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Are Paid Search Ads a Waste of Money for Your MSP?

As someone who has been in the inbound marketing industry and worked with managed services providers and other tech-related businesses for over a decade, I've seen things change a great deal over that time. There was a day, not too long ago, where paid search ads were definitely the best way to raise brand awareness and bring as many leads as possible right to your virtual door.

Then, Steve Jobs walked across the stage and introduced the iPhone to the world — and everything changed.

Now that everyone carries a portable supercomputer around in their pockets wherever they go, people have gotten a lot savvier about a lot of things. Inbound marketing is certainly one of them. In fact, one of the most common questions that I get these days from people looking to generate better and more comprehensive results for their businesses essentially boils down to, "Is running paid search ads a complete waste of money for my MSP?"

The answer to that question is an interesting one, but it does require you to keep a few key things in mind. 

The Problem with Paid Search Ads 

According to one study conducted by Search Engine Watch, when you pit paid search against organic search, organic results tend to win out roughly 94 percent of the time in terms of cold, hard clicks.

This isn't necessarily because paid search ads are totally ineffective; it's just that they're not effective in the ways that your MSP needs them to be. Consider some of the finding from this study, which was based on a sample of 1.4 billion searches:

  • Overall, users tended to click on one of the top three organic search results 68 percent of the time.
  • Of the users that did click on paid results (which, remember, are positioned above the organic results), 80 percent of those clicks went to the first result. This means that if you're not the first result for a paid ad, you might as well not even bother.
  • Age is very much a factor when it comes to who is willing to click on paid search ads. Only 35 percent of ads are clicked on by people under the age of 34. Women are also far more likely to click on paid search ads than are men.

So from that perspective, the question posed by the title of this piece is possibly a little bit of a cheat. Is the act of running ads for your MSP a complete and total waste of money? No, not necessarily; however, is there a better use of that same marketing budget that will get you even better results in both the short and long term?

Yes. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, absolutely.

The Power of Organic Search

Even if you were to focus the entirety of your marketing efforts just on SEO (search engine optimization), you'd still unlock a host of unique benefits that paid search advertisements would never be able to offer.

Consider the fact that 57 percent of B2B marketers in particular still say that SEO generates more leads than any other type of marketing initiative they're conducting. A large part of this is because, according to the same study, nearly half (47 percent) of consumers say that they view between three and five pieces of content created by a company before they even think about talking to a sales representative from said organization.

This is because people can sense that they're being sold to, and they're not necessarily thrilled about it. Yes, your job in this relationship is to make a sale, and their job is to make a purchase. But the people you've got a connection with want the relationship to go a fair bit deeper than that.

Consider that according to another study from MarketDive, a full 82 percent of marketers said that the effectiveness of SEO is still on the rise. In fact, a full 42 percent of that group said that the effectiveness is increasing significantly. What, exactly, does that tell you about the audience you're trying to reach?

A few things: They want to make sure that their hard-earned money is going to the right place. They want to make sure that you understand the problem they have and be confident that you know the absolute best way to solve it. They need to be convinced that their lives are going to be better or easier in some way after they've begun a transaction with you than it was before they started.

This isn't the type of thing you're going to be able to accomplish with paid advertisements. Only rich, high-quality and meaningful content – and a lot of it – is going to push you over this particular finish line.

What’s Next

At my MSP marketing agency, we understand that every IT business is a little bit different from the next. Given the major changes afoot in the channel, there is not now, nor will there ever be, a one-size-fits-all approach to inbound marketing. This is why I’m not necessarily saying that running ads is something that you should never, ever consider. It's just that it might not be the best use of your marketing budget when you consider all of the other factors that are at play.

Depending on exactly what you're trying to accomplish, paid search ads might very well have a role to play in your larger campaign. But it's also true that they're likely just one small part of a much larger and more important story. In truth, "putting all of your eggs in one basket" is how far too many people fall into the trap of the daily marketing grind. 

Nate Freedman is the owner of Tech Pro Marketing, where he helps MSPs and other IT-related businesses reach a whole new audience by way of the type of comprehensive marketing campaign that the modern era (and the modern buyer) both demand and deserve.

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