Content Marketing vs. Paid Advertising | Pros and Cons

It’s the great debate of digital marketing in 2021 – is content marketing or paid advertising a better use of your time and money? As you might expect, there isn’t one clear answer. A mix of the two is best for most companies, and the ratio will depend on your goals and key variables.

To help you make sense of these two marketing methods, we’ve compiled a long list of pros and cons, with insights from leading executives and marketing experts.

Stay tuned, because we’re covering all the key points of content marketing vs. paid advertising, plus a whole lot more.

No Fluff

Remember the early days of SEO and paid ads? The messaging tended to lack substance and was only meant to manipulate the algorithm. Now, it’s time to step up the quality and kill the fluff.

“Content marketing is a little more involved than paid advertising,” said Fred Gerantabee, CEO of Foster Grant. “Most website visitors will click away if an article looks like fluff, or they think the writer is just trying to sell them something instead of answering the query they typed into Google.” 

Conveying value is important for ads, but even more vital in content marketing.

Track and Improve

Go all-in on content marketing or use only paid ads – it’s up to you.

However, top marketers know that a mix of both will yield the best results, especially if you’ve got analytics to track and improve your campaigns.

“There are upsides to both content marketing and paid ads, but the more important thing is to minimize downside by stressing best practices and tracking metrics across the board,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “Don’t just jump into a new marketing campaign without a clear plan and a way to monitor progress.”

The days of set-it-and-forget marketing are over. Time to get hands-on with every part of the process.

Clear Purpose

The internet is overloaded with noise and distractions – that’s putting it mildly.

Cut through the nonsense and capture the attention of your audience with quality content and ads that make them stop in their tracks.

“Every piece of content you publish must have a clear purpose – same with every ad you run,” said Bing Howenstein, Founder of All33. “That’s how you get the most value out of every digital asset in your portfolio and see fantastic results when marketing online.”

Before you drop a new post or ad, make sure it’s on brand and on point.

Balance of Opposites

Where paid ads can’t get the job done, content marketing fills the gaps. This goes in both directions. Discover which medium is best to achieve certain outcomes and be ready to implement new strategies as needed.

“Think of paid ads as a flash in the pan, while content marketing is more of a slow burn,” said Shaun Price, Head of Customer Acquisition at MitoQ. “They are two sides of the same coin, and you need to master both to succeed in this competitive climate.”

Great marketers know exactly when to implement certain tools and tactics, so learn the ropes and start getting on-the-ground experience.

The Long Game

For a brand new business, it would seem like paid ads are a no-brainer. This is true to a degree, but advertising must also be balanced with content for SEO purposes and to build trust with customers.

“Many new businesses shrug off content marketing because it takes a longer time to see results,” said Raul Porto, Owner and President of Porto’s Bakery. “That’s not the right attitude, however, since content marketing can be a massive source of traffic and sales on your site. Commit to the long-haul project of content creation and it will pay off big down the road.”

If you haven’t started your content marketing journey, it’s not too late – start now!

Know Your Options

You can always get more granular with your marketing mix and create a strategy that’s completely unique to your brand. Target your audience precisely and deploy the tactics that yield

“Content marketing involves the creation of relevant, quality content targeted to your customers while paid advertising could involve TV ads, PPC or other internet advertising methods,” said Jeffrey Brown, President of Big Fig Mattress. “Content marketing works but involves a lot of effort so most businesses that use this method hire a writer. Paid advertising is less time consuming but can be more expensive in the short term. Content marketing takes a lot of time, but it can be worth it if you hire the right writer. Paid advertising also requires creating engaging ad copy but it differs from content marketing in that it’s shorter and has the purpose of directly selling a product or service.” 

The more you understand the real-world effects of key marketing tactics, the better you can wield them in practice.

Best of Both

Every aspect of marketing has its costs, its demands, and ripple effects that aren’t always intentional. Before creating content or ads for the web, consider all these requirements and the potential results.

“Content marketing, when done right can be very effective in helping you grow your brand,” said Darren Litt, Chairman and Co-Founder of MarketerHire. “However, it can be very time consuming and at some point, you will have to start paying for advertising. Paid advertising is very effective and when combined with content marketing you will be well on your way to building a strong brand.”

You’ll pick up on the pros and cons of these methods as you put them into action and see the results in real time.

Efficient Production

Paid ads will typically result in a predictable amount of traffic to your site. But after years of experience and education, leading marketers agree that quality beats quantity when it comes to content marketing.

“When taking a content-first approach, our job as marketers is not to create more content – it’s to create the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of results,” said Author and Speaker Robert Rose.

Consistency and planning will benefit you most in content marketing, so set a plan and stick with it.

Custom Strategy

Depending on the size of your business, your short- and long-term goals, and many other factors, you’ll have to put more focus on either content marketing or ads. Be ready to track these campaigns closely and make adjustments as soon as they’re needed.

“When choosing a marketing method, it’s important to consider the size of your business and what they do to get the best results,” said Jordan Smyth, CEO of Gleamin. “Paid advertising can be great for larger businesses but can also get expensive. Content marketing is great for smaller online businesses and allows you to reach new customers by offering informative, authoritative information.” 

More realistically, brands should always pursue some form of content marketing, while ads aren’t really always necessary.

Clarify Goals

What goals do you want to hit for your business in the next quarter? How about by the end of the year? Beyond that, you need at least a five-year plan for long-term thinking. These goals will help you plan out your marketing mix as you progress.

“Content marketing takes a lot of time but once you get a blog set up and a writer on board, it’s smooth sailing,” said Randi Shinder, CEO of SBLA. “Content marketing involves creating content that speaks to your customers by helping them answer a question. It usually involves trying to rank as high as possible on Google. Paid online advertising like PPC can help your business to get potential customers more quickly but it can be more expensive. The method you choose depends on your business model and goals.” 

We all know how plans change, so don’t be afraid to pivot your content or ad strategy if your business takes a turn for better or worse.

Loyalty vs. Hype

A great ad has an instant impact on the customer, inspiring them to click and find out more.

Alternatively, content marketing is more about sharing practical information and educating readers about the industry. Of course, the outcomes of each are slightly different.

“In content marketing, your goal is to develop loyalty from a target audience by creating relevant content geared towards them,” said Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “Conversely, if you want brand visibility to the masses, then paid advertising is better. Your marketing strategy depends on your objective, but keep in mind that paid advertising costs significantly more than content marketing.”

These days, you need strong ads to hook customers, and quality content to get them to stick around and make a purchase from your site.

The Long and Short

When mapping out your next marketing campaign, consistent messaging will be key. This is doubly true if you’re leveraging paid ads and content marketing methods concurrently.

“For paid advertising, ad copy can be short and sweet,” said Dr. Anthony Puopolo, CMO of Rex MD. “Content marketing generally involves longer-form content and should answer a question. It should be informative and make the website visitor more confident in the site owner as an authoritative source on the subject.”

As long as your message is strong and focused, you’ll see results from your marketing materials in every shape and form.

Time and Place

Every industry goes through cycles, and businesses may find that certain marketing tactics work better than others depending on the time of year. Gather as much data about your industry and see how trends are moving in the market to make smarter campaign decisions.

“Paid advertising works for some business models and content marketing works for others,” said Jenn O’Hara, CEO of Soba Recovery. “Content marketing is more of a soft-sell approach than paid advertising, but it requires the right team in order for it to work.” 

Don’t be afraid to bend the rules and try some hybrid tactics. At the end of the day, you write your own best practices.

Multi-Channel Masters

Ads and content are just the two main “buckets” we use to make sense of digital marketing. In truth, there are so many subcategories for each, and they can be applied to countless different channels across the web.

“The easiest way to turn off your community members is to broadcast the same message across multiple channels,” said Content Marketing Strategist Joe Pulizzi. “Instead, determine the kind of content that interests the members of your community in a way that is useful to them.”

As you promote content across various channels, keep an eye on clicks, traffic, and other key metrics that will determine your next steps forward.

Path to the Product

Content marketing takes the scenic route while ads give potential customers the straight facts in a matter of seconds. Each approach has advantages, depending on what you’re selling and how.

“Paid advertising works for some business models like car dealerships and other big-ticket items while content marketing works well for B2C models like skincare and pet care items,” said Tim Mitchum, President of Winpro Pet. “Both require some marketing knowledge which can make them tricky to someone just starting a business to master. However, content marketing can help you stand out from your competition.”

Both content marketing and paid advertising share the ultimate goal of spotlighting the product you wish to sell – and closing the deal.

The journey is slightly different, but the end result and profits the same.


Today’s marketers draw a clear line between inbound and outbound marketing, with paid ads falling into the latter category. Content is designed to draw traffic organically with a focus on SEO, social media shares, and other elements.

“The essence of digital marketing is finding that perfect mix of outbound and inbound, constantly balancing the two in a harmonious way,” said Eddie Huai, CEO of Luna Blanket. “If you aren’t getting the outcomes you want, don’t wait – make adjustments and embrace the trial-and-error process of the whole thing.”

The inbound/outbound discussion may not be relevant day-to-day for many marketers, but it’s an important distinction to know.

Value First

The internet has made the average consumer attuned to ads and wary of cheap content. This is the time to focus less on quantity and ensure that your campaigns are original, authentic, and loaded with value.

“Remember that at the core of all marketing strategies, you need to provide value to the viewer, the reader, or whoever is engaging with your brand online,” said Annabel Love, Co-Founder and COO of Nori. “Paid ads and content marketing will only work if your message is strong and people feel compelled to click, so focus less on the format and more about value.”

Never rush a campaign, no matter the medium. Put in the groundwork for quality and your game plan will pay off.

Share a Story

“No matter the marketing strategy you deploy, remember that you’re telling stories, sharing ideas, and connecting with real people,” said Harris Rabin, Co-Founder of R3SET. “Don’t get too caught up in technicalities and miss the human element of marketing.”

Just like a high-performance race car or jet engine, you need the right mix of fuel to maximize speed and mileage. The same is true of your marketing mix – content and paid ads are both necessary, and every brand must discover its own optimal strategy.

Use this article to guide you as you uncover the ideal marketing mix for your brand. With some experimentation and commitment, you’ll find the perfect blend and see outstanding results.