Founder and CEO of multi-award-winning content marketing AI startup Concured.

Some audiences routinely skip paid listings; others use plug-ins that block them. Yet, many casual browsers fail to spot the “ad” moniker in front of a sponsored headline and click the first result they see, which, if you haven’t paid for a premium spot within a page of search results, almost certainly won’t be your carefully crafted content.

Content Marketing Is King

Content marketing has the potential to SEO pay back your initial investment many times over, and strategies like optimizing for organic search can be effective years later. When comparing content marketing to paid advertising, consider the difference between renting and owning your home. Every time you pay rent, you get the benefit immediately — somewhere to live — but no long-term gain. Yet, every mortgage payment is an investment in your future.

The similarities go further: When renting, you need to comply with the landlord’s rules, but you can do whatever you like in your own home. The same is true with paid advertising and content marketing, with the latter giving you total control over word count, image dimensions and more. This can help build brand affinity because you can create content with which an audience will truly engage. The likelihood of them progressing through your funnel and increasing the return on your investment is higher as a result.

The Benefits Of Paid Advertising

However, this increased control over message and visibility only extends so far. Without a strong social presence or solid search performance, it will be difficult to surface even the most relevant content. Search algorithms are opaque and will become even harder to predict in future as Google continues work on AI that will update them in real time. You could wake up one morning to discover that, despite years of investment in content marketing, which had been paying off handsomely, you’re suddenly invisible.

With advertising, you’re paying those algorithms to cut you some slack. Your ad still needs to be relevant to the content against which it’s displayed, but your chance of appearing on the first page of results is higher — and in a more prominent position than even the best-optimized content. You can also buy your way onto third-party sites signed up to use ad networks, again in a more predictable manner than would be possible with raw content marketing. This relies on the authors of those pages choosing to link to your content — which relies on visibility in the first place.

Nonfinancial Returns

Content marketing helps you learn more about your audience. Everything you publish should be optimized to track response so you can see what works and what doesn’t. AI and natural language processing can tweak your ongoing campaign in response, focusing on what worked while dialing down, rethinking or removing anything that missed its mark. Paid advertising, on the other hand, is a one-way street. While you can see which ads worked, where your audience lives, their browser of choice and screen size, more nuanced data is lost. Further, the data you capture is reflective of just two points in the customer journey: when they encountered your ad, and when they acted upon it.

In a similar manner, paid advertising only allows you to optimize for those two aspects. You can pay more or change the keywords you target to improve your position and adjust the content of your ad to lift engagement. With content marketing, you can optimize language to improve relevance, use automatic metadata tagging to enhance indexing, analyze trends to formulate stronger titles, repurpose a piece of content for use across various media and more.

This would suggest that only through content marketing can you maximize the return on your investment, in both the immediate and longer term. However, it will be most effective when combined with at least some paid advertising. PPC is a power-up, giving you immediate access to a mathematically relevant audience. Once you’ve come into contact with them, content marketing can take over.

Calculating ROI

Of course, to gauge the success of your campaign, you need to benchmark the results, so what is a good return on investment for marketing activities? The answer to that question depends on your business. It’s easy to quantify the financial cost of your investment and the increased value of sales if you’re marketing a product or service. However, if you’re a political group or running an awareness-raising campaign, success might be an increase in newsletter subscribers or inquiries, against which it’s more difficult to place a monetary value.

Your return on investment is most easily expressed as a percentage or ratio. If $1 spent adds $5 to your bottom line, your ROI is 1-to-5 or 500%. The higher this number, the better, regardless of the channel you’re using. If you’re achieving this level with PPC but only 250% through your newsletter, it’s probably worth considering whether you should free up the resources you’re putting into the newsletter so you can invest more into PPC — and, in doing so, maximize ROI.


Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?