Content Marketing ROI: 3-Year Study of PPC versus Content Marketing

Content Marketing ROI

Big brands and small businesses alike must constantly evaluate their marketing strategy to determine what is working best and what areas they could improve upon. Here at CM, we understand the importance of being agile in an ever-changing digital marketplace, so we decided to take a look at our internal marketing efforts and see how we could improve our lead generation. Recently, we decided to compare how our content marketing was doing compared to our PPC efforts.

While many marketers will tell you that if you need some quick leads (in an easy to measure way) then pay-per-click is your best option. However, if you are looking to generate more traffic, more qualified leads, more social shares and ultimately more conversions over a long-term investment, you may want to consider content marketing as your best solution. From our observations, we realized that our content marketing was generating more leads than PPC especially over a longer period of time.

Below is a quick look at how content marketing has increased our traffic over time, increasing as time passes, while PPC remains constant over time.

Content Marketing ROI

Many business owners and marketing managers will often focus their efforts primarily on PPC, since you can see and measure the results faster and easier. Therefore, the majority of marketing budgets are spent on PPC, with very little invested in content marketing.  We were actually guilty of this ourselves. While we created content throughout the past few years, it wasn’t the most consistent, and we most definitely didn’t invest as much into content marketing as we did PPC. That is, until we saw the ROI results of our internal study.

Comparison Study: 2013-2015

We recently compared the data from a random selection of content from our website that we have published over the past few years. Our selection of content consisted of small-to-medium sized resources such as how-to guides, white papers, tutorials and infographics. Each resource was a quality piece of content that required a considerable amount of time researching, copywriting and designing.

Some of these resources ended up being home-runs and a few were less successful (base hits), but the overall average results really surprised us.

PPC vs Content Image 2

The graph above showcases how that when a PPC budget is diminished, the amount of traffic disappears, whereas, with content, the amount of traffic remains steady with or without a budget allocated to it.

For each resource that we created, we added a promotion budget for each piece. We then compared these results against spending the same amount of money toward PPC during the same time period. Analytics data showed that our content marketing efforts generated ten times as many visitors and three times as many leads. While the quality of our content leads were initially less qualified, the higher volume of these leads ended up producing a higher quantity of qualified leads over time.

ppc-vs-content

 

In addition to the leads generated by content marketing, it is also important to consider the amount of social shares, inbound links, and engagement that all factor into the success of a marketing campaign. A typical PPC campaign pointing to your home page or a service page doesn’t usually result in any social shares, or inbound links, whereas, content marketing can result in a substantial volume of both.

Home Run & Base Hit – Content Examples

As we mentioned above, we have had our fair share of content marketing home runs and base hits; pieces of content that have generated a significant amount of leads and others that didn’t produce the results that we had hoped. Let’s take a deeper look at an example of each.

 Example 1: Home Run

A few years ago, when infographics were becoming a key marketing focus, we met as a team to discuss what kind of infographics we should produce. That’s when we developed the idea ‘What is an Infographic?’ – a simple concept to help explain what an infographic is, what its purpose is, and the value of an infographic.

PPC vs Content Image 4

Promotion

As we published the infographic, we put the following tactics in place to help promote the infographic:

  • Promoted across social media networks
  • Published a press release (cost: $350)
  • Connected with industry influencers for inbound links

That was it. No additional media budget or PPC budget was invested in promoting the infographic.

Results

  • Ranked #1 on Google for ‘What is an Infographic’ (still ranked #1 today)
  • 200+ Social Shares
  • 2,000 inbound links
  • 100,000 organic visitors
  • Continuous traffic driver that has grown over time (see below)
PPC vs Conent Image 3

We consider this infographic a home run because not only did it provide traffic in the short-term, but it continues to drive visitors and leads to CM three years later. It’s the on-going success that we deem to be the most valuable aspect of a content resource.

 

Example 2: Base Hit

We published this 28-page guide on content marketing with the goal of providing a resource, how-to-guide for marketing managers and brands to understand the basics and value of content marketing.  Content Marketing | Beyond the Buzzword was created as a lead-generating whitepaper for CM.

PPC vs Content Buzzwords

Promotion

We implemented a similar promotion strategy as What is an Infographic in hopes of repeating its success. Our tactics included:

  • Promoted across social media networks
  • Published a press release
  • Connected with industry influencers for inbound links
  • PPC budget & Paid Media spent of $5,860

Results

  • < 180 social shares
  • 7 inbound links
  • 1,000+ page views
  • 150+ downloads / form fills leads

While the guide still produced a significant amount of social shares, our initial goal had been to nurture the leads generated from the whitepaper download. While, we received over 150 downloads, the overall lifespan of the resource was short-lived. Not what we had hoped to achieve with this piece of content.

Content Recap

Each resource that we created had a clear goal in mind, driving quality leads over time. And with very similar promotion strategies in place, one piece did extremely well, and the other didn’t do nearly as well. It’s an ever-changing marketplace, so being able to adjust and transform your content to hit upon hot topics and trends can help you hit a grand slam more often than not! And with a grand slam comes continuous leads.

Content over PPC

A lot of companies are spending upwards of $20k – $50k per month or more on PPC and only a fraction of that toward content marketing efforts. They often argue that their results from content marketing don’t measure up to the success of PPC. We want to challenge you to compare apples to apples. Give your content marketing the same kind of budget you give your PPC campaigns and measure your long-term results.

The long-tail results of quality content marketing is something every marketer should consider. It’s tempting to give in to pressure from your sales team or executive staff when they say, “We don’t have time to wait …we need leads now!”  It is important to show your executive staff that the ROI of content marketing is the smarter investment that can benefit your company for years to come.

How do I Get Started with Content Marketing?

At the very least, your company should invest some of your time towards blogging (and then sharing those blog posts across social media channels). Writing blog posts on a consistent basis can generate excellent long-term results. Aim to create your own unique content that answers the questions your target audience is asking. The more consistent you are, the more your audience will rely on you to be a trusted source of the latest news, information and helpful advice for your industry.

Then, if your marketing budget allows for it, we would highly recommend spending at least one-third to a half of that budget toward content marketing. Included within your content marketing budget should be a budget for paid media to help promote the content that you have created. Having a promotion plan in place can help introduce your content to customers, and your target audience.

Start Creating

There are unlimited topics that you can create content on. Take a look at what your customers are asking, what they need and how you can help. Focus on subject matters that they would find helpful, interesting and useful. If you’re having some trouble getting started, that’s fine – we’re here to help.

 

TL;DR

  1. In the last three years, we spent 8x more money on PPC than we did toward content marketing.
  2. In spite of that, dollar for dollar our content marketing efforts generated 2.5x as much traffic.
  3. PPC efforts generated quick traffic but end abruptly when you stop spending.
  4. A majority of the content we added continued to generate traffic years later.
  5. The leads from content marketing were initially less qualified than PPC leads, but when you factor in the substantially higher volume of raw leads it generated, we actually ended up receiving more conversions (per dollar spent) from content marketing than we did through PPC.
  6. Spending a lot of money on a consistent basis through PPC generated fairly consistent traffic whereas, consistent spending with content marketing generated compound traffic growth over time.
  7. PPC also generated zero social media shares and inbound links. Content marketing generated thousands of social shares and inbound links.
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Kurt Noer

Kurt Noer is the CEO and founder of Customer Magnetism. Kurt has a passion to help other business owners grow their business.
  • Dwayne N. Callis

    Great, great Article Kurt- I’m so glad I found it and read it. Currently I’m planning the Digital Strategy for a Home Improvement Company and trying to figure out how much of my time should be spent on PPC vs. Content Marketing. Knowing your background, I’m certainly going to raise the amount of time I spend on content. I hope you and everybody at CM are great and again thanks.

  • You should really do both. PPC budgets can be scaled, and so can content marketing. if you don’t do both, then you will never get to the same brand level status as you could have by doing both.