Is Content Marketing or Advertising More Effective?

You have probably heard people talking about content marketing, and you may be unsure how it works or how your business can use it. What are the goals of content marketing? How is content marketing different from advertising? How can it benefit a business? Should you be investing in content marketing if you are already advertising online?

If you’ve been using online advertising for a number of years, you may have one big question in mind: “how effective is content marketing vs. advertising?”

We can help you with the answers to these questions.

Call 888-601-5359 to speak with a strategist about content marketing plans from WebFX, or keep reading to learn how it stacks up against other forms of advertising, how it’s different, and how it can help you attract more customers online.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is essentially the creation of helpful, informative, and original content with the intent of introducing new leads to your brand and convincing them that you are worth trusting. Over time, this content can help introduce many more people to your company, and convert them into a lead or paying customer.

Content marketing consists of a high number of individual marketing methods, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Articles (like this one!)
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Whitepapers
  • Ebooks

The idea behind content marketing is offering a helpful resource to a customer. Long-term, continued production of these resources can make your brand or company seem more knowledgeable and trustworthy. Content can also attract more visitors to your website from search engines, as we’ll touch on shortly.

What is advertising?

Online advertising is different from content marketing. The major difference is you that pay an outside source to post your advertising, and do not own the platform on which it’s published. With content marketing, you own the platform—that is, the content is hosted on your own website.

There are many opportunities to advertise online. A few include:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines like Google
  • Social media advertising, like Facebook Ads or Twitter Cards
  • Ad networks, which serve your advertisements on sites that fit the demographic you want to reach

Advertising can be expensive, depending on the rate you agree to pay per click, as well as where you choose to spend your money. It can also be risky if you do not research your chosen keywords or target audiences thoroughly first. There is no money-back guarantee if you do not get the results you are hoping for.

Content Marketing vs. Advertising: Which method is more effective?

Now that you understand the differences between content marketing and advertising, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of each method to figure out if one is potentially more effective than the other.

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization, also referred to as SEO, is the best way to naturally attract traffic to your website through search engines. It consists of a collection of methods that are designed to make your site more likely to appear when someone searches for relevant words or phrases.

SEO aims to improve your appeal to Google, so your website will appear as close to the top of the results as possible when someone does a search related to your products or services. The higher you are to the top, the more likely a potential customer will click on your site: some studies have found that the first result in any given search gets more than 33% of clicks.

Content marketing has the advantage in this regard. When you include keywords in the content you produce—which you may even do naturally—search engines pick up on that. This smart use of keywords can help improve the likelihood of your site ranking very high.

Additionally, good content will encourage links from other sites. Search engines factor links into their algorithms, and the sites with the most high quality links stand a better chance at taking the top spot for relevant searches.


This is one area where advertising stands out. When you advertise on Facebook, for example, you can drill down deep into the site’s demographics, targeting only those people you think would be good potential customers. You do not pay to reach anyone else.

With content marketing, it’s more like baiting a hook. You throw your content out there in the hopes that someone will find it on the web, but the people you hook may not be the ones most like to make an actual purchase or use one of your services. For that reason, you could argue advertising is more cost-effective.

You may invest more in advertising, but ideally you are paying for the likelihood of conversions. Because you can target your ads much more specifically than your content, you may find that the return on investment is higher in this case.

Online ad fraud

Unfortunately, there is a major downside to Internet advertising. Online click fraud is a major issue across the web. Shady sites and certain ad networks employ “bots,” or automated programs, that click on ads to generate fraudulent traffic.

Advertisers then have to pay for these bogus clicks, without getting the benefits of real potential customers seeing their ads. Though the industry is trying to come up with ways to fight click fraud, and Google’s PPC program regularly screens for it and offers refunds for those affected, your advertising could still be impacted by it.


Nearly every company uses some form of advertising. There is nothing wrong with advertising! It can be effective, both online and off, and can boost your revenue dramatically.

But content marketing can actually improve the perception of your company. A company that goes out of its way to produce content that helps visitors, offers advice, or teaches something new will be seen as far less “pushy” than one that relies only on advertising. In fact, many consumers do not even realize that content marketing is a form of marketing—they just see it as content, full stop.

Content that offers real value can boost the perception that consumers have your company. Content marketing gives your company a strong brand identity, and that will help you win new business in the long run.

Is one method more effective than another?

Reading this article, you may assume that content marketing is more effective than advertising. It’s less expensive, there’s no click fraud involved, and consumers develop a good impression of those who utilize it. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Some companies employ both advertising and content marketing, and find that they work together very well. Content marketing can be used to make the initial introduction, and advertising can help bring an already informed visitor back to make a purchase. Other businesses may employ both methods for different purposes, and find that they both have strong benefits and high conversion rates.

Only your company will be able to decide if content marketing is more effective than advertising. The results are different for everyone. So you should try both and carefully monitor the results before deciding that you should avoid advertising, or that content marketing isn’t worth it for you.

The verdict: Find a good balance

So, what’s our verdict? It’s that you should aim to find a good balance between advertising and content marketing. One may be more effective than the other for you, but you will only be able to find out which method is better—or which requires slightly more time and funding—with some testing. Eventually, you’ll be able to create a balanced marketing plan that gets you the best results possible.

We hope this article helped you learn a little more about the benefits of both content marketing and advertising, and see that it’s not a matter of which is better—it’s about which is better for you.

Want to learn a little more about content marketing, how it works, and how you can use it? Check out our free ebook on starting a content marketing program to learn everything you could ever want to know about marketing online with content.