Suggest PPC advertising to some inbound marketing strategists and they may spit on the floor and cry “blasphemy!” Many people consider PPC to be antithetical to inbound marketing. Afterall, PPC is a paid channel with no lasting effect on traffic. The “content” of the ads consists of 95 characters – maybe a little more if you take full advantage of your display URL. At first glance it doesn’t resemble most channels that comprise an inbound strategy.
But paid search has other attributes that do align more closely with the ideals of inbound. Afterall, you are only showing ads to people that are actively looking for something related to you topic. Very few other advertising channels can make that claim.
So what is the role of PPC in inbound marketing?
I firmly believe that PPC can work hand in hand with a content-driven inbound strategy. I also believe that embracing inbound will produce better paid search results.
Here are my thoughts why the two can live harmoniously together.
Paid search traffic is more pull than push
The problem with most outbound advertising channels is that they attempt to push a message at users whether they want it or not. It’s generally just an attempt to distract people with whatever you want to say.
But paid search is fundamentally different. The users you are targeting have displayed a clear buying intent. The simple fact that they are searching tells you they are likely interested in making a purchase and that they are interested in addressing that need right now.
At it’s core, inbound marketing is about giving potential customers the information they need at the time they ask for it. Just because PPC is a paid channel doesn’t change the fact that it meets that criteria.
Content strengthens PPC results
Having a robust content and inbound strategy is only going to help improve the long term ROI of your paid search.
The sad fact marketers must accept is that most visitors aren’t ready to make a purchase. In many industries a conversion rate between 1 -2% is strong. But just because a visitor isn’t ready to buy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start providing value.
Content resources give your potential customers another reason to stay engaged with you. Some portion of your PPC traffic will be ready to buy but many others can be drawn into the earlier stages of your sales funnel. Use your content to engage them, make an impression and maybe collect an email address.
You’ll be getting and giving much more value with the 98+% of visitors that aren’t yet ready to buy.
Shared elements of measurability
One of the core benefits of a well executed inbound strategy is the measurability. With tracking and automation tools like Hubspot you can track users very closely all the way through your sales funnel. There is no mystery about which activities are effective and which are not.
There is a troubling lack of transparency in many advertising channels – billboards, TV, radio, display. It’s very difficult to see the impact each is having.
But paid search is extremely measurable and you can pinpoint the portions of your campaign that are producing results. Paid search can’t be lumped in with other paid channels that are more of black box.
Paid search is fast in a way that inbound just isn’t
Great content and a well executed inbound strategy can produce amazing and lasting results – but you probably can’t accomplish that quickly.
Generating great content – making progress in organic search results – building relationships via social media – organically building an engaged email audience… These all take time. But paid search offers an opportunity to dramatically increase site traffic very quickly.
Other channels will likely provide more value and a better ROI in the long run. But if you need to begin generating results quickly then PPC is a good option.
Paid search can inform your keyword research
Because paid search is so measurable, the data you capture there can be very useful to other channels.
Google provides very little keyword level data for organic search traffic. Every digital marketer that has been in the business for more than a few years misses the days before “not provided” showed up in Google Analytics.
You can gather information on search volume but it’s difficult to know which keywords generate traffic that tends to convert better. With paid search that information is readily available.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend implementing paid search solely as a keyword research tool - that would be a crazy expensive way to get information. But when you’re evaluating the benefits of paid search, don’t discount the value of information that can be repurposed to make other channels more successful.
As content ramps up PPC can back off – Or not
Speed of results and the access to valuable keyword data make paid search a great tool in the early stages of an inbound campaign – but that doesn’t mean you have to maintain that level of investment indefinitely.
Let’s face it, paid search is a relatively expensive traffic source. Only a portion of the keywords you experiment with will be able to provide both volume and strong ROI.
As your longer term content initiatives begin to gain traction and drive results, you can slowly and strategically back off your paid search spend. As time goes on you won’t need to lean on paid traffic. Begin reducing spend on keywords that are producing less return. As time passes you can get stricter and stricter about what ROI you demand from your campaigns.
You’re likely to find a handful of campaigns that produce fantastic results and you’ll never choose to pause. But much of your other spend can be eliminated as better ROI channels begin to perform.
- Paid search and inbound are not opposing forces – They can and should work together
- PPC is more of an inbound tactic than it gets credit for
- Good content assets will improve the performance of your paid search campaigns
- PPC and Inbound both offer a premier level of measurability
- Adwords data can inform other portions of your inbound strategy
- PPC spend can be dialed back as content-driven initiatives take hold