How to use SEO and ads to scale your creative business

Advertising Digital Marketing
15 min read
In this Article

Launch a new lead magnet. Post on Instagram. Send your weekly newsletter.

The list goes on—you’re already doing a lot to market your creative business.

Ever feel like there’s no chance to slow down and take a break from creating new content all the time? If you nodded your head, you might be missing a piece of the puzzle that gives you leverage for longer.

The piece in question? Search engine optimization (SEO) and paid ads. The leverage part comes from doing the majority of the work upfront and reaping rewards for longer, as opposed to a social media post or a one-off broadcast email that only makes an impact for a few hours (or days, at best).

If you’re craving a holistic approach to promoting your content, email list, and digital products, SEO and ads might be the perfect place to start.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a set of practices that helps you improve the position of your website in organic search results. Successful SEO efforts can bring hundreds or thousands of new people to your website every month, often without creating any new content.

Monica Lent launched a free email course and Blogging For Devs, her paid community, with great success thanks to her Twitter following. But she didn’t stop there, and she chose not to rely on Twitter alone, so she built a Trends page on the Blogging For Devs website.

It’s a list of best developer blogs that solves the issue of finding great, current technical blogs. This helps Blogging For Devs show up for searches like best developer blogs, best javascript blogs, best react blogs, and more.

And Ryan Robinson, a full-time blogger, has a library of over 300 blog posts, which brought him more than 100,000 readers per month in 2021. His guides are both long and practical, helping his readers take instant action.

His guide on how to start a blog and make money counts more than 25,000 words and ranks highly for this incredibly competitive keyword.

4 strategies to use for SEO success

There’s so much you could do to get your website in front of your audience on Google. The world of SEO is complex—many questions about SEO warrant the famous “it depends” answer because of the sheer number of factors playing a role in search rankings.

It’s no surprise that many creators don’t know when to start with it, even after building a social media following and an email list. Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be complex. Let’s dive into sustainable approaches to SEO for maximum results.

1. Focus on long tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are keywords with lower search volume, lower competition, and higher conversion rate. They’re specific and often three or more words long (although the latter isn’t always the case). Here’s the easiest way to understand long-tail keywords:

The search volume/conversion rate graph. Image via SE Ranking.

The lower competition around long-tail keywords is what makes them worth pursuing. Consider these high-volume, high-competition keywords:

  • How to be productive: 14,000+ monthly search volume, with NYT, wikiHow, and Oprah on page 1
  • How to bake a cake: 60,000+ monthly search volume, with BBC, Food Network, and All Recipes on page 1
  • How to lose weight: 300,000+ monthly search volume, with CDC, Forbes, and WebMD on page 1

These terms are notoriously difficult to rank for. Very few websites could take the throne from powerhouses like New York Times or Forbes.

But if we dig into these topics to find long-tail keywords, here’s what we get:

  • Time blocking for ADHD, 50 searches per month
  • Moist gluten-free carrot cake, 110 searches per month
  • Raw vegan recipes for weight loss, 260 searches per month

This is where your content can truly compete for positions. The best part about long-tail keywords is that you’re not just winning traffic from that one specific keyword, but from dozens of similar ones.

For example, this printable cleaning checklist from Sarah Titus ranks well for the ‘cleaning checklist template editable’ search (10 searches per month), but also the ‘free printable cleaning checklist’ search (390 searches per month). In fact, that checklist gets around 1,000 visits from Google each month!

Find long-tail keywords by starting with a broad term and narrowing it towards a more specific one until you find those with 10, 50, 100 searches per month. Use the Keywords Everywhere browser extension to view search volume inside your browser.

2. Get ideas directly from your audience

Another way to create content that’s optimized for search is by tapping into the audience you want to reach with it.

Take it from Brittany Berger, the founder of Work Brighter, an inclusive productivity community. Work Brighter snagged the top spots in search for some big search terms, like neurodivergent burnout and digital declutter, right next to publications like The Guardian and PsychCentral.

Brittany says a big driver of her SEO strategy is Reddit. Here’s how:

As I'm trying to get Work Brighter to rank for more specific neurodivergence and mental illness search terms instead of general productivity ones, Reddit has been amazing for ideas. People frequently complain there that when they search certain terms, the only results are from doctors and are overly pathological, not from people that actually experience these things talking about that. So anytime I see that kind of complaint, I try to get an article about it written from a first-person experience while also citing the science!

You, the creator, can use your first-hand experience to write about topics that others often can’t—even if their websites are bigger.

3. Follow a minimalistic SEO framework

As you build up your ideas of search-focused content, you’ll likely want to keep track of them and find an easy way to plan, prioritize, and tackle each topic.

Brendan Hufford, a growth content marketer and the founder of SEO for the Rest of Us, created a simple framework you can follow. He named it I AM SEO and it has four parts:

  • Intent: What is somebody searching for and why do they want it?
  • Asset: What are we going to create to give that to them?
  • Medium: Where will this asset live and how do we optimize for that?
  • Relevancy: How do we make this asset more relevant on the platform?

The previous two sections are a great start for finding keywords you can then take through these questions. From there, you can start creating outlines for blog posts and scripts for videos that will maximize your chances of meeting the searcher’s intent.

Brendan adds a note of encouragement for creators:

You’re already good at SEO. In fact, you’re probably better than 99% of people because you understand one key thing: your audience. You know how to write for them and what they care about, so you also probably know what they’re searching for online.

Bonus note: Brendan’s free SEO challenge is a great place to start taking action with your SEO goals.

4. Maintain a strong foundation

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that even the best content might struggle to rank if it misses the mark in areas like user experience, site speed, and backlinks.

As you learn and build your SEO strategy, don’t forget to pay attention to:

  • Formatting and user experience: Is your content easy to consume on every device? Is your website designed with the reader in mind, with correct font size and colors?
  • Site speed: Does your content load quickly? Have you optimized your image size? Are there any plugins or patches slowing your website down?
  • Link building: Are other websites linking to your website? Can you pitch yourself as a guest writer, a podcast guest, or a valuable resource to build more links to your content?
  • Content freshness: How quickly can your content become outdated? How regularly do you need to update pieces of content to keep them relevant?

What are paid ads?

Paid advertising allows you to get in front of an audience through ads on search engines or social media platforms.

On search engines like Google, ads show up at the top and/or bottom of the search results page based on the term the person searched for.

Kari Pearce, a Cross Fit athlete, uses Google ads to show up at the top of the results for a highly competitive search term, HIIT workout at home.

On social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook, ads appear on the feed, among organic posts. Ads a user sees on their feed depend on factors like their demographics, the profiles and websites they follow or interact with, and even their relationship with the advertiser (like being an existing customer or email subscriber).

This Crafty Home, a blog about meal planning, productivity, and mom life, uses Facebook ads to promote its lead magnet, a free freezer meal cheat sheet.

One of the best things about social media ads (especially on Facebook and Instagram) is that they come in dozens of formats and placements, from image carousels in the feed to videos in Stories. It means there’s plenty of room to experiment and find what works best for your audience and your goals.

3 ways to maximize your paid ads

Every platform comes with its own advantages, specifics, and settings, so instead of going into each of them, let’s focus on the big picture strategies to consider when running ads.
For platform specifics, dive into these links for Instagram ads, Facebook ads, Pinterest ads, and Google Ads. You’ll find educational content and step-by-step walkthroughs you need to get started.

1. Promote a resource your current audience already loves

It can be tempting to post a new article, create a new lead magnet, or launch a new product and jump right into paid promotion. The sooner you get people to see it, the quicker you’ll get new readers, subscribers, or customers, right?

Not necessarily. Here are two reasons for that:

  1. It may not be what your audience needs, and you’ll spend a lot of money before you realize that
  2. You can gather testimonials and other social proof if you promote your new content or product organically first

Promoting something your existing audience loves reduces the risk of paying a platform to reach more people.

If you’ve posted a specific image multiple times with no reach and engagement, or launched a product that no one bought, putting money behind it won’t magically make it more successful.

But if you promote a newsletter your subscribers rave about, or a product with dozens or hundreds of customers, odds of its success stack up in your favor.

Here’s how Ross Simmonds, a B2B marketer, and his agency Foundation Marketing promote their newsletter on Instagram:

This is why it pays off to promote a particular resource or product instead of just your social media profile or a homepage. Sending someone to a generic page means they won’t have a specific action to take, so there’s a chance you’ll waste your ad budget on visitors who will scroll around and leave quickly.

Promoting a specific outcome through a lead magnet, a piece of content, or a product means you can overdeliver on what you promised in your ad and delight the person interacting with your ads.

2. Set goals for your paid ads

There’s an obvious goal to your ad: get the person seeing it to click through and sign up to what you’re offering on your landing page. But you should also have a broader, overarching goal that this activity leads to.

For example, if you’re promoting a free lead magnet and paying for ads to get more subscribers, what’s your goal with subscribers you attract this way? It could be selling your flagship course to a fraction of those subscribers, which will generate revenue higher than your ad spend.

An example of an Instagram ad promoting a free lead magnet by business coach Phoebe Greenacre.

Another example is promoting a low-cost product. If your end goal is making a profit, the cost of acquiring each new customer needs to be lower than the price of your product. But if you aim to eventually upsell a fraction of these new customers to a premium offering, you might be willing to spend more to acquire them.

An example of an Instagram ad promoting a $37 product by social media coach Lady Strategist.

Or you could target a warm audience and catch them when they’re likely ready to buy from you.

Check out this example from Elise Darma, an Instagram coach. Social Bank is her $797 flagship course. The reason she promotes it through paid ads on Google is that organic results showcase results unrelated to Elise’s course, like a financial company called Social Bank and resources about sustainable banking.

Elise knows that people who click on that ad searched for her course and not those other options on the first page of results. They want to know more about it and possibly buy it. With each click costing Elise less than $1, this is a smart ad strategy.

Having a broader goal to each paid ad you run will allow you to be intentional with your ad budget and maximize results in the long run.

3. Make the most of your ad budget with retargeting

Ads can be an excellent tool in reaching new audiences, but the same can be said for deepening your relationship with the audience you already have.

Thanks to tools like Facebook Pixel and Pinterest tag, you can connect users’ activity on your website with your ad strategy. You can also target your ads to people on your email list. This is called retargeting.

Here are a few ideas for retargeting your existing visitors and/or subscribers:

  • Show an ad to people who clicked on one of your previous ads, but didn’t reach a thank you page
  • Promote a free lead magnet to readers who visited an article, but haven’t signed up
  • Promote a paid product to a segment of email subscribers who have been subscribed for a long time

This is where email segmentation becomes really valuable. It lets you tailor your ad messaging to different subscriber segments and experiment with free and paid offers for each segment.

How to connect SEO and paid ads with your email marketing strategy

As mentioned earlier, SEO and paid ads are a piece of a marketing puzzle. The big-picture goal is two-fold:

  1. Give people in your target audience plenty of value through your offers
  2. Get those same people to keep coming back to your content/products and to become your social proof

This is where your email list comes into play. As you build up your search presence and/or your paid advertising strategy, consider how it feeds into your email marketing.

Consider ways you can do more work upfront to scale your results later on. Here are a few impactful places to start:

  • Make sure there’s an opt-in form on every piece of content you optimize for search or promote through ads
  • Build welcome email sequences for different entry points to your email list (for example, different lead magnets)
  • Create an email automation to onboard new customers for products you’re promoting
A pop-up with an opt-in form on a search-optimized blog post. Image via Ryan Robinson.

Look at your SEO and ads through the email marketing lens. Look at how it can complete the experience your subscribers and customers will have, rather than being the beginning and the end of that experience.

Scale your marketing with SEO and ads

Optimizing your content for search engines and promoting your best offers with ads can take your business to the next level. To make the most of it, be sure to tie your efforts back to your email marketing strategy.

Take advantage of opt-in forms, landing pages, automations, and subscriber segments to give each visitor, subscriber, and customer the experience and value they need from you. This way, you’ll maximize their results and your success and revenue.

Sign up for ConvertKit to try these features out for yourself and connect them to your website and ads!

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Marijana Kay

Marijana Kay is a freelance writer for leading B2B SaaS companies. She uses data-backed, actionable content to help them hit and exceed their growth goals. In her spare time, she collects books and logs running miles.

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