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The problem with “traditional” ways of getting traffic to a blog…
I’ve been blogging for more than three years now, and if you have ever run a blog you would know the frustrations of creating content and then having to spend even more time on distributing it. There’s nothing more disheartening than spending all your time creating content and then sharing it on social and getting maybe two or three views, one of which is your mother and the other is your mother-in-law.
I tried using VAs from the Philippines to distribute my content via social automation software (I use Smarterqueue) but despite investing in a very thorough process and about $100-200 a week AUD on humans who would add it to the software, emails, direct to social where needed etc, blogging and sharing via social media returned meager results. I doubt I even broke even in terms of new business generated compared to the costs of maintaining and promoting my blog. And don’t even ask me about my attempts to optimize my posts for SEO – for a business of my size it didn’t move the needle even a fraction.
I almost gave up on blogging as a marketing channel (good thing I didn’t, or I wouldn’t be sharing this now!), but I must admit that I really enjoy creating value for others. I am very introverted so I take naturally to writing. I realised that there is a very real cost in hiring VAs to distribute my content, so if I moved the cost for doing that into a paid medium instead then it would cost the same. I was interested to know if I would get more traffic, more readers, more subscribers and more clients if I distributed via a paid channel rather than trying to persist with organic channels. Since I manage Google Ads for my clients, that seemed the most natural place to start as I can test and develop new strategies on my own account.
And here’s what the content marketing display ads look like.
A client of mine spotted these two ads while he was singing Frozen II songs with his daughter:
Another client discovered this one while he was reading The Wall Street Journal:
I’m so glad I started distributing my blog posts this way. Google Display is now my #1 content distribution platform, and I have discovered some really interesting results. Let me share them with you.
PS. I run a small boutique agency and most of my clients come via referral. I only spend $100-300 AUD per month on Display advertising (up to $200 USD), so numbers are based on this small monetary investment. Like anything, you get what you put in, so if you put in a higher or lower investment then you’ll get a different result.
Here are five big results I have got since using this as my content marketing distribution method.
1) I now have a lot more returning traffic
I’ve created and studied enough analytics reports for my clients to know that purchases are usually made by returning visitors, not first time visitors (unless you’re selling inexpensive consumer products). So one of my criteria for success from content marketing via Display marketing was not just how much traffic came, but did those people read the content and did they come back to read more? My answer to that was a resounding YES. Currently, 20% of my display visitors are returning to read my blog again, and I expect that to increase as remarketing becomes my largest audience.
I wondered if perhaps users were coming back via other channels rather than coming back via Display, but no, the Display remarketing works the best to bring people back to my website compared to any other channel where they can find me. Here is a graph of all my returning users over the past two years and which channels they came from. (I’m only targeting people in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA so I’ve narrowed the traffic to these locations).
I only started doing Google Display advertising late last year, but this is by far now the best channel that I have for getting clients to return to my website. I believe they are returning because I am distributing my content through the channel, not just trying to send people to the same sales page over and over like many businesses do. Organic Search and Email, the channels that are normally highly prized by marketers, are bringing in much less return traffic for me.
And how many times are these users returning via Display? Well again, the stats show that Display is building a loyal readership base faster than any other channel. In the small time since I started using Display for content marketing I’ve brought in the same number of single sessions compared to all other marketing channels combined, but the story changes when you look at returning visitors. People are returning 2 or 3 times via Display marketing much more often then they are returning 2 or 3 times from all other channels. Once I’ve been doing this another year I’m expecting to see many more people returning 4, 5, 6 or more times as long as I keep mixing up the content being shared.
All up I think that content marketing via Display has proven to be an excellent way to bring return traffic back to my website so that I can develop a relationship over time.
2) The people coming from Display are actually consuming my content
Now I might need to update this graph after a few more months, but from April I’ve started asking Google to find me readers, not just traffic. As long as you have more than 100 Google Ads conversions a month you can pay per conversion instead of per click. I set a conversion for my content marketing as users who stay for more than a minute in April 2020, and so now I only pay if they stay. This is a great strategy because Display gets a bad rap for having a high bounce rate. Well its not an issue if you only pay for the people who don’t bounce!
I’m only targeting people in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA so I’ve narrowed the traffic to these locations for this graph.
PS. In case you’re wondering if people are just leaving their tab open and it’s counting as a minute, I’ve only included people who are still actively moving their mouse or scrolling the page after a minute. I installed custom tracking for this.
It’s even more dramatic when you consider only the users who spent more than a minute interacting AND who visited a sales funnel page:
3) The people coming from Display are sharing my content and offers
I’ve only just set up my own analytics tracking for measuring shares in April (yes very slack I know, since I do this for my clients) so I don’t have a long time period to show you on this yet, but I realised I needed to measure it when I saw how well Google Ads display marketing works for getting shares when used with content marketing. Here are some examples of pages that I am currently only marketing through Display advertising. Please note, while these numbers look small I only started with Display recently, and I have not established an audience yet so these are from cold traffic.
To boost shares, and therefore add SEO juice and social proof, you can get faster results by putting a small portion of your budget onto low cost traffic like users from India or Africa. This traffic is very inexpensive and so there are more opportunities for finding users who will share.
Here is an example of sharers from all locations so that you can see which locations are more likely to share and whether they are sharing from Display or from other marketing channels. You’ll see that Display traffic on the left are overwhelmingly sharing compared to non-Display on the right. I’m spending only $30 AUD a month on the sharing campaign, but the social proof and SEO value is likely much more valuable.
Meanwhile, here are some screenshots of real pages with share counts so you can see the kinds of landing pages that are being shared:
Before moving onto the next topic, its worthwhile mentioning that in four weeks since initially publishing this article, the number of shares on each of these pages doubled.
I checked whether all the shares really do add to SEO. Its early days yet, but I would argue yes, definitely. Here is the Search Console report for my Google Analytics Cheat Sheet which has been shared the most. The purple line shows the number of impressions per day for these keywords and the orange line shows my average organic ranking. So you can see that at the time of writing my cheat sheet has moved improved in average position. As a page’s position becomes lower and lower towards position 1-10, the number of organic impressions and clicks should increase dramatically because so few people check further than the first page of Google. I don’t get clicks for it yet because people are not searching on page 6, that’s for sure.
4) The people coming from Display are subscribing for emails
One of the reasons why I started Display advertising for my content marketing in the first place was I was frustrated that I didn’t have enough email subscribers. Organic marketing seems so slow. I like the idea of being able to share content with a reader base, and so when my email list was growing at a glacial pace I wanted to do something about it.
The jury isn’t really out yet in terms of subscribers as I discovered a bug in my tracking for subscribers and I had to start that metric over in June 2020. So far, Display isn’t the best for subscribers, but it surprises me to see that, as I used to get 1-5 subscribers a month and since introducing Display I now get 1-2 subscribers a day. I think that more people are referring me, and referrals are becoming subscribers whereas the Display traffic is returning via Display.
5) I have started getting more sales and referrals
Now a caveat on this one, I haven’t been able to confirm whether sales or referrals are attributed directly to my Display marketing activity, but this is what I observed nonetheless.
Display advertising is a little bit like an iceberg – you see the clicks to your website, but the impressions are free and are making a difference to your business as well. If you re-market to people who already know you, they’ll be reminded of you, even if they don’t click the ad.
Once I started content marketing via Google Ads Display I started to get a lot more referrals all of a sudden. Now these referrers were all people I had met before, so not brand new people, but they remembered me and mentioned they had clients and friends who needed my help.
Then I also had brand new prospects who reached out to me out of the blue via email or phone. I didn’t know where they had come from, and when I asked how they first found out about me they said they weren’t sure, but they had been to my website several times and they liked the fact that I seemed to know what I was doing.
It might be a coincidence, but at the same time as getting more referrals and leads than usual I also saw my sales conversion rates increase significantly. I’m not sure that this has anything to do with Display marketing since there are too many variables at play here (the quality of the referral, improvements in how I describe my services etc).
Previously, I was using Display for advertisers who sold retail goods, and other products and services direct to individual consumers, I would have never used it for B2B businesses unless they were having trouble scaling through other methods. But since I have started using it for my own business I realised that it is incredibly powerful for B2B as well. These days I would not hesitate to use Display advertising for B2B, especially in industries with high Google Ads Search CPCs, or where there are high trust requirements before people sign themselves up as a lead. The key though is you need to have a sales funnel in place, not just create display ads for “awareness”.
I’m now spending less money than I ever did when I hired VAs to distribute my content (probably about half) but my results have significantly improved. I would not hesitate to recommend Google Display for content marketers. There are still plenty of thought experiments that I am running as I attempt to whittle this into a really efficient process. Namely:
1) What is the best type of Google Ads Display banner for content marketing? (At this stage all my experiments are pointing to Responsive Display, although mixing it up with some higher quality banners is a nice idea)
2) What is the most efficient process for setting up Display for content marketing? (I’ve created a process – would anyone be interested in a small course on this?)
3) What is the best bidding mechanism and conversion set to use for content marketing? (I’m currently favouring pay per conversion where a conversion is a 1 minute reader, sharer or subscriber)
4) How can I ensure that content is distributed evenly, rather than showing the same person the same ad multiple times? (This has been a pain as Google shows some ads more than others. I’ve been setting per ad per user impression limits and rotate content evenly to try to stop Google favouring some content over others, but still Google prefers some content)
5) Is there a benefit to keeping the marketing local to increase local referrals, or is there a benefit to spending money on international audiences outside my customer set who might share my content? (I am feeling that these are both beneficial, but need more data!)
6) What is the ideal frequency to show content to my audience? (This is a little hard to test, but is on my list of things to look into)
7) Are blog posts worthwhile distributing via a paid medium, or is is better to create lots of landing page offers with downloadables? (Still investigating, but my feeling is that referrers read some of the blog content, so it is worthwhile promoting articles)
8) What is the Lifetime Value of a member of my remarketing audience, and therefore how much can I afford to spend each year to add one new person to my remarketing list? (Still investigating over time, but this will be different for each marketer)
9) Does cold traffic or remarketing provide a better ROI from Paid? (This isn’t as obvious as it seems, remarketing traffic can become a list of readers who don’t take action if you’re not careful).
10) What kind of advertising copy works best on Display ads for Content Marketing? (To sell or not to sell, that is the question)
11) Is it better to target small niches and small custom intent audiences, or is it better to go broad? (I have a tendency towards niche targeting, but I am also testing broad audience where I only pay for results and I am interested to see how the data turns out as Google’s AI would then do the targeting for me and might even do a better job)
12) If I promote via Display and people share my content, will my organic traffic and subscribers go up as well? (I’m interested to see the answer to this)
There are many other questions going through my head all the time as I’m always creating and testing my thought experiments.
Since I specialise in Google Marketing I can set up this kind of campaign for you if you want the same kinds of results as me. I’ve typically specialised in B2C (transactional) websites rather than service based / lead generation sites, but I might turn this into an extra service or a course. Please write a comment below with your thoughts if you’d like to learn more.