Sometimes content marketing and PPC operate in silos.
But they don’t have to!
Navah Hopkins, the Director of Paid Media at Hennessey Digital, breaks down the ways these two tactics can work together and improve your overall digital strategy.
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In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to justify organic spend using PPC
- How to set up appropriate attribution models
- How PPC can amplify your strategy in all parts of the funnel
- Tips on how to get started in integrating PPC into your strategy
Amanda: Navah Hopkins is the director of paid media at Hennessey Digital and a founding member of the Paid Search Association. She's one of the most authoritative voices in PPC and I'm very much looking forward to our conversation about how PPC can amplify content marketing efforts. Welcome to the show, Navah.
Navah: Amanda, thank you so much for having me, it is a true delight. I'm a big believer in SEO and PPC winning together and empowering each other, very excited for our conversation.
Amanda: Me too, because like I mentioned before the show, I do not know a ton about PPC. So, this is personally going to be very informative. And hopefully, if you're listening, and you're in a similar boat, you can understand, without having to become somebody who is all about PPC, necessarily, if you're in SEO or content, how it can complement your work, and bolster what you're doing. So, to start the beginning, which I like to do on the show, why should people consider PPC? Like, what is the value of PPC?
Navah: Sure, so one of the biggest value ads for PPC, whether that's paid search, paid video through YouTube, whether it's display, whether it's paid social, is that you're able to actually point to exact lead sales conversions from various specific spend. So, on the SEO side, it can be really tough to have that true attribution conversation, it can be really tough to say, hey, you invested $10,000 a month and what leads in sales happen from that. On the paid side, we have a little bit nicer on the reporting, we can see exactly what leads, what sales came from our spend. But the other thing that's actually really nice about paid media is that we're able to control the messaging, and what kind of ideas we present to our prospects, and drive them to very specific experiences that are designed to help them convert. So, on the SEO side, we might need to worry about ranking and building in lots of content to help rank. On the paid side, we're paying to secure that spot, but we can be far more focused on just getting the sale. So, it's not that you do one or the other. paid media is actually very, very good at helping to secure those spots that maybe are tougher to rank for, that you'd have to invest quite a bit on the content side to get it done. And vice versa, on the paid side, there might be areas where it just, there's no search volume, so Google, Microsoft, whatever won't serve ads. There also might be really expensive ideas where there's no possible way you'd ever want to pay 5, $600 a click, you build content around that. So, it really is about being able to have that really powerful attribution, but also being able to supplement your other efforts, where maybe it would be cost prohibitive to go after in any way other than paid media, and vice versa.
Amanda: So, you mentioned that it's easier to kind of get the buy-in and justify the spend with PPC, is there a way to justify the spend with organic by utilizing PPC somehow?
Navah: Yeah, actually. So, there's a couple of tools that I absolutely love, Keywords Everywhere, SEMrush, I'll give a shout out to my alma mater, WordStream, that will give you insights into auction prices. And so, on the SEO side, if you know that an auction price per click is say, $5 and you know you make per customer 50 to $60, you might have a paid media buy for that but you might also prefer just to build that organic content, you might prefer to say, hey, I want to invest, I feel like I'm going to get shy if I lowball, what you should spend per month on SEO. But like, say you're investing, you've committed to that buy-in and please correct me if I'm wrong, say 5 to $10,000 a month in a reasonable SEO play, am I like way off base or is that fair?
Amanda: No, I think that's fair.
Navah: Okay, so you've got that buy-in for that 5 to $10,000 SEO claim, you might then only need to invest, say 2000, 3000 per month on the paid media side as opposed to say having to invest 8 to 9000 because you have organic content, helping you rank so that you're not fully relying on every single lead costing you money to acquire. In addition, when you look at the content, you're typically able to use things like call tracking, to be able to see what pieces of content lead to what leads, what lead to what sales, and you can actually begin to attribute ROI to particular pieces of content. And this is very much, on the paid media side, I'm very attuned to ROI, return on investment, ROAS, return on ad spend below. A lot of those lessons learned can be applied there. So, I mentioned earlier, those tools, you'll be able to see search volume as well and trends for volume. So, if you know, hey, search volume is kind of low on this right now, there might be value in, hey, instead of investing on paid media, let's use this kind of law, build up the content, build up that top of funnel interest. You might also say, hey, listen, we need this content, this content is a mission critical bit of content, we need to kind of juice the top of funnel, let's run a display campaign to help influence it, let's run a YouTube campaign to help influence it, let's run a paid social campaign to help influence it. So, you really want to think about what job you're giving each marketing channel and making sure that your attribution is 1,000% correct. I don't know how much we want to get into attribution models but that is 100% something that you want to think about. Regardless of what channels you deploy, you want to make sure that you're using correct attribution so that you don't maybe depreciate a channel just because it didn't get conversions but it was feeding your converting channels. Did that answer the question, or was that like a random rant?
Amanda: No, it was not a random rant, you answered three of my questions in one before I even got to them so--.
Navah: That's my MO.
Amanda: That's awesome. That was great and we can certainly get into attribution models, because I feel like that's one of the hardest parts about all of this. So, a lot of people come out a little differently or you end up with last touch attribution, or first touch and nothing in the middle, like you're saying, where there's contributing factors and people are capturing those. So, yeah, how do you set things up?
Navah: I'm a big believer in time decay and position based, I hate last click, I hate first click, I hate them. And the reason I hate them is because, what it basically says is, say you're at a company, and you have an entire team working for a director of a department and the director presents a presentation to the board and the team, because of all the hard work that the team did, even putting together the presentation for that director but the director got additional funding from the board, the director gets a promotion, no one else on the team gets anything. In what world would that be fair? None, even if that might happen in random companies. So, that's last click, where the director got the credit. First click would be kind of the intern who started running data and like starting to compile everything, we're not going to give all the credit to that random intern, who started on the process, we want to give partial credit to everyone that had their hand on the ball. So, the difference between time decay and position based, time decay will give depreciating credit, lastly gets the most and then however many touch points are a part of the funnel, they get descending percentages, depending on how many there are. Positioned based, 40% goes to last click, 40% goes to first click, and 20% is split between the remaining. And the reason why I like those is that you're able to give credit to everything but you're still able to acknowledge that the last click before the conversion probably was pretty important. And so, you're able to give it a good amount of credit. But you're not giving it all the credit. It's not everything. The other thing that's important to note when thinking about attribution is you want to make sure that, A, every single channel you have is on the same model, this is really important in the analytics, analytics is kind of that single source of truth to connect all of your different channels. The other thing that's really important is your conversion window. So, conversion windows can range from a day to 90 to 180 days, like there's a number of different conversion windows that you can have. And you really want to be mindful what your sales cycle is, what kind of touch points there might be, so that you have that appropriate credit. The final thing I'll note is in analytics, there's actually a really nifty report called conversion paths and top conversion paths and you can actually see what conversions had what sources and how many touches that source had before the conversion happened. So, if you're feeling like, hey, man, my Facebook is doing nothing for me, like nothing's going on, this is the worst, I'm going to just put all my effort into traditional SEO on Google and do my paid search and then all of a sudden, your leads drop. Well, turns out maybe your Facebook campaign was actually feeding the top of funnel or was engaging your community for a nurture campaign or vice versa, you might find out that your customers really, really love converting on your organic experiences but the paid search campaigns are driving people to become aware of your brand. So, you're helping to introduce the brand to a new market or something like that, killing your paid search campaign, simply because it wasn't the thing that converted, but it was a part of the path, would then take away all of your conversions on the organic side. So, it really is about being mindful, who's responsible for what, and then deploying budgets appropriately.
Amanda: That's really important. You're basically talking about the things that give assists to the actual conversion, which can be overlooked. And like you said, really bad for your strategy, if you just decide to cut them out and you have to deal with the results of that.
Navah: And I kind of have to give the disclaimer, SEO, you never really want to stop, SEO needs to kind of keep going or you will have a sharp drop. On the paid media side, it really does depend on what channel you're looking at, and what bidding strategies that you might have turned on. So, every ad network has something called a learning period, the more you opt into the automations, the more you will be subject to those learning periods. So, if you know that you have a short window to secure success, paid media tends to be the better buy, that you can then supplement with organic. If you know that you have a long haul, you probably want both going and then you can turn the knob on or off on paid media depending on how many leads you're getting. But you don't want to turn paid media on-off, on-off, on-off in a very short proximity because then you'll actually tank your account. You typically want to, say you need to turn down the volume, you'd actually want to just lower the budget, put like $1, $2 or something like that, rather than outright pausing because it can take time to ramp back up.
Amanda: That's really interesting. I didn't know that. So, I want to go back to something you mentioned before, when you were saying, one of the benefits of paid is that you can curate a very specific experience to improve the chances of converting. But you also mentioned that it can be used for top of the funnel amplification for some of your content. So, can PPC be used, kind of like in any part of the funnel, any part of the customer journey too?
Navah: It's going to seem really trite for me to say yes, but it genuinely can, provided that you set your goals and your budgets appropriately. So, one thing, we actually do at Hennessey Digital is we have landing pages that are wholly designed to help, we have a lot of lawyers, help potential prospects for our clients understand, do they have a case. And what's nice about this is that It helps reduce the reject rate, because the client then, maybe our client paid, maybe 10, 15, $20 per week for this campaign to run. But the people that get in touch later, either off of that landing page or through traditional search are more qualified, they know that, hey, my injury happened within the last year, I have all of my files, I did not accept my insurance offer or something like that. Vice versa, that kind of curated experience at the end of the funnel, you have very specific calls to actions that are the focus, and then it's not, when we talk about like content or thin content versus content rich, PPC doesn't like content rich, we like how easy is it and how much are we making you think before you give us your money, we're very, just get down to business, let's just have this as a transaction. And there are different skills of that, so for some industries, you do actually want to nurture the leads with a little bit more content, maybe it's collapsible content, these are asked to opt into exploring by scrolling down. But we actually found and we tested this with our clients, that when we ran, what we call short form, or everything's above the fold, very straightforward landing page versus long form or more robust content, the cost per acquisition was triple on the long form, we were really struggling to convert, whereas when it was short form, it was easy to fill out the form, call, no navigation to bounce away, it just made for a better experience. So, you want to think about what jobs you're giving each channel and this isn't to say that SEO can't convert, SEO 100% can convert a ton of folks, you just have to be mindful that the people that will engage on with a paid media spot, don't have the time or the brains, mental space to think and to read, they want the most immediate action right now. And so, if you're going to put someone on an SEO page, that will be rich with amazing content to really help them and to research. It's a mismatch of where that person is in the buying cycle, they don't want to read, they want to just act. And vice versa, dumping someone on a PPC page, if they're not quite ready, well, you just spent a bunch of money to get someone who needed more information. That's actually why I always recommend your paid landing page should have a link to the homepage of your brand, to engage with whatever content you need. And then if they need that, they can, like you should always give your client the off ramp to explore more information if they need it but that's the only off ramp you should give them. Everything else should be focused around, get the lead, get the sale, so on, so forth.
Amanda: So, if someone hasn't dabbled too much in the PPC side of things, it sounds like it's probably not ideal to kind of just tack it on to some content pieces you've already have and see if it helps, you have to kind of understand the audience you're targeting and what their intent is.
Navah: You'll waste a lot of money if you do that. So, like there's basically three buckets of PPC, there's smart campaigns, and the truly automated campaigns that Google runs, the other channels as well. Like we mentioned earlier, local service ads, Google smart campaigns, where you're not managing much, you're just sending people to the site, that can work, there can be success there, you just can't hold the account responsible for a lot of success, there's going to be waste. The next tier of management is you manage an actual ad account, and you're sending people to the organic site but the actual conversion rate may suffer, because the things that really serve well on the SEO side, aren't always perfect for the PPC side. But you're okay with that, because you, A, don't have the time or the resources to build out a specific landing page experience and or your organic site has built in conversion rate optimization, or CRO principles. It's not like you're just dumping someone into a wall of tax, there is actually some CRO on there. The final school of thought, and this is what I subscribe to, is that you have two completely different experiences, there is your organic experience, and there's your PPC experience. So, we actually use Unbounce, there's Instapage, there's Lander, there's Click Funnel, and there's a whole bunch of different tools that you can explore. And the idea is, there's a single experience that we know will fit this persona by how they think, where they're located, who are their influencers, things like that and we factor in, one of the things that we look at, because we work with lawyers so much is the different parts of the country refer to lawyer versus attorney in different ways and in different volumes. And so, by having a landing page that is targeted to a region that focuses on or that mainly searches via lawyer versus attorney, we're able to not only, yes, help with quality score, we're also able to help with the actual human experience of, I was looking for an attorney, and you're talking about it as an attorney, or I was looking for a lawyer and you're saying that you're a lawyer.
Amanda: So, it starts in this place of understanding the audience because that decision was made first because you knew something about who you were targeting and discrepancies there, and how to speak to each one of them. So, is it okay, I have a message, perhaps an action I want them to do and I know I want to target them, then you decide, okay, is this SEO driven, PPC driven and then, if so, can they work together, like is that kind of the development that should occur?
Navah: So, if I have no knowledge of who my people are, I actually like to start with PPC, do what's called a dynamic search ads campaign to learn how my people search, what kind of audiences there are and things like that. And then I take that information to inform my content strategy so I can build out content around those important questions that are converting. If I have an idea of who my people are and I know that there are certain reasons people will say no, those are the perfect things to put as your content strategy, and just focus on that content piece. And then on the PPC side, you just focus on getting those leads, but then your content can be part of our nurture. Does that answer the question that you asked or is that unrelated?
Amanda: Yeah, no, I think that makes a lot of sense. So, now I'm thinking there's different platforms for paid and is this informed by what's already working on the organic side? So, okay, we want to target people through search, want to target people through social, how do you go about making that decision?
Navah: It really truly depends on your budget, who your people are, and how much time you have to manage. There is no reason to launch a campaign, just to launch a campaign. You want to run that campaign, because your best people are there, and you have enough budget to fuel it. So, I have a role with paid search that you should have, your budget should be able to fit at least 10 clicks per day because a 10% conversion rate for non-branded paid search is really, really good. But when it comes to say, paid social, there are different objectives, some people look at paid social as really cheap and it's just a way to get kind of cheap brand awareness and I pay $500 a month, other folks who view it as an incredible Rojas machine and will invest 500,000, a million per month on Facebook. You don't want to necessarily think about a channel, just because it's performed well in the past or it hasn't, you want to think about a channel based off of, who's there, can you afford enough of an investment and do you have the time to manage it? Because as much as things are being automated now, you still need to monitor the machine, there is no world in which, you just flick a switch and you're done. I realized that there is appetite in some sectors for that kind of an experience, that every time people will opt into it, they always end up opting back out, because the performance that you get off of a human guided campaign tends to beat the machine. With that said, it's also task based. So, if you hate content, if you're like, I hate writing ads, I hate coming up with copy for landing pages, I hate coming up with messages, like I hate this part, there's enough automation tools that are possible that you could say, hey, okay, I'm going to just stick with the tech piece of managing the account, keywords bid, so and so forth. You might also hate that part and you're the creative, like you can come up with some amazing content. And so, it's really about understanding what are your strengths, and applying your strengths as needed. And if you're strong and everything amazing, but you also don't have to be, the machines have evolved enough that you can be supplemented.
Amanda: It's nice to hear somebody who identifies on the creative side of things, erodes the idea of being in there doing all the technical stuff, that there are ways to compliment your efforts and not have to do everything on your own. So, assuming somebody's listening who manages growth, and for whatever reason hasn't delved into PPC yet, I have found that there are companies that kind of have stuck with something for a long time because it works and then realized, okay, we probably need to try out some other things or to continue to grow, do something differently. Where do you start? It sounds like you're already providing these great free tools to try to get acclimated to some of these things. Does this involve, like, could your content team pick this up? Should you be hiring an agency, an in-person?
Navah: So, from agencies to agencies.
Navah: So, my honest answer to this is, it genuinely depends on the infrastructure of you and your org, it is very tricky to find a good practitioner for in-house. But once you find them, it is a true delight and a treasure and you should celebrate that person, infinitely, raises all around. Because that in-house person is going to be able to not only be an advocate for you and your brand, and they're going to know your brand inside and out, they are going to be able to know enough when something is actually worth getting on board with and when it's like, no, this doesn't actually impact us. The downside of in-house is that you, A, have to find them, but then you also have all the HR costs that go with that. For some folks, though, that is the right way to go. If you go the agency route, it's really important that you find an agency where the ethos of the agency really jives with who you are and what your goals are. So, for us, we really care, and I know you guys care a lot too, that our customers are not only doing well, but that they are excited by the success that they're getting. We find ways to delight our customers, not just with the reports, but also with like stories of success or like oh, wow, like this lead, you're like saving someone's life with this or whatever it might be. The other thing that's really important is, are you managing multiple vendors, are you finding a single integrated partner? Managing multiple partners is totally doable, it can be a bit of a tricky proposition, you may find that you love one vendor for one thing, and you found another vendor that you love for another thing and there might be overlap but like you love them and both and that's fine. You might also find that hey, I really just want one partner. We like to be that one partner. We're PPC, SEO, social, so on so forth. But we have quite clients that use us just for SEO, and they use someone else for PPC, we have folks that use this just for PPC and they use other folks on the SEO side. So, you're not going to hurt a vendor's feelings if you want to use multiple vendors, you don't have to kind of commit all at once. The final solution is using tools to supplement you doing it yourself, tools can be wonderful, provided that you have the time to fully understand what they're doing and the cost of you doing it yourself does not exceed the value of your time elsewhere. So, say, for example, you're the owner of a law firm, the last thing you should be doing is diving into search console or Google ads, absolute last thing. Your time is 600, $700 an hour, there's no possible way that makes sense. If however, you're the owner of an local mom and pop shop, SMB, and you enjoy the activity, and you have the time to invest in it, there absolutely is value in you doing it yourself, either with the help of tools or without. The native platforms, to be fair to them have done a really good job of making life very, very simple and very easy for SMB owners that want to do it themselves. So, I definitely encourage you to explore that route before you explore a partner, whether it's an agency, or hiring in-house. But if you know that your time is worth more, you kind of have to opt into something else.
Amanda: That's a really great breakdown, you went into all the options and some of it is similar to what I end up saying to people too. And like people just started asking me, should we hire somebody in-house or hire an agency? And I have to say, obviously, a little biased, but like you said, if you find somebody who has that expertise in-house, that can be extremely valuable but it's also tough, tough to do.
Navah: When you find them, you keep them, like whatever you need to do to keep them because and I don't know if you find this with practitioners on your guys' side, but there comes a point in a practitioner's lifecycle where they have to decide whether they want to stay individual contributor and keep their teeth as sharp as possible or whether they want to go manager and their teeth start to dull. But like they're growing as like a businessperson, but their technical chops start to dull. And if you can find someone whose teeth are still sharp, get them and keep them because most folks will start to let their teeth dull at the five to seven year mark, because they want to advance their careers and get paid more to be a manager. So, if you can find someone, it's actually better to find someone who is at the younger side, but you can grow into head of digital, whatever. But like incent them to keep their teeth, like don't make them have to choose between their salary and their technical expertise.
Amanda: I haven't heard it put that way but that's a really good way of explaining it. And I think it's a matter of that and then just a matter of scale, how quickly you want to grow, what timeline you're working with, what budget you're working with, because you can have an in-house person, but that's still not going to be enough if you're trying to do--.
Navah: -- global expansion, launch a new brand and yeah,
Amanda: Right. Absolutely. So, to wrap up, is there anything that I forgot? I want to ask this because since I don't work on PPC, we're all organic at Fractl, is there another tie between content and paid, that I've overlooked or something that should be mentioned?
Navah: I think it's very important to remember that the personas that you build on the paid side, and the organic side should speak to each other. The most important takeaway on SEO and PPC working together is that we share our data, search console data, analytics, data, search terms reports, things like that, we always want to share that because if you pay to learn the lesson twice, that's very, very expensive. If you pay to learn the lesson once, life is great. There is no such thing as you have it perfect, it's done, but I would definitely recommend sharing those datasets. The other thing I will mention is that the cost of PPC and this is kind of going back to the agency question, people think about SEO, in terms of hours worked so like you pay $10,000 a month and that's all going into the work, in paid media, that $10,000 is going into the ads and then you have some sort of management fee on top of that, to actually manage the account and build the creative. So, when you are evaluating a channel and thinking about your investment, really be honest with yourself about, how much you will need to be successful and don't lump your ad spend, your fuel for leads in with your agency, your in-house, amazing Rockstar tool, whatever, they are separate numbers. Whereas on the organic side, what you pay, for the most part, is the work that the organic team is doing.
Amanda: That's interesting. Yeah, I can totally see that because that's how our pricing is packaged too, it's like, this is everything you're paying for all the creation and the results. So, that's a good perspective. Navah, knowing the goal of this podcast, who do you recommend to be future guests on the show?
Navah: I have to give a shout out to Mark Irvin, I'm contractually obligated. Another one, actually, that I think you would really have a good, there's a couple of good folks, Amy Bishop, I love her. She's a really good technical analytics mind. I also think you would have a great conversation with Ashley, from top hat. Another one that's good is Michelle Morgan and Joe Martinez are always great. I would also actually reach out to Ginny, Marvin, she's just great. Do you know Melissa Fach?
Amanda: Yeah, she was on the show a little earlier, all good.
Navah: Casey Marquis. Casey is great, unequivocally great. Yeah, that's my, for content, because this is content specific.
Amanda: Yeah, that's awesome. I appreciate those recommendations, because, I especially like talking to people with different points of view in the industry and who they find interesting and helpful is not always going to be exactly what I see. So, it's very valuable.
Navah: If you're open to an Australian interview, I would actually also ping Nick Granger, she's great.
Amanda: I have not done an Australian interview yet, I think. I think we can figure something out, time-wise. Well, Navah, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights, provide these tips and starting points. I think it's really valuable.
Navah: No worries, thank you for having me.