Using PPC Marketing to Make Content Go Viral: Here’s How It Works


Last year around this time, I wrote a column showing marketers how you can move beyond newsjacking and actually make the news, instead.

Well, another year has passed, and this lightning-speed evolution we’re seeing in people-based marketing has uncovered a whole new world of possibilities for making content go viral. You don’t have to spend hours researching and pitching publications, crossing your fingers and hoping for a bite. When you make the news, you can intentionally amplify it more than ever before, earning your company a ton of PR, website traffic and valuable backlinks in the process.

I’ve been using PPC marketing for PR and content promotion with great success, and I am going to show you how a minimal investment in it can generate huge wins for your campaigns.

What Is People-Based Marketing?

People-based marketing, identity targeting… it’s all based on drilling down into audience segments to the point where you can almost target specific individuals with your ads.

Correction: You can actually target specific individuals with your ads, but you need to use this power only for good, never for evil. In case you missed it, a marketer named Brian Swichkow played a prank on his roommate last year to see just how far he could push this idea and… well, it went pretty far.

He made a Custom Audience consisting only of his roommate (a sword swallower who had trouble swallowing pills, apparently) and started targeting him with ads like this:


His roommate was actually paranoid he was being followed — the ads were that specific and personal.

It’s a crazy story for these two to tell their kids one day, but this ability we now have to target people based on their employment, income, age, location, interests, past purchases and more opens the door to a whole new world of online PR.

It makes PPC function a lot more like email marketing, meaning you actually know who you’re promoting your content to instead of putting it out there in search or display to groups of people.

Automating PR Pitching With PPC Marketing

Advances in online marketing tech have allowed us to automate so many tedious, time-consuming processes — so why not PR pitching?

Here’s what it typically looks like if you’ve created an awesome piece of content and want to share it with the world:

  • Identify influencers and news media.
  • Hope you already have relationships with at least some of them so you’re not pitching them all cold.
  • Scrounge around for emails and Twitter handles and other contact info you can use to reach out to them.
  • Either draft a form letter people can smell as a mass communication a mile away, or spend a ton of time personalizing your pitches.
  • Pitch, pitch, pitch and hope you catch the interest of at least a few people, without ticking them off or annoying them to the point they don’t want to hear from you again.

The old way of pitching sucks, okay?

So here’s what I’ve been testing out. Here’s an article I published in the fall, late on a Friday afternoon when news was breaking:


I shared it on social media channels, including my Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. But who is going to see it so late on a Friday afternoon?

What I did next was create a custom list of influencers in Twitter Ads.


It’s even better on Facebook, where I can get super granular by layering demographics on top of lists. For example, targeting folks on my list with specific job titles and interests to further improve targeting.


What this does is (very inexpensively) put your story in front of journalists, industry experts, and people with a big social following. Your content shows up in their news feed or activity stream, where it’s hard to miss. Of course, those people can then either click through and read or share your story with their own networks.

The Value Of Making Your Content Viral With PPC

It only took a few hours for the story to start showing up in news publications like Marketing Land, citing me as the source of the story:


Over that weekend, a ton of news media picked up the story and credited my post. This one blog post ended up earning me hundreds of media mentions! And you know what’s crazy? I didn’t have to spend hours and hours pitching people, which just annoys a lot of journalists anyway.


There’s a snowball effect that happens when you can get your content in front of the right eyes right away, just after it publishes. One journalist takes note and writes about it. The next few who see your sponsored content think, Hmm, why haven’t I heard about this? When they do a quick search, they can see that another news outlet already picked it up. They want to get on it, too, before it really blows up.

This meant tons of traffic to my website — over a hundred thousand unique visitors. Were they all customers? Of course not, and that’s not all that matters, or even my primary concern when I’m content marketing in this way.

All of those links and mentions from high authority news sites (CNET, Fast Company, Gizmodo, the Inquirer, LifeHacker, etc.) are fantastic for our company site. The exposure is great for branding and gets our company in front of a way larger audience — an audience I can then tap into and target using remarketing ads, because although not all of them will be in the market for PPC software, some certainly will.

The best part? I spent a grand total of $50 here. That’s all-in. No huge monthly PR agency retainers here. It’s getting your content in front of a smaller number of influential people that matters, not just the quantity of people, and since you generally pay for clicks and engagement, it ends up not costing much at all. It pays to be a bit picky with your ad targeting!

Key Takeaways

  • You need a solid foundation of interesting content to expose to influencers and media.
  • Identity-based ad targeting turns social PPC ads into super-targeted PR pitches.
  • Giving content a boost with paid promotion out of the gate begets way more organic viral sharing.
  • Layering custom audiences with demographics and interests is a super powerful way to get your content in front of just the right people.
  • Paying to get eyes on your content is never a waste if your content is relevant to your business. It’s what you do with that traffic afterwards that counts.

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