YouTube Ads: How to Set Up, Run, and Monitor Campaigns

YouTube is the second-most-visited site in the world. And YouTube mobile ads are 84% more likely to hold attention than TV ads. If you’re not running YouTube Ads campaigns, you’re missing out on key advertising opportunities. Although YouTube Ads campaigns run via Google Ads, YouTube advertising is different from other online ad options. The platform […]

The post YouTube Ads: How to Set Up, Run, and Monitor Campaigns appeared first on CXL.

YouTube is the second-most-visited site in the world. And YouTube mobile ads are 84% more likely to hold attention than TV ads. If you’re not running YouTube Ads campaigns, you’re missing out on key advertising opportunities.

Although YouTube Ads campaigns run via Google Ads, YouTube advertising is different from other online ad options. The platform relies solely on video (of course), but it also includes unique ad options and specifications.

This post shows you:

  • How to set up your YouTube account and Ads campaign;
  • How to identify your target audience for YouTube Ads;
  • Keys to successful YouTube Ads campaigns;
  • Measurement and attribution for YouTube Ads.

How to set up YouTube Ads

The first step to set up YouTube Ads is to create a YouTube channel. From there, you’ll be able to publish your video ads. Sign in to YouTube with your Google Account, then click on “My channel.”

find your channel on youtube.

If you don’t already have a channel, you’ll be prompted to create one.

youtube create a channel screenshot.

You can either use your Google account name or, if you have a brand account, choose another name, such as that of your business.

create youtube channel with name.

Once you click “Create Channel,” you can start uploading your video ads. YouTube videos can be published as any of four different types:

  • Public videos can be viewed by anyone.
  • Unlisted videos don’t show up on your channel or in search results but can be viewed by someone with the direct link.
  • Private videos can be viewed only by people who were invited to see it.
  • Scheduled videos allow you to select the date and time they become public.  

Upload it as “Public” or “Unlisted” for use in YouTube Ads campaigns.

youtube select videos to upload.

You should also customize your channel to showcase your brand to visitors and subscribers. The simplest way to add quick branding is to upload a profile picture and create a YouTube banner.

If you don’t have an in-house graphic designer, there are plenty of free, easy-to-use templates:

youtube banner templates.

Now that your channel is set up and your videos are uploaded, it’s time to create a campaign.

Creating a YouTube Ads campaign

YouTube Ads campaigns are set up through your Google Ads account. Once you log in, select the “Video” campaign type.

google ads choose video ads screen.

Then, select your marketing objective, or opt for a campaign without a goal. By choosing no goal, you have more flexibility to craft the campaign the way you want it.

However, if you don’t have a lot of experience with Google Ads, a guided approach can simplify the process. There are four objectives to choose from:

  1. Brand awareness and reach;
  2. Product and brand consideration;
  3. Website traffic;
  4. Leads.
youtube ads set goals for campaign.

You can also select from six campaign subtypes:

  1. Custom.This option gives you the freedom to customize every aspect of your ad to suit your goals. If you have Google Ads experience, you may prefer this over the next five guided-build options.
  2. Non-skippable in-stream. This selection helps you create non-skippable ads, which are discussed further below.
  3. Outstream. This guides you through the creation of outstream video ads, also discussed later on.
  4. Drive conversions. With this choice, Google Ads guides you through the creation of ads that encourage interactions.  
  5. Ad sequence. If you have a series of ad videos that build upon each other, select this option.
  6. Shopping. Select this option to promote your products or services to ready-to-buy viewers.

As with any Google Ads campaign, the next step is to name your campaign, enter your budget, and select your start and end dates.

youtube ads select campaign duration.

Under the custom campaign type, you can choose from two bid strategies:

  1. Maximum Cost-per-view (CPV). Set the most money you’re willing to pay each time your ad is viewed. Maximum CPV is used mostly for bottom-of-funnel ads and a narrowly defined target audience.  
  2. Target Cost-per-mille (CPM). Set the average amount you’re willing to pay for every thousand times your ad is shown. Target CPM ads are generally chosen for awareness-building campaigns.
youtube ads choose cost model.

After selecting your language and location, you need to refine where your ads will appear. You can select whether your ads will appear within YouTube search results, in YouTube videos, and/or on a collection of other sites and apps that are part of the Google Display Network.

youtube ads choose whether to show on display network.

The next step is to choose the inventory of videos for which your ad may appear. Google recommends selecting the “Standard inventory” option. Think of this as the “PG” rating on movies.

youtube ads choose inventory type.

“Expanded inventory” will show your ad on some videos that have sensitive content. It expands your potential reach but could result in your ad being associated with explicit content.

At the other end, “Limited inventory” shows your ads only on content that is the equivalent of a “G” rating. This selection limits your reach but makes sense for some brands.

You may also see an option to exclude sensitive content types, but Google is in the process of phasing this out.

opt-out options for youtube ads.

Additional content exclusion options include certain content types and labels.

youtube ads label content.

There are three advanced options you can alter to customize your campaign based on devices, frequency, and time of delivery:

youtube ads advanced options.

Next, you need to name your ad group within the campaign, pick whom you’re going to target, and where you want your ads to show up. (Audiences and ad targeting are detailed in the next section.)

creating an ad group for youtube video ads.

Finally, select your bid amount and paste in the YouTube URL for your video ad.

choosing bid amount for youtube video ads.

Once Google Ads approves your ad, it will go live.

How much does it cost to advertise on YouTube?

YouTube advertising works the same way as other Google Ads campaigns—using an auction. You have complete control over how much you spend on your ads.

You can set a maximum amount for your overall campaign, as well as a target bid amount for each ad group you create.

Keep in mind that the greater your budget, the greater your reach. For instance, you can increase your bid by a fixed percentage for top content channels, sites, and apps. This increases your chances of having your ads show up on the most popular videos.

top content bid adjustment for youtube ads.

As you input different bids, Google Ads will show you the estimated reach. You can use that information to find the best balance between budget and reach for your campaign. Google Ads also provides an average estimated value for your campaign type and goals.

How does the cost of YouTube Ads compare to other platforms? Some companies have tried to quantify it in tables like this one:

average cost of ads on different platforms.

But unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Your advertising costs vary widely depending on many factors, including:

  • Whether you’re targeting competitive keywords;
  • The Quality Score of your ads;
  • Where you’ve chosen to place your ads;
  • Which type of YouTube Ad you’ve selected;
  • Who’s in your audience.

One way to estimate a reasonable budget is to see how much your competition spends. Tools like SEMRush offer advertiser research for YouTube Ads.

How to choose your YouTube Ads audience

Marketers know that personalization—when done right—has a positive impact. Almost 60% of shoppers believe it influences their purchasing decisions.

It’s one reason why ad campaigns keep moving away from broad targeting and toward narrowly defined audiences. (There are even PPC strategies for account-based marketing.)

Without a defined audience, it’s impossible to personalize your message. Plus, targeting a narrow segment can help you increase conversion rates and reduce your cost per click (CPC).

In one case study, the exact same ads had higher click-through rates (CTRs) and lower CPCs simply by using a defined audience (left) instead of a generic one (right):

case study for youtube ad audiences.

Here are three segments to narrow your audience for better ad targeting:

1. Custom intent audiences

Custom intent audiences allow you to segment your ad groups by keywords and the landing pages that you want to target.

You can use Google’s auto-created audience segments, or you can create custom intent audiences. To create your own, select “New Custom Intent Audience” in the audience section of your campaign setup.

custom intent audiences for youtube ads.

Enter keywords, URLs, apps, or YouTube content related to your product or service to help you target only people who are likely to be interested in your ads.

For example, if you’re a new travel blogger who’s creating videos about new destinations, enter keywords related to those destinations or the URLs of top travel sites.

how to set up custom intent audience for youtube ads.

If you want to rely on Google to auto-create custom intent audiences, you need conversion tracking. This allows Google to understand what people were searching for or watching when they interacted with your ads. Google can then create and refresh audiences based on viewer and customer behavior.

Which should you use?

  • Creating a custom intent audience yourself works well if you already have a comprehensive list of keywords, URLs, and YouTube content to target. Aim for at least 10–15 items to help refine your audience.
  • Google-created custom intent audiences work well if Google has enough traffic and conversion information to analyze your target market.

Note: Google Ads used to have an ad group targeting audience keywords, but this was migrated into custom intent audiences in November 2018.

2. In-market audiences

In-market audiences allow you to target customers who are actively researching and considering buying a product or service like yours.

These audiences are designed for bottom-of-the-funnel conversion ads. Google has curated a list of in-market categories that you can select from for targeting YouTube Ads. New categories are continually beta tested and added to the list.

in-market audiences for youtube ads.

In-market audiences are a useful way to connect with consumers who are comparing products and services across Google Display Network sites and YouTube. You can also combine in-market audiences with remarketing audiences.  

3. Remarketing audiences

Remarketing is a way to connect with people who have already interacted with your website, mobile app, or YouTube videos. Remarketing ads can increase brand visibility and nudge audiences toward completing a purchase they abandoned.

Google Ads offers four different types of Remarketing Audiences for YouTube Ads:

  1. Standard remarketing. Standard remarketing enables you to show ads to your past website or app visitors.
  2. Dynamic remarketing. Dynamic remarketing takes it a step further by allowing you to modify the ads shown based on the products or services that people previously viewed.  
  3. Video remarketing. Video remarketing shows ads to people who have already interacted with your videos or YouTube channel.
  4. Customer list remarketing. Customer list remarketing allows you to upload lists of contact information that customers have given you. Then, you can target them with YouTube Ads (as long as they’re signed in to the platform).

Google Ads creates custom remarketing lists for you automatically during campaigns. As long as you’ve linked your YouTube channel to your Google Ads account, it will automatically capture data on people who interacted with your videos to allow you to launch video remarketing.

The following video interactions are captured by Google:

  • Viewed any video from your channel;
  • Viewed certain videos;
  • Subscribed to your channel;
  • Visited your channel page;
  • Liked any video from your channel;
  • Added any video from your channel to a playlist;
  • Commented on any video from your channel;
  • Shared any video from your channel.

You can then use these lists in your targeting settings for YouTube Ad campaigns. You can view and manage your lists by selecting “Shared Library” then “Audience manager” within Google Ads.

audience manager in google ads for youtube ads.

Unlike in-market audiences—which limit your ads to people about to buy—remarketing audiences can keep you top of mind throughout a longer sales cycle. They also connect you with past purchasers who may buy again.

Once you have your account set up and your initial audience defined, you can identify the best way to reach them.

5 Keys to running successful YouTube Ads campaigns

There are five keys to running high-converting YouTube campaigns:

  1. Align your ad content with the marketing funnel.
  2. Monitor the right performance metrics.
  3. Select the right video formats and ad placements for your audience.
  4. Use a strong call to action.
  5. Optimize your landing pages.

1. Align your ad content with the marketing funnel.

It’s important to understand who your target audience is, including where they are within the marketing funnel. You can use YouTube marketing to promote anything from your product to your podcast.

In fact, it’s ranked as one of the best platforms to do just that:

example of podcast advertising with youtube ads.
(Image Source)

But you don’t want to target an awareness campaign at an in-market audience. The ad content, campaign goals, and funnel all need to align.

Each of the three funnel stages should have a different ad group:

  • Awareness;
  • Consideration;
  • Purchase.


YouTube is great for top-of-funnel awareness, as 80% of users can recall a video ad they viewed in the past 30 days.

You can reach your target audience in the awareness stage by identifying the content with which they’re already engaging. For instance, BT Sport is a cricket broadcaster that discovered their fans often searched for football highlights and travel content.

By targeting people searching for football highlights, BT Sport experienced a positive uplift in view-through rates versus brand benchmarks, as well as significant increases in ad recall and purchase intent.

google case study with youtube ads.


In the consideration stage, your audience is looking for more information about a product or service. Some 80% of shoppers who watch YouTube videos just prior to a purchase also did so in an earlier research phase.

Explainer videos, tutorials, demonstrations, and walk-throughs are all great ways to showcase your product or service. Those formats work may well for YouTube videos but not short ads.

Instead, you can construct a sequence of complementary ads that build on each other. In the UK, 20th Century Fox created a series of YouTube Ads for the Greatest Showman that guided their audience through the consideration stage.

Users who engaged with a basic trailer were then shown a behind-the-scenes ad, followed by a different trailer with a strong call to action. The ad sequence significantly outperformed the stand-alone trailer ads, generating triple-digit uplifts in “consideration” and “organic title searches.”

series of youtube ads.


In the purchase stage, you can combine effective YouTube Ad design with in-market and remarketing audiences to convert more visitors. Majestic Heli Ski gets nearly half of their new skiers from YouTube by targeting ads at people searching for skis and ski resorts.

The company boosted its customer base by more than 400% over the last five years and increased sales around 25% each year since starting with YouTube Ads.  

2. Monitor the right performance metrics.

There are a lot of YouTube performance metrics that you can monitor, including view rate, average cost-per-view (CPV), earned views, conversion rate, cost per conversion, watch time, earned subscribers, and earned shares.

You can view these metrics by clicking on the “Videos” section within your Google Ads account.

performance metrics location for youtube ads.

If some metrics don’t appear, you can add them by clicking on the “Columns” drop-down menu, finding the metric you’re looking for, and clicking “Add.”

performance metrics dashboard for youtube ads.

A few metrics are essential to monitor baseline performance:

  • View rate;
  • Click-through rate (CTR);
  • Earnings per view.

View rate

View Rate lets you know how many people watched your video ad compared to how many people it was actually served to.

If you have a low view rate, it means too many people are skipping your ad. This can indicate that either your ad targeting is not effective, your ad content is not compelling, or your ad is too long.

Note: This metric is relevant only for skippable ads.

Click-through rate

Your CTR lets you know how many people clicked on your ad compared to how many people saw it.

If your CTR is high, you know that your ad targeting, content, and CTA are all generating interest and action. If your CTR is low, it could indicate an issue with any of these areas.

However, if your view rate is high but your CTR is low, it may indicate an issue with your call to action, which we’ll discuss in a minute.

Earnings per view

This metric tracks how much money you earn per ad view, on average. A high CTR but low earnings could indicate a problem with the landing page for YouTube Ads traffic.

Bottom-line metrics like this are the best way to determine whether a campaign is generating ROI. That said, they may be less relevant for YouTube Ads campaigns that focus on awareness.

3. Select the right format and placement for your audience.

There are four main types of YouTube Ads:

  1. TrueView ads;
  2. Non-skippable ads;
  3. Bumper ads;
  4. Outstream ads.

TrueView ads

TrueView ads are also known as skippable ads. These ads don’t force people to watch the full advertisement before proceeding to their chosen video.

One benefit of TrueView ads is that you don’t pay for unwanted views. You pay only when a viewer interacts with your video or watches at least 30 seconds of it (or the full duration of your ad, if it’s shorter than 30 seconds).

There are two types of TrueView ad formats:

  1. In-stream ads. In-stream ads run before, during, or after videos and give viewers the option to skip the ad after five seconds.
  2. in-stream ad example with youtube ads.
  3. Discovery ads. Discovery ads appear outside of videos, such as in YouTube search results, next to related videos, and on the YouTube mobile homepage.
discovery ads on youtube ads example.

Non-skippable ads

Non-skippable ads look exactly like in-stream TrueView ads except that they cannot be skipped. Non-skippable ads force people to watch the entire ad before going to their selected video.

You can use these ads only as in-stream ads. Since they can’t be skipped, these ads are restricted to a maximum of 15–20 seconds in length.

There are two types of non-skippable ads:

  1. Pre-roll ads that appear before a video plays;
  2. Mid-roll ads that appear at the midpoint of 10+ minute videos.

Bumper ads

Bumper ads are also non-skippable but last only six seconds. Bumper ads play either directly before or after a viewer’s chosen video. The short length makes them more cost-efficient than longer options.

They’re also ideal for mobile, which is important as mobile usage on YouTube continues to grow. Consider combining bumper ads with one of the longer formats. Duracell created one of the top bumper ads by combining their six-second ad campaign with longer ad videos.  

Outstream ads

Outstream ads are mobile-only video ads aimed at reaching your target market on partner sites. Outstream ads let users tap to play your video ad or scroll past it. The ads default to playing on mute, but viewers can unmute the ad with a tap.

Outstream ads are charged based on viewable cost-per-thousand impressions (vCPM), which means that you’ll only pay if your ad is viewable.

As noted earlier, you can choose whether you want your video ads to show on video partners when you set up your YouTube Ads campaign.

outstream ads setup with youtube ads.

4. Use a strong call to action.

If you have a strong view rate but a poor CTR, the problem may lie with your call to action (CTA). You can read more about calls to action here or here.

Ultimately, your CTA needs to match the intent and tone for your audience. You can experiment with different language to discover the phrase that works best for your market. A tool like Grammarly Goals can also help match your wording to your audience.

goal-setting for youtube ads.

You set up your CTA by clicking the “Call-to-Action” checkbox during TrueView ad creation.

adding a call to action for youtube ads.

Within YouTube Ads, you have three ways to implement a CTA:

  1. Standard. The standard CTA can appear as an additional click-target alongside your video ad, and it takes users to your chosen landing page. This CTA appears in your ad at certain points that you select, such as the beginning and end. During the rest of the ad, no CTA is visible.
  2. youtube ad without a call to action.
  3. TrueView for action. TrueView for action is a newer format that includes a tailored and enhanced CTA that constantly runs as an ad companion on mobile and desktop TrueView ads. Using this ad type enables you to show a CTA throughout the entire ad.
  4. trueview youtube ad with call to action throughout the ad.
  5. End screen. End screens show up at the end of your video ad and can include a CTA to go to your landing page as well as other video suggestions. However, your ad needs to be at least 25 seconds long to have an end screen.
end screen example for youtube ad.

If you opt for the Standard CTA rather than a TrueView one, make sure you include more than one of them in your video, unless it’s a six-second bumper ad. Aim to have one around the 5-second mark, another after 30 seconds (or halfway through, depending on the ad length), and one at the end.

5. Optimize your landing pages.

If people are clicking through your ad but not converting, it may indicate a problem with your landing page. Whether your goal is to achieve newsletter signups or sales, your video ads and landing page must be cohesive.

This means that your video content and branding should match the look and feel of your landing page. There should be a strong message match, or scent.

That scent applies to more than just design. As with other ads, the landing page offer should align with where a user is in their journey. For example:

  • An awareness-stage video should lead to a landing page that urges the customer to learn more;
  • A purchase-stage video targeted at a remarketing audience should lead to a landing page where a customer can buy or start a trial.

Freshdesk matches its YouTube Ads to largely informational landing pages that still encourage users to sign-up for free:

landing page for youtube ad.

Lyfe Marketing takes YouTube Ads viewers to a more bottom-of-funnel page, one that includes social proof and a single CTA to “Schedule Meeting”:

landing page for youtube ad.

Your landing page is just as important as the YouTube Ad itself, if not more important. Driving traffic with ads delivers real value only with a post-click experience that generates leads and sales.

Measurement and attribution for YouTube Ads

Understanding your ROI from YouTube Ads can be challenging. If you run a top- or middle-of-funnel campaign, you may not see a sale for some time.

A video view without a click can still lead to sales. If you credit interactions alone, you may fail to weigh the impact of video views or impressions.

For YouTube Ads, Google’s default attribution settings are as follows:

  • Any interactions with your ads will be attributed to any conversions within a 30-day window.
  • Video views (without interactions) will be attributed to any conversion that happens within a three-day window, as long as the viewer watched at least 10 seconds of a TrueView ad.

You can customize these timeframes if you want a longer or shorter attribution window.

Within Google Ads, you can run predefined reports to show you conversions from YouTube Ads. Keep in mind that these reports track “Last click” attribution only.

Go to your “Reports” dashboard and click “View all.”

google ads reporting for youtube ad attribution.

Then, navigate to “Conversions,” select “Conversion source,” and you can filter for conversions attributed to your YouTube Ads.

youtube ad attribution in google ads.

You can also use YouTube Studio to see how all videos—not just ads—perform. By assessing which device types generate the most (or least) views, which have the top end screens, etc., you can refine your paid campaigns.

top videos in youtube ads.

If you’re working on a top-of-funnel ad campaign, you can also gauge how impressions affect interactions and watch time.

impressions in youtube ads that led to watch time.


YouTube is the second-most-visited site and the second-biggest search engine after Google, making it an ideal platform to connect with your target your audience.

But, like every paid channel, it requires a solid strategy to generate leads and sales, not just views.

By tailoring your target audience, running the right ad formats, and taking users to persuasive, relevant landing pages, you can increase the chances that video impressions, views, and clicks turn into revenue.

The post YouTube Ads: How to Set Up, Run, and Monitor Campaigns appeared first on CXL.

Ecommerce Content Marketing: Attract, Engage, Close, and Delight Buyers

Ecommerce marketing often focuses on the bottom of the funnel—remarketing ads for abandoned carts, time-limited email discounts, etc. Yet the average ecommerce conversion rate is between 1 and 3%. The overwhelming majority of ecommerce site visitors are non-purchasers. One key to transition visitors into purchasers is building trust. Social proof and trust seals can do […]

The post Ecommerce Content Marketing: Attract, Engage, Close, and Delight Buyers appeared first on CXL.

Ecommerce marketing often focuses on the bottom of the funnel—remarketing ads for abandoned carts, time-limited email discounts, etc.

Yet the average ecommerce conversion rate is between 1 and 3%. The overwhelming majority of ecommerce site visitors are non-purchasers.

One key to transition visitors into purchasers is building trust. Social proof and trust seals can do that at the point of purchase. Content marketing can do it long before potential buyers click “Add to Cart.”

This post highlights ways that ecommerce companies are using content marketing to attract, engage, close, and delight their target audience. While the examples come from the ecommerce industry, most strategies apply to any business.

Content marketing and the “know, like, trust” model

Best-selling author Bob Burg developed the “know, like, trust” model. He argues that, if factors like price and product quality are perceived as equal, the seller who’s created a relationship with a buyer will win the sale.

You can build that relationship with content. “Product pages will never rank organically for content-related searches,” explains Aaron Orendorff, a B2B content strategist:

When someone goes looking for guidance on terms associated with your product—“how to [blank],” “best [blanks],” “who uses [blank],” etc.—it’s one of the few times you won’t have to slog it out with behemoths like Amazon.

Without that educational, organic reach, you may get stuck pumping cash into (increasingly expensive) advertising platforms. Further, you’ll never develop a brand that differentiates your products—your site will be just one more faceless ecommerce seller.

That makes it even harder to compete with industry behemoths. As reports note, a strong brand is the best way for ecommerce companies to compete with giants like Amazon. You’ll struggle to build that brand with “Buy now!” calls to action and sales-focused product pages alone.

Brand-building is at the center of content marketing, no matter where in the funnel you’re targeting potential buyers.

Ecommerce content marketing for every stage of the funnel

Linear funnels are relics of the past. But they’re still a helpful way to identify where specific content fits in your marketing plan (or where you may have content gaps).

I spoke to Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketing consultant who has grown his audience to 400,000 monthly readers. He uses content marketing to guide his audience toward purchasing premium content:

Building trust with my readers has always played such an indispensable role in giving them confidence that my course, book, or other product offering will help solve the challenge they’re facing.

That’s why I’ve spent years building and fine-tuning my content marketing funnels to start with giving away a very valuable free resource, template, or course related to the exact problem they’re facing—something that plenty of other people charge for.

Ultimately, content marketing can influence potential buyers at every point in the funnel:

  1. Attract;
  2. Engage;
  3. Close;
  4. Delight.

Below are ecommerce examples of content marketing strategies at each stage.

1. Attract: Create a steady, recurring flow of potential buyers

“Attract” content has a long time to value. It needs lots of promotion to get it in front of a new audience—especially if it’s not keyword targeted. But you can’t skip this stage simply because it’s furthest from a sale.

Content developed for audiences at the top of the funnel can help ween your marketing campaigns from paid ads and create a steady, recurring flow of potential buyers to monetize down the road. Here’s the type of content you should be creating for this audience.

Blog posts

Some 55% of marketers claim that blogging is their top inbound marketing priority. Why? Because blog content typically takes advantage of organic search—it’s a free distribution channel that can help get awareness efforts off the ground.

Still, too often, blogs are purely derivative. They regurgitate the same advice from the first few pages of search results about a topic. There are two ways around that trap:

  1. Conduct interviews.
  2. Do original research.

Neither requires a massive budget.


Interviews deliver original content and can kick off distribution. Interview subjects are often willing to share content in which they’re featured. Taken to the extreme, the strategy leads to massive round-up posts (e.g. “What 99 Experts Think about Topic X”).

A more nuanced alternative is to blend interviews into a cohesive narrative. The non-profit StoryCorps provides an interview framework (designed for students but nonetheless an excellent introduction), and there are plenty of articles on journalistic interview tips.

Robert Caro, author of an expansive, multi-volume history on Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote recently in The New Yorker about his interview process. Despite decades of experience, he still reminds himself of the most important lesson—to keep quiet:

When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s.

You can also gather data without scheduling and running interviews.

Original Data

The world is swimming in unused data. Fractl, a content marketing agency, details three ready sources for original research:

  1. Internal data, which “may include information on sales, customer habits, marketing intelligence, and internal research.”
  2. First-hand external data, which comes “from a source that is not connected to the organization [such as] surveys or research to find new data.”
  3. Second-hand external data, obtained by “exploring existing secondhand research and data [like] publicly available data.”

If you don’t have an internal cache of data or a big budget, the third option is your best bet. U.S. Census data, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IMDB, Baseball Reference, and dozens of other publicly available sources provide millions of free data points.

In many cases, data from these sources is available to anyone but not easy to consume—it hasn’t been segmented, is buried in tables, or lacks interesting visuals. You may be able to publish a post with a compelling narrative and stunning graphics simply by turning a CSV file into a handful of charts.

Breaking down the blog–product barrier

Links to blog posts make all pages more competitive in search. The stream of blog visitors generate awareness; the links to those posts support bottom-of-funnel acquisition on product pages.

Further, as HubSpot notes, blog content doesn’t need to live on an island. REI integrates articles into product category navigation:

rei link to content marketing
rei climbing articles

Those informational articles, in turn, lead users right back to product pages:

rei article with links back to product pages

The REI example makes another important point: Blog posts don’t need to be an endless stream of quick hits on unrelated topics. A hub-and-spoke strategy focuses content on a few core topics (e.g. prepping for a climb), then publishes articles that cover tangents on that central theme.

Jimmy Daly of Animalz advocates for just such an approach, arguing that your blog is a library, not a publication. A great blog goes in-depth on a handful of hyper-relevant topics:

animalz library vs. publication content marketing strategy

The approach makes sense for many reasons, not least of which is the concentration of topical authority. If you’re REI and you own content on mountaineering prep, you position yourself as an authority for related products—in consumer minds and search-engine algorithms.


An estimated 23% of Americans listen to podcasts in the car, and a further 49% listen at home. Podcasts can reach your audience without demanding their full attention. You can establish an initial connection while potential customers cook, clean, or drive to work.

growth of podcasts
Podcast listening has gone from rare to regular in a decade. (Image source)

Pretty Little Thing (PLT) is an ecommerce fashion brand with thousands of competitors. They launched their podcast, “PLT: Behind Closed Doors,” to try to stand out. On the podcast, PLT interview smart women or influencers—people their audience aspires to become.

ecommerce company podcast

Previous guests include Malika Haqq, Larsa Pippen, and Meggan Grubb. These passive endorsements win the attention (and trust) of the company’s target audience.

A podcast can also drive people to your website. For example, you can offer added value in a blog post, such as a corresponding checklist to help podcast listeners put your advice into action.

You’re raising brand awareness while owning the attention it generates. The secondary effort—bringing users back to your website—can help build a community rather than relying on a third-party platform to sustain visibility.

An over-reliance on other platforms, Zaius’ Cara Hogan explains, is risky:

A few years ago, many ecommerce brands built entire businesses on organic Facebook reach only to see the algorithm change and brand pages lose almost all power. This is a clear example of the risk inherent in building a community on a platform that is not your own.

The challenge with any popular format, podcasts included, is saturation: It’s a crowded market. There have been plenty of start-and-stop efforts. To considerable fanfare, Blue Apron launched a podcast with Gimlet Media, “Why We Eat What We Eat,” in 2017. It lasted just seven episodes.

blue apron podcast
Even companies with deep pockets, like Blue Apron, struggle to earn attention in a crowded podcast market.

As with all forms of content marketing, a distribution strategy is equally—if not more—important than content production.  


Infographics aren’t dead. But they’re not as popular as they once were. At their height of popularity, around 2014, they were seen as easy ways to earn links—engaging visuals that sites could embed to make a point and add interest.

Since then, they’ve declined in popularity. Still, according to 2018 research from Moz, they can generate more links than other formats:

average referring domains for infographics
Infographics may be past their peak, but they still earn links. (Image source)

Reddit’s /r/dataisbeautiful subreddit continues to showcase infographics that grab the attention of a large audience, like this one from 2018 on the amount of air in every brand of chips:

air in bag of chips from infographic

Reddit can also catalyze distribution—the above infographic earned 57,000 upvotes. Popular sites often feature content that, a few days prior, made its way to the top of Reddit.

That’s exactly what happened. Created by Kitchen Cabinet Kings, the potato chip infographic earned write-ups and links from nearly 100 websites, including Today. It’s not hard to guess when it went live:

referring domains earned from infographic

You can produce infographics with limited graphic-design expertise. Tools like Canva, Lucidpress, and Venngage have pre-made templates to help you create branded visual content quickly and easily.

Influencer collabs

You can build on the “know, like, trust” model beyond your website. The average engagement rate of influencers’ Instagram content is 5.7%. Compare that to just 2—3% for branded posts, and you’ll recognize the potential of influencer collaborations.

Consumers trust recommendations from influencers—even when those recommendations generate mixed reviews. Flat Tummy Co. are a controversial brand that sell detox teas designed to aid weight loss. They work with influencers like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian—the latter landed tons of news coverage.

The company reached Kim’s millions of loyal followers with a tag in one of Kim’s Instagram posts:

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

The ensuing debate landed Flat Tummy coverage in Allure, Refinery29, and Elle. Each linked to the Flat Tummy website, spiking the number of referring domains and making the company far more competitive in organic search:

referring domains earned from influencer collaboration

Readers of those magazines are likely Flat Tummy’s ideal customers, too. They killed two birds with one stone:

  1. Reached an audience that fit their buyer persona through the Instagram post and secondary coverage.
  2. Increased their chances of ranking for relevant, bottom-of-funnel search terms, such as “weight loss teas.”

That one-two punch shows how top-of-funnel content can drive more customers to a site. Once there, other content types can keep them engaged as they move through the funnel.

2. Engage: Create content that drives active participation

Some 52% of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for product recommendations. Quizzes, calculators, and interactive content deliver recommendations while meeting your middle-of-funnel content goal: to drive engagement.

“Engage” content often turns visitors into leads by collecting email addresses. It can also engage users through video tutorials. So what works at this stage?

Interactive content

People are intrigued to learn about themselves. Quizzes take advantage of that curiosity. You’re giving people the opportunity to learn about themselves—something other types of content, like downloadable guides available to the masses, don’t offer.

Beardbrand has a quiz titled, “What’s the best beard style for you?” on their homepage:

beardbrand homepage cta for visitors to take quiz

Beardbrand isn’t using their homepage to sell directly—a unique approach for an ecommerce company. Instead, they’re following the “education first” mindset through a quiz rather than a hard pitch.

beardbrand quiz

The interactive piece works by:

  1. Asking their audience a series of questions that relate to their product;
  2. Collecting their email address (to nurture through email marketing, if necessary);
  3. Displaying a selection of featured products based on answers to the quiz. (They can also remarket to the same audience with the recommended products.)

Research by Kapost concluded that interactive content generates twice the conversions of static content. Some 49% of shoppers purchased a product they didn’t intend to buy after receiving a personalized recommendation from a brand.

With quizzes, users help ecommerce companies make a better pitch—literally stepping through a process that proves the value of the product suggestions at the end.

Compared to Beardbrand, Sephora has a similar but more comprehensive approach. The Sephora Visual Artist, which has a web and app version, allows users to test different products virtually. You can use a model photo, upload an image, or try products “live” by giving the tool access to your webcam.

sephora virtual artist


Throughout the funnel, education is the main aim of content marketing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about your products.

A report by Wyzowl found that 68% of people would prefer to learn about a new product or service by watching a short video—making it more popular than text-based articles (15%), infographics (4%), presentations and pitches (4%), and ebooks and manuals (3%).

ChefSteps does this through their YouTube channel, which has nearly 900,000 subscribers and has earned 114 million views. They’ve won that visibility with just over 500 videos, most of which are only a few minutes long.

They give their audience recipes that solve pain points (e.g. cooking perfect chicken), while showcasing how their product (Joule) is the perfect tool to assist:

Their videos offer value even if you own a different brand of immersion circulator (or, in some cases, none at all). Indeed, ChefSteps built their brand before introducing their product. They began posting videos on YouTube in 2012—three years before Joule came to market.

After the product launch, the branded search volume for Joule (blue) quickly caught up to the same level of the ChefSteps brand. By 2019, it had surpassed it, with 16,000 monthly queries.

search volume trend for chefsteps and ecommerce product joule

The ChefSteps YouTube channel humanizes their company, speeding potential buyers through the “know, like, trust” model. After all, if you could purchase an immersion circulator from a faceless company or a bunch of talented (and funny) hipster chefs, which would choose?


Downloadable content can take many forms, including:

  • Whitepapers;
  • Ebooks;
  • Checklists.

Designed to collect email addresses, downloadable content is more common in B2B, which has longer sales cycles and a more complex buying process. (You don’t need a 20-page guide to figure out which socks to buy.)

Downloadable content still has a place in an ecommerce content marketing strategy, especially if you’re selling a high-ticket item that may lengthen the sales cycle.

Take Evelo, for example. They’ve put together a “Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide” to educate buyers while also capturing lead details.

electric bike downloadable offer from ecommerce seller

The guide is packed with educational content. It teaches readers:

  • What an electric bike is;
  • Why electric bikes are better than others;
  • How to find the best electric bike;
  • The costs of owning an electric bike;
  • The pros and cons of electric bikes;
  • How to purchase an electric bike.

Evelo’s products aren’t mentioned The focus is education. Non-promotional content positions their brand as an authority—one that can be trusted when it’s time to close the sale.

3. Close: Nudge hot leads toward the sale

Consumers who are almost ready to buy are in the “close” stage. Content created for this group doesn’t need much organic promotion—it reaches people who are already on your email list or website.

But it’s also the stage when content might need an advertising boost through a remarketing campaign that targets leads on social media or a display network.

Nurture emails

It’s notoriously difficult for ecommerce businesses to build their email lists. Nobody wants to be spammed with product advertisements. That’s why you need to deliver value via this channel—especially when customers are nearing the bottom of the funnel.  

Minted drives email sign-ups with an exclusive offer on their homepage. Offering 15% off the first purchase is a surefire way to please the 97% of consumers who look for deals when they shop, and the 92% who are always looking.

minted ecommerce email offer

Ecommerce buying cycles can be exceptionally short—a homepage visit, email signup, coupon delivery, and purchase can happen in a matter of minutes. For ready-to-buy customers, there’s no opportunity for content marketing prior to the sale.

Not every email subscriber, however, is so eager to purchase. That’s where content marketing comes in. While the discount offer may earn an email address, content marketing can nurture potential buyers who don’t convert right away.

Minted follows up on their initial offer with brand-building content, such as the stories of their independent artists:

minted content marketing follow-up email

They’re ditching the hard sell and focusing on brand values: creative expression, personal development, risk-taking, and supporting local designers.

It’s an inversion of the traditional funnel: Minted goes for the quick sale first via a discount, then reverts to content marketing if the sale doesn’t come.

Case studies

Case studies help B2B companies convert and accelerate the most leads. Why?

  • Demonstrating your product’s impact in the wild helps prove its value.
  • Showing how a similar customer solved a shared problem helps your target audience relate to your brand.

Unlike some software or service businesses, ecommerce products are usually more visually interesting. Case studies don’t need to be stiff, text-filled reports. (B2B case studies shouldn’t be dull, either.)

MADE put this into practice when they collaborated with Megan Ellaby, a blogger and influencer, to tour Megan’s home. The effort blended a case study with influencer marketing.

A selection of products featured in the video were MADE products. This gave their audience the chance to see what the products looked like in a real home—one that many were curious to see inside.

As with MADE’s video, the trick to a high-converting case study is specificity—helping one customer solve one problem. As Daly explains:

Don’t write fluffy stories and package them in a PDF. A case study should explain how you helped a company with a similar situation overcome a single, specific problem.

The more specific your case study, the stronger the chance that someone in that exact position can relate to it. If you’re a MADE customer, you likely have an eclectic taste. Megan’s personal style mirrors your own.

Find your best existing customers. Ask them questions related to your product, such as:

  • What problem were you trying to solve?
  • Why did you choose our company?
  • What measurable changes have you seen since using the product?

Package their responses into a case study (video, blog post, infographic—it doesn’t matter). So long as the content is specific, you’re providing future customers with a reason to purchase.


Deluxe sells a range of products and services for small businesses. One product category centers on marketing materials for local businesses, offering high-quality business cards, brochures, and postcards.

Their audience lacks the design skills to create the materials they need to promote their business. Deluxe ran a webinar that touched on the importance of print marketing, the products Deluxe offers to help, and referenced a relevant case study.

webinar for business cards and packaging from ecommerce company
Deluxe’s webinar highlighted small businesses that suffered from inconsistent branding across their print materials. (Image source)

Use tools like CrowdCast, GoToWebinar, and WebinarJam to get started. All have either free trials or money-back guarantees, so you can test which platform best suits your needs. Be sure to allow attendees to watch a replay; otherwise, you could miss out on 28% more attendees.

4. Delight: Encourage lifelong evangelists

Creating content for new customers alone neglects your existing audience. And yet 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Ross Simmonds, of, defines the goal of “delight” content as:

To deliver something that helps them get the most of their purchase. It’s typically not expected that a brand will follow up with you with value.

The “surprise and delight” model is a long-standing ecommerce strategy. Exceeding customer expectations after a purchase can increase repeat customers, brand loyalty, and word-of-mouth referrals. You can persuade past customers to purchase again and again with this type of content.

Post-purchase emails

People have bought your product. How can you help them get more value from it? Framebridge, which sells photo frames, does this with their post-purchase emails.

Their frames can be attached to the wall, stood upright on a desk, or used to create a gallery wall feature. They continue to educate their customers after purchasing, sharing instructions via email for hanging art in their new frame:

post-purchase email to show how to hang pictures

Framebridge isn’t selling new products in their post-purchase email. They’re teasing the educational value within the email and offering a click-through for those who want to learn more.

Help docs and FAQs

What do customers email you about? If you sell flat-pack furniture, do you get support tickets about how to build a bookcase because manufacturer instructions are unclear?

For starters, you can publish help docs on your website. Point new customers enquiring about the same thing to your help doc. Even better, include links to commonly visited help docs in your transactional emails. You can solve a problem before it becomes one.

I recently switched from Windows to Mac. I had hundreds of questions about the new interface. Apple offers a collection help docs to assist with the exact issues I had, including:

Even simple products benefit from FAQ sections that answer common questions. Aeropress has an extensive list, from questions about shipping to how to brew a perfect cup:

aeropress faq list

Even their single-page FAQ ranks for dozens of keywords. (They could almost certainly rank first for far more with a dedicated page for each FAQ.)

queries for which faq list ranks

Still, the single-page FAQ sheet generates several featured snippets:

featured snippet from faq page

Making it easy for customers to get answers saves your customer service team time and improves customer satisfaction, which may lead to fewer returns.

Direct mail

According to Dr. Gregory Berns, a psychiatry professor at Emory University, “people are designed to crave the unexpected.” This idea ties in to the “delight” stage with direct mail. Delivering messages via post can be a differentiator between you and your ecommerce competitors.

Chewy delivers handwritten holiday cards to their customers. They’ve taken direct mail surprises a step further, too. When a customer posted a photo of their cat to Chewy’s Facebook Page, the brand took the photo and commissioned a unique piece of artwork to send to the customer.

chewy animal artwork commissioned for ecommerce customers
Chewy has famously commissioned artwork of customers’ pets, one of several direct-mail tactics that helped differentiate the brand. (Image source)

The creative brand-building helped differentiate Chewy, ultimately earning the company a $3.35 billion payday when Petsmart acquired it in 2017—the largest-ever ecommerce acquisition.

NatureBox, a subscription service that delivers snacks on a recurring basis, took a similar but more limited strategy. The company wanted to increase their customer lifetime value (CLV). So, they segmented their audience and focused on previous customers who hadn’t purchased a box within the past 30–90 days.

Each person falling within that segment received this postcard:

naturebox postcard with discount to buy online

The effort wasn’t a pure content play—they also added a $25 credit to the customer’s online account and sent the postcard as a notification. Still, the segment that received the postcard had 35% more orders per customer compared to those who didn’t, and almost 60% more net revenue per customer.

It’s hard to imagine that sending an email to announce the credit would’ve had the same impact. Postcards are usually warm notes from friends and family. Sending one was a subtle way to rekindle a relationship with a long-lost set of buyers.


Ecommerce content marketing can reach visitors at any stage in the funnel. It’s also an essential way for companies to stand out against dominant sellers like Amazon.

Many content types listed above can be effective in other stages or re-purposed for a different audience.

But, as a starting point for a strategy, map the typical sales funnel for your ecommerce store. Then, plot the points where you do or don’t have content and begin to fill the gaps:

  1. Attract. Bring more users into the top of your funnel with blog posts, podcasts, infographics, and influencer collabs. Remember that a hard pitch of your products won’t work well here. Focus on getting your brand name out there.
  2. Engage. Encourage visitors to engage with your content with interactive content, videos, and downloadable content. Collect email addresses for follow-up targeting.
  3. Convert. Push hot leads over the purchase line with nurture emails, case studies, and webinars. Segment your audience to send tailored content.
  4. Delight. Convince customers to purchase time and again with post-purchase emails, help docs, and direct-mail surprises. Treat education as the foundation of your customer retention strategy.

The post Ecommerce Content Marketing: Attract, Engage, Close, and Delight Buyers appeared first on CXL.