backlinks and a ton of social media shares
        • Gets traffic throughout the lifetime of your blog or website
        • A high Google ranking due to the high word count, shares and backlinks
        • Unless the information becomes outdated, you should run ads on these forever.

I would also recommend that you make these posts the central part of your cold outreach campaigns because they resonate the best.

Improve Targeting

Once you’ve been running ads for 3-4 weeks, you should be able to improve your targeting of both cold and warm audiences. This is especially important for CPM campaigns where you are paying for every 1,000 views.

It’s never bad to have people reading your content, of course, but you don’t want to spend money reaching people who aren’t likely to ever become customers. You can improve the ROI of your campaigns by regularly revisiting your targeting.

Target Linkreators to Boost SEO

Coined by Brian Dean, “linkreators” are the people responsible for creating most of the backlinks on the web –  bloggers, journalists, curators, critics, webmasters, editors, etc.

Platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn let you target people by job title and industry. Use this to get your content in front of linkreators. Target people who work in (or are at least interested in) your industry with job titles like journalist, writer, blogger, editor and critic.

If the audience is large enough to run ads on (it usually will be unless your business is extremely niche), the CPC of these ads shouldn’t be much more. But they will provide disproportionately more value. Not only is there potential for them to become a customer (like any other ad), but they also might include a link to your content back on their site, providing more traffic and SEO value.

Repurpose Content with Social Video

If you have a bit more budget, a useful tool to add to your social media ladder is video.

You can pay someone to convert your pillar posts into helpful video tutorials which you can then run ads to promote on channels like Facebook. It’s important that these videos are easily understood without sound or at least include closed captioning. That’s because 85% of Facebook videos are watched muted.

Video is very useful on the first rung of your social promotion ladder because it quickly engages a cold audience. Use organic promotion to see which posts are the most engaging, convert them to short video format (either animated or live action) and then run ads toward your target audience that excludes remarketing customers.

One simple way to do this is to build a lookalike audience from your remarketing audience.

Use Paid Advertising to Improve Your Content Strategy

Paid advertising doesn’t just impact your content after you’ve published it. You should use the results from your campaigns to guide your content marketing efforts going forward.

If certain content is getting great results — either engagement or conversions — use that data to inform your strategy and content calendar for the future. Read the comments and see what follow-up questions customers are asking or which points were the most helpful. These are strong topics for future content.

One Thing to Avoid

There is one thing that is very important to avoid when using paid advertising to level up your content efforts: trying to reach too broad of an audience. This is especially important for brand awareness content that doesn’t have clear conversion metrics to evaluate.

Many content marketers measure their success of such pieces by impressions or views. And that’s a fine goal for organic marketing. But with paid advertising, you will be paying for every click-through or impression so it’s important that you aren’t wasting money on people who will never become customers.

You probably know how to qualify a lead for your business and build that into your targeting better than I will, but an easy place to start is by identifying disqualifying demographics and excluding them from your audience.

For example, you can filter out people by income if they couldn’t afford your services. You can filter out people by age to make sure your ads aren’t showing to students or senior citizens if those aren’t your demographics.

Look at your ad analytics to see who is viewing and clicking on your ads. You should also be looking for trouble groups – those who are clicking on your ads often but aren’t qualified customers – so you can exclude them.


Many people think content marketing needs to stand on its own to be successful. They balk at the idea of spending money to send traffic to a blog post without a clear conversion goal. But when you think about all the resources you’ve invested in creating great content, doesn’t it make sense to maximize the value you extract from that investment?

By using different paid promotion techniques like the ones I mention here, you can improve the ROI of your content marketing campaigns and reach entirely new audiences.


Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency <a href="">Single Grain</a>, which has helped venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies grow their revenues. He's also the founder of two marketing podcasts, Growth Everywhere and Marketing School.