:Marketing / Marketing best practices

Content marketing vs. paid advertising—explained

man in red t-shirt working on laptop man in red t-shirt working on laptop

Take a second to think about the brands, products, and services you trust, know, and love. These products or services usually solve a problem, and you can’t imagine how you managed before discovering them. Now, think about how you became familiar with said brand or product or service. Did it catch your attention via an ad on Instagram? Or maybe you went scouring the internet for an answer to a pressing question, and you came across a blog post from the brand that also carries the perfect product related to your query.

Going digital

Either way you discovered them, these brands made a point to put themselves in your presence in hopes of gaining you as a customer. As a course creator, it’s time that you start doing the same. Whether you’re selling physical or digital products, the truth of the matter is you have to get your brand in front of your audience to sell. Whether you choose to do this by creating a budget for advertising or creating highly shareable content related to your business, getting in front of your audience is the only way to sell effectively.

The key differentiating factor between the two approaches above is that the first example uses paid advertising to find leads while the second finds customers more organically. This is where the subject of content marketing versus paid advertising comes in. 

Content marketing vs. paid advertising—why are they important?

Though content marketing and advertising are both types of marketing practices, they are, in fact, not the same. Below, we define both.

Paid advertising, defined

As explained in an article by Forbes, “With paid marketing, you purchase advertising that allows you to specifically target audiences, instead of waiting for them to find you organically.” Paid ad allow you to be more specific with who you target and how. Not only can you select the platform by which you advertise, you can target certain shoppers based on criteria such as “location, search terms, interests, demographics, previous purchases, and other pages visited.”

Types of paid advertising can include:

  • TV and radio
  • Social media: Facebook ads, Instagram ads, etc.
  • Google ads
  • Sponsored or boosted posts
  • YouTube

Content marketing, defined

Content marketing, on the other hand, is a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

Types of content marketing can include:

  • Blog posts
  • Educational videos
  • Podcasts
  • E-books
  • Content downloads
  • Newsletters

Advertising focuses more on telling your target audience all about your product or service with hopes that they’ll become interested and act by purchasing or signing up for your service. On the other hand, content marketing focuses on creating valuable content that may be interesting to your target audience but doesn’t directly nudge them to purchase. Advertising is a hard sell (think: the pushy car salesmen), and content marketing is a soft sell (think: a department store beauty advisor that takes the time to understand your needs, offers tips, and suggests products without pressure).

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Pros and cons of paid advertising

Of course, there are pros and cons to both paid advertising and content marketing. Understanding them may help you figure out which one best suits your needs at the moment. 


  • Can yield faster results when targeted correctly
  • Returns are more predictable than content marketing


  • Can be expensive as it takes money to run ads
  • Is a short term solution that requires shelling out more ad dollars to keep running in the long term
  • May take time to understand different advertising platforms (Facebook Ads, Google, etc.) 
  • Remains a one-way conversation as you’re talking at your audience

Pros and cons of content marketing

It’s no secret that content marketing is growing in popularity by the day. Many companies create blogs, videos, social content, etc., that entertain and inform their audience without making “closing the sale” the focus.


  • Little to no cost to start
  • Builds trust
  • Provides your audience with helpful information
  • Paints you as an expert
  • Strengthens your overall credibility (content lives forever while paid advertising ends once the budget runs out)
  • Creates a two-way conversation between you and your audience, as they can often engage with your content


  • Can be extremely time-consuming
  • Requires learning what kind of content your audience enjoys and will convert
  • Doesn’t yield immediate returns on the content created

When to use content marketing vs. paid advertising? (and vice versa)

Generally speaking, you should consider trying a healthy mix of both in the long run. However, when deciding what makes sense for your business now, the answer is: It depends.

If you’re looking for fast conversions and have the budget to spend, paid advertising is the way to go. On the flip side, if your funds are limited and you’re also more concerned with building a loyal audience, content marketing may be the better option.

No matter which method you decide to use, familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of both may be the best solution to ensure you’re boosting your conversions and getting the most out of all the hard work and dedication you use to build your courses and online business. 

Author: Mika Robinson, Mika is a NYC-based lifestyle blogger and freelance writer. When she’s not creating content on her blog, astoldbymika.com, she’s somewhere in the digisphere writing content for your favorite platforms and go-to brands.