On a previous article I addressed my thoughts on Content marketing vs PPC and a lot of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that exists in regards to PPC, often promulgated by content marketing specialists, who have a specific agenda to promote their own services. In fact, the #1 ranking article on this topic was written by a content marketing specialist and IMHO it was skewed towards emphasizing content advantages.

I wanted to review this article and address each point in turn, adding my own thoughts and perspectives, in how, in most cases, I disagreed. I took sections from this article in italics and responded in-line

Note: I don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t make money in marketing, or really anything as I’m essentially retired

Content marketing

“1. Con: Content Marketing Takes Longer to Net ROI

Content marketing takes serious commitment. On average, you won’t see results until months after you publish your content.”

Here the devil is in the detail; how many months? And how much of a critical mass in content do you need for your site to allow individual articles to rank.

Having created and run one of the biggest content sites for technical professionals in the world, I can tell you that articles can take as long as 18-24 mos to reach ranking maturity (for reasonably popular keywords), where they settle on a rank on Google search and really start driving visits consistently. And this assumes that the articles exist on a website that is highly ranked and deemed search friendly by search engines, in the first place, not something you can quickly achieve just by throwing up a few blog posts.

When the author says “months” people will think 3-4, when they should be thinking 18-24 and that is for extremely well written, authoritative content that is optimized for search engines. Most content isn’t any of these.

“However, once you do start seeing ROI, it snowballs.”

No, not usually, if at all.

The vast majority of content doesn’t rank at all, let alone snowball. It is very, very, very hard to get content to rank and start driving visitors. Only the top .000…1% of content ever ranks in the top 10 for a competitive keyword, let alone “snowballs”.  Your quickly drafted blog article has about as much chance of ranking in the top 10 for a valuable, contested keyword as you do of being struck by lightning … twice

“For example, if you use content marketing, HubSpot estimates old blog posts on evergreen topics account for 38 percent of your total web traffic. Those posts published months and months ago eventually start reeling in targeted visitors as they climb the rankings.

Content takes some time to start building momentum. But, once it does, it’s unstoppable.”

There is no likelihood, let alone guarantee that your articles will ever “climb in the rankings”. Keep in mind that you are competing with 1000’s of other people doing the same exact thing you are. Not everyone can be above average. Not everyone can climb. Achieving high SERP is a zero sum game, as for each ranking placement that an articles goes up, one must go down.

In terms of being “unstoppable”, again, this is simply not true.

Your top performing article can be de-throwned by a competing piece of content overnight. You can lose a productive author. Your website can get hacked. You can lose critical backlinks. There is no guarantee that even if you get content that ranks, it will continue to rank. This is why a content marketing strategy must be consistent, sustainable and persistent in order to maintain, and grow results. Failing to do this, your results won’t stop, like they would in PPC, but they will surely begin to decline, sometimes precipitously.

“2. Pro: It Earns You Better Leads

Once your content starts ranking, the leads you get from organic search will be higher-quality than those you buy with PPC.

According to Marketing Sherpa, among online lead generation channels, organic search generates the greatest volume of leads and the highest conversion rates, with paid search ranking third for both – just behind email marketing campaigns.

Quality leads are more likely to buy, and content marketing draws them in better.”

Possible but not based on this article. The article cited above was from 2011-2012 which in marketing terms might as well have been written in the Jurasic age. Organic reach has collapsed since then with an explosion of content on the internet, Organic search is declining. Since 2016 paid search volume, as a percentage of overall mobile search, has nearly quadrupled.

Although I don’t have publicly available comparable stats on Content marketing vs PPC conversion rates, an article this old can, and should be readily discounted.

“3. Pro: It’s More Cost Effective

There are upfront costs for doing content marketing, but they are one-and-done.

Once you publish the content, it will continue to climb the search results, earning clicks and leads, and you won’t have to pay another cent.”

100% false.

To achieve a level of parity at cost-per-click requires an early investment that is magnitudes higher than an equivalent PPC campaign. I know, because I paid to build a massive content site. This article provides no empirical data or actionable information. More cost effective than PPC? Where are the links that support this?

We found that it took approx 5 years and over $1m to achieve cost-per-lead parity with Google PPC and reach a point where we our content more cost effective. Unless you can scale to a level we did, with thousands of articles, content is decidedly NOT more cost effective. My guess is that greater than 95% of content marketing efforts are less cost-effective than equivalent PPC campaigns.

As for not paying “an additional cent”, unless you close down your content organization you will still have staff to pay, content to host and websites to maintain. Content marketing is a continuous effort and as such is a continuous expense. Even if each individual article is essentially a single, one-off expense, that doesn’t mean your content marketing effort itself is.

“4. Con: It’s Hard to Find Qualified Writers & Content Creators

It’s true: A good writer can be hard to find.

Plus, it can take valuable time to vet writers yourself and figure out if they’re a good fit for your brand.”

True, although I would say that a good writer, with domain experience is nearly impossible to find.

The people who are domain experts will likely resist having to write, even assuming they are capable of writing good content. For example, they may be non-English speakers

Good writers are unlikely to have the domain-expertise to write authoritative content that can really drive interest

“5. Pro: There Are Content Agencies for That Exact Problem

The good news is you can let an agency handle the vetting for you. They’ll match you up with a writer who can seamlessly slide into your brand voice and handle your written content.

Agencies also demand a certain level of success from their hires, including skilled writing and research, so you can rest easy that you’ll be getting high-quality content that fits your business.”

Unlikely. Hiring generalists who are essentially hired-guns who write copy at a superficial level, is unlikely to create content that will resonate with discerning buyers who are looking for authoritative and often expert level advice in the specific subject matter that will drive visits to your website. As the glut of bad content grows, readers are becoming incredibly discerning in the content they consume and will quickly reject superficial content written by authors with no specific domain experience.

For example, if you sell camping equipment, does the author know anything about camping? If not, they won’t be able to write at a level of authority that will captivate and engage your target demographic e.g. camping enthusiasts. If the content isn’t engaging it won’t be shared, linked to, rank. If it doesn’t do any of that, it simply won’t drive traffic. Instead, they will create a lot of superficial fluff n’ stuff that discerning readers can instantly recognize as being written by a person who isn’t a subject matter expert.

Our company provided tools for database administrators. To source authors we had to find experts with often 10 years or more experience, in this field, who could also write effectively in English. To expect that I could source such authors from an agency, who’s only qualification was being highly skilled at written communication, and write highly authoritative, technical content that would resonate with our readers is unrealistic, to put it mildly.

Go search on any keyword. Do you find articles written by industry recognized, subject matter experts or superficial, generalist content written by writers for hire?  In some cases, e.g. personal motivation or other sufficiently superficial subjects on sites link Inc.com, this can work, but for most specialized product and service related companies, which make up the bulk of companies, this tactic is just a way to turn a lot of money into a little, while not budging your KPIs like leads, cost per leads, sales. You may be able to create a lot of words, but your traffic and conversion rate to leads will be very poor

“PPC

1. Con: PPC is a Costly Long-Term Strategy

Unless you ooze money, you’ll never be able to sustain a long-term PPC strategy.

That’s because you get charged every time someone clicks on your SERP listing. If your goal is to steadily boost traffic and stay at the top, you’ll be paying a lot just to stay visible on Google.”

100% true. But the false pre-supposition here is that content isn’t also a very costly long-term strategy.

ANY effective marketing is very expensive to do right and to generate results. And although PPC is costly and expensive, for time periods of less than 5-10 years, is going to be significantly less expensive than driving the same amount of results with content.

Basically, estimate how much it will cost to drive the number of leads you will require to generate sales in your business. Then multiple this number by 10 … then add another 30%. Now take how long you think it will get you to achieve this goal. Quintuple that … and then add another couple of years.

So unless you plan to relentlessly work on your content strategy, and have up to 10 years to best a PPC strategy, you are going to be significantly over-paying and under-achieving with content

“2. Pro: PPC Gets You on Top – Literally

Do you want to shoot to the top of Google immediately?

Well, if you use Google AdWords, first you need to bid on your target keyword. If your page is relevant, and you bid enough, Google will put you on top:”

Well, in the first page of search results yes, in most cases. To be “on top” meaning the first result can be challenging and expensive with PPC, but in essence this statement is true.

“3. Con: Once You Stop Paying, Your Visibility Disappears

This is the major con of PPC. When your money runs dry, you disappear from the top spot.

Poof. Gone.

This is in drastic contrast to content marketing, where you earn your SERP spot slowly, over time.

Once you rank, and as long as your content remains relevant, it will never disappear, and you won’t pay a cent more than your up-front costs for producing and publishing.”

Yes, 100% true but with a healthy dose of caveats.

There is no “con” to PPC. You get exactly what you pay for. Everyone knows, or should know, that this is a pay-to-play system.

There is no guarantee that you will earn an SERP ranking at all aka “Write it and they will come”. Only the very best content even has a hope of ranking now. Everything else falls into the dustbin of history, otherwise known as search pages 2-n.

Also, relevant content disappears all the time. Your article rankings will ebb and flow and if you aren’t constantly nurturing your website, you can lose backlinks, your website can get penalized by Google for various reasons; they can decline over-time

The presupposition here that content is free after you write it, works on a per article basis, but to create success overtime you must write hundreds if not thousands of articles. Yes, you do build up latency overtime and this can come in very handy (I will write an article about this next) but the fallacy that your content marketing strategy can be one-and-done is incredibly misleading. You will invariably have to have fixed, long term budget items for years to sustain a viable content strategy.

Thinking you can write content, quickly rank and then pull your money and just sit back and watch your results flow in, is unrealistic except for content enterprises that have achieved a certain scale that requires 6 and even 7 figure investments. Our own investment was well into the 7 figures.

“4. Pro/Con: PPC is More Affordable for Certain Industries

For PPC ads, the amount you pay (cost-per-click, or CPC) varies across industries. To put it simply, some fields (like legal) just have more competition for keywords.

On the other hand, if you’re in industries like e-commerce, education, or employment services, according to Wordstream, PPC is totally affordable.”

“Affordability” is determined more by platform experience and expertise than by industry. A poorly run campaign could easily cost you 10-20x more than a campaign created by a PPC expert working hand-in-hand with a subject matter expert at your company. We were able to get our campaigns down to as little as $1/click for highly competitive keywords, but this required the help of PPC experts working intensiely with our domain experts, both having years of experience.

Yes, certain keywords are very expensive, but Google AdWords offers a plethora of tools and features to allow you to compete directly and indirectly for clicks for those, or related words. Here is where experience can really save you some money over the long term as you continuously optimize your campaigns to get costs down and results up.

Summary

“PPC and content marketing are both viable strategies that can work. But content marketing does have an edge with regard to longevity, cost-effectiveness, and stability.”

I strongly disagree that content marketing has any edge in cost-effectiveness in typical business timeframes. Unless you market at a certain scale, you will be at a cost disadvantage vs PPC for time horizons of less than 10 years (and perhaps as much as 15-20 years if you don’t post often). Basically, however long it will take you to write 1-2K articles of 1K+ words each, heavily optimized for keywords. So PPC is a clear winner here, hands down.

Longevity is a complex issue and my guess is that 99% of people will not be working at the same job, at the same company, in the length of time required to make this variable a winner for content e.g. 10+ years. This is simply irrelevant for most marketing professionals or business owners. But for those few who it is applicable to (including my former compay), it can be a powerful advantage that I will address in a subsequent article.

Stability, I’m assuming is latency. This means that if you stop investing in marketing then your traffic has latency, momentum, inertia that will continue to generate leads over time. I will lump this in with the aforementioned longevity and address in another article.

My summary

In short, I believe this article, even though it is written at a superficial level and mainly uses generalities, understates the investment and time horizon of a successful content marketing strategy. I think positing that these strategies are on par, for delivering results, does a serious disservice to any business owner contemplating a long-term marketing strategy. The fact that this is the #1 ranking article on this topic is disheartening.

My recommendation

My personal recommendations is PPC for the majority of businesses for the majority of time-frames is a no-brainer

PPC will provide immediate results, it is much more cost effective in driving your KPIs and can be setup pretty quickly and easily.

Unless you have a comprehensive and expertly devised plan, dedicated and highly skilled personnel either internal or consultants, domain experts who are willing to write consistently, tools, a significant and long term budget, and the time required that it takes for results to show (and this will be measured in years) you should NOT invest in content marketing at all, let alone exclusively. Success requires scale and if you aren’t willing to achieve a critical mass in your content marketing results, you are most likely just wasting precious resources.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to invest fully in both, I would recommend PPC now, and (if you have the aforementioned resources and committment) to build out a 5+ year content marketing plan of at least 1 article a day, that, if you are very successful, you may be able to use to wean yourself off PPC, at least to a small degree and begin to lower your total costs.