Maximize Your ROI With a Paid Content Marketing Strategy

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The three-legged stool of owned, earned and paid content has grown wobbly after years of the “earned” leg being whittled down by media industry consolidation and contraction. There are fewer reputable outlets and editorial staffers gatekeeping a shrinking amount of coverage. That makes the earned coverage from PR outreach more valuable when you do get it—and underscores the benefit of smart marketing and PR agency guidance. And it means most organizations should consider adding paid content to the marketing mix as well. 

If you’re looking to ramp up paid content, the best advice is to be choosy, start slow and build on each success. Then gradually expand your budget to take advantage of the opportunities that generate the most leads and, ultimately, sales ROI.  

The 3 First Steps to Success

Begin by identifying the industry and general business publications that are the best fit for your company in terms of audience, coverage focus and reputation. A cheap content package is still money wasted if it’s not hitting the right audience of potential prospects—or is packaged around low-rent editorials or stories that have nothing in common with your message.  

For example, I’ll never forget the time while working on a guide to financial advisors and wealth managers, a dating service purchased a high-priced content section. We gently noted it might not be the best use of the company’s marketing dollars, but they wanted to give it a shot. You may be shocked to learn we never heard from them again.  

A more common mistake is buying content placement in a publication focused on, say, distributors, when you’re trying to connect with suppliers. Same industry, but the audience and coverage profiles just don’t match up. Result: more wasted dollars. 

Once you have a target list of publications that ticks the right audience, coverage focus and reputation boxes, the real work begins to make the strategy pay off. You want a publishing partner that has a deep understanding of their audience metrics and a consultative approach to helping you make the most of the paid placement opportunity. 

Require Detailed Engagement Metrics 

Insist on seeing metrics that provide concrete insights into the size, makeup and engagement level of the audience. An email list of 100,000 is worth little if very few of them open the sends. Overall site visit metrics don’t mean much if your placement will be buried on a little-seen interior page. Ask the account executive to drill down and be specific.  

Questions to Ask About Email: 

  • What is the list size?  
  • What is the average bounce rate?  
  • How often are inactive members removed from the list?  
  • How many new contacts, on average, are added to the list per month?  
  • How often does the publication send emails to the list? (If they are hitting it multiple times each week, there’s a higher likelihood the emails will land in spam folders or even on ISP blacklists.)  
  • Ask how they build their lists. Some publications use their general readership list as the core of all sub-lists and then add more targeted users as they opt-in.  

Finally, ask for the most meaningful engagement metric: What is the click rate in these emails on the paid content spots (or on the main content if it’s a dedicated e-blast)? And do they know how that compares to standard industry benchmarks? Ask for examples of their most effective subject lines as well, so you can have a head start on the most important part of your creative. 

A note of caution: Publications often tout the open rate of their emails. But with Apple Mail now marking every single email as “opened” even if it is deleted without being seen by the end user, the traditional open rate metric is no longer trustworthy. Go for the clicks.  

Few publishers guarantee a set number of leads from a paid content placement, but they should be willing to share average click rates for paid content on each of their digital platforms. If you choose an outlet with coverage and an audience that dovetails with your message, those average click rates should be good benchmarks for your content.  

Questions To Ask About Site Placements:  

  • How will the publication market the content to its audience—via email, social and internal page referrals?  
  • What are the traffic and engagement metrics for paid content on the specific pages where your marketing will feature? For instance, if you tease the content in a homepage sponsored content box that links to an internal content hub, what are the average metrics for each piece of the buy?

The Extra Benefits of Paid Content 

You should never expect favorable editorial coverage from a publication as a sweetener to a paid content contract. But no publication would punish paid-content clients by denying them legitimate editorial coverage opportunities.  

When you establish a paid content schedule with a publication, you gain insights into the publication’s processes and create staff relationships. When it comes time for features or news stories that need knowledgeable industry sources, reputable clients that run regular paid content schedules tend to be top of mind for the editorial team. That’s especially true at outlets where an editor-publisher with a foot in both sides of the business runs them. These are intangible benefits, but they often accrue to paid content clients. 

What Does Success Look Like for You? 

You should go into the process with an idea of the kind of engagement metrics and ROI you want to see from your paid content program. As you go through the evaluation process outlined above, you likely will tweak your expectations based on the average metrics publishers share with you. At the end of the day, having a clear understanding of your internal goals—including any branding impact in addition to direct engagement and lead generation—will help you make the best paid content decisions for your organization. 

Do you have an interest in setting up a paid content marketing program at your organization? Feel free to contact me directly on my LinkedIn. You can also reach out through our Outlook Marketing social channels: LinkedIn, Twitter or the Contact Us Page.

Authored By: Frank Sennett, Vice President

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