It may seem like a jungle out there when you start to examine all the possible places to advertise your business online, but we’re here to guide you through this crowded (and often confusing) space. No matter how small your budget or how you decide to apportion it, allotting some of your advertising spend toward web-based promotion is a smart move.
According to Unbounce, people who arrive at your website via a paid advertisement are 50% more likely to buy your product than those who came from an organic link. That’s probably because, if done properly, ads are targeted toward the ideal audience for your business, and that audience is (hopefully!) ready to purchase.
With that goal in mind, let’s find the online platform that’s right for your business.
Google AdWords, now officially known as Google Ads, is by far the top online advertising choice for companies of all shapes and sizes. According to Emarketer.com, Google captures more digital ad dollars than any other company in the nation (approximately 37.2% in 2018, compared to 19.6% by its closest rivals—Facebook and Instagram).
Google’s industry dominance make sense, given that Google’s Economic Impact Report for 2017 (they have yet to release their 2018 data) shows that “businesses generally make an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend on AdWords.” That’s a huge return on your investment! Though advertising on Google can be extremely complex, we’ll run through the basics to help you understand this powerful tool.
Google operates two ad networks: search and display. We’ll examine each in turn.
This platform serves up the advertisements you see above or below your organic search results when you enter a query into Google.com. They’re marked with the word “Ad” in a little green box, and you’ll probably recognize them from the image below:
What you might not know is that Google decides which ads to show you based on a complex, real time auction process for the “keywords” that people might type in when they perform a search. Google assigns a value to each keyword or series of keywords, like “advertising on Google” in the above picture, that changes moment to moment, and bases that value on how often the term in question is searched and how steep the competition might be at any given time for that word or phrase.
Although you can participate in the keyword auction with a budget of any size, those who are willing to pay the most are more likely to have their ads shown. Your maximum budget, along with an algorithm Google uses called Ad Rank that evaluates how relevant your ad is to the searcher’s query, will ultimately determine whether your advertisement makes the cut.
To maximize your ad spend, look for keywords that are related to your product, are often searched, and for which there is little competition. Finding the keywords that are right for you depends on your budget and the desired outcome of your campaign, which we’ll discuss below. There are loads of tools out there to assist with keyword selection, but we recommend that you start with the Keyword Planner provided by Google itself.
As you probably know, Google operates a lot of websites and tools besides Google.com—Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and so on. The Display Network involves a similar auction to the Search Network. But instead of vying for ad placements on Google.com, you’re competing for written or video ad space on sites owned by Google other than Google.com, or on third-party sites that Google has partnered with through other companies Google has acquired, like AdSense or DoubleClick (now combined with Google Analytics to form the Google Marketing Platform).
(Side note: Both AdSense and DoubleClick are great ways to bring in a little extra cash from your own website. You can sell space on your webpage to Google and allow businesses to bid for ad placement there.)
Ever search for a product on Google.com or visit a non-Google website only to see an ad for that exact product you searched for earlier or from the same webpage you previously visited—but this time, you’re on an entirely unrelated, third-party site? That’s Google’s Display Network (or one of its competitors) in action, using a form of marketing called retargeting—where marketers attempt to sell you items based on your previous online actions.
Although the Display Network may reach far and wide, it’s not as effective as the Search Network because search is far more targeted. If you visit Google.com, you’re probably looking for specific information. If you’re served an ad by the Search Network that directly relates to the information you seek, you’re more likely to click on it and to connect with the business that placed the ad.
Compare the above experience to when you see an ad from the Display Network on an unrelated page while you’re working on something else entirely. That ad may or may not strike your fancy, and you may or may not have the time or desire to engage with it.
Despite its relevance, click-through rates (or CTR) on the Search Network aren’t as high as you might think. According to Wordstream, the average CTR across all industries is 3.17% for the Search Network and 0.46% across the Display Network. Set your expectations accordingly.
Thus, while ads on the Display Network are less expensive, their lower CTR may result in fewer conversions—which is marketing speak for whatever action you’d like your customer to take—whether that be to visit your website, fill out a contact form, call your business, etc.
This brings us to the final element of advertising your business online with Google: the types of keyword bidding you can choose. Let’s look at the three most common:
This means that you’ll pay only when someone actually clicks on your ad. This methodology is best if your goal is to increase visitors to your website. Although this option means that you won’t lose valuable advertising dollars if no one interacts with your ad, CPC can still be costly. Here are the average CPCs across a variety of industries. Remember that each of these is the price for only one click:
Photo credit: Wordstream.com
CPM measures the cost per one thousand (mille means one thousand) impressions, or how much it will set you back for 1,000 people to lay eyeballs on your ad. Google charges more for this option, on the theory that the more customers who view your ad, the better the business outcome. But this assumption isn’t entirely accurate.
Just because your ad was served to 1,000 people, you can’t be sure that they actually saw your advertisement—or if they did, that it registered in their brain. Think about how many things flash across your screen as you surf the internet to which you pay no mind.
AdStage estimates that the average CPM for Google’s Display Network in early 2018 was $2.80, and $116.91 for the Search Network—but this methodology is rarely used on the Search Network. And while this method can increase brand awareness—the more people who do see your ads, the more familiar they become with your product—it’s not ideal for your pocketbook.
Remember when we discussed conversions in the materials above? That’s what Google means when they refer to acquisitions—whatever action you ultimately hope your customer will take, i.e. the endgame of your ad(s). And although you still pay per click in this bidding scenario, Google will optimize your campaigns to produce the maximum number of conversions at the CPA you provide.
A customer acquisition may be the holy grail of advertising, but you’ll pay accordingly. If you thought your other choices were expensive, buckle in for this one.
Photo credit: Wordstream
As you can imagine, such costs are beyond the budget of most small businesses. Thankfully, though, you can choose the less pricey alternative of CPC, and you can actively work to reduce CPC. When businesses advertise with Google, that’s the route most take.
If you don’t have time to bother with these decisions, you can automate your keyword bidding with Google Adwords Express, which will run based on the monthly budget that you provide and will serve your ads to customers who search queries local to your business.
And speaking of local customers, don’t forget to set up your free Google Business Profile through Google My Business, to ensure that your company shows up on Google Maps and when someone searches Google.com for comparable businesses nearby. Google My Business even has a new mobile application to keep track of all your customer interactions.
It’s delightful that Google offers neighborhood enterprises a free advertising option—as the rest of their services aren’t economical, as we’ve seen. Wordstream estimates that the average small business spends $9,000-$10,000 a month on their Google ad campaigns.
But with an anticipated return on investment (ROI) of double those sums, it’s easy to see why Google remains the most popular advertising method.
Microsoft’s Bing uses a similar model to Google, complete with bidding, keywords, and a search and display network. Ads are served on Bing itself, as well as on Yahoo, AOL, and their affiliate properties—due to a special arrangement with their parent company, Verizon. Bing’s reach is far smaller than that of Google, of course, but the prices are commensurate. Less competition for popular keywords results in lower costs, and your advertising dollars can stretch further.
According to AdEspresso, you can reach 66 million users through Bing who aren’t accessible through Google, and you’ll spend 2.5x less on your average CPC. Also, for personal computers preinstalled with the Windows 10 operating system, Microsoft Edge is the default web browser, and Bing is the default search engine. Although the user can change these settings, some don’t bother. Thus, you can capitalize on a captive audience.
Consider, though, whether Bing appeals to your target market. AdEspresso shows that Bing has a large market share in the United States, among more affluent individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. Google attracts a “younger, more tech-savvy demographic,” and is preferred if you want to increase business abroad as well here at home.
Like Google, Bing offers a free listing service for local businesses called Bing Places. If Bing is otherwise not the right choice for you, it’s still wise to take advantage of this feature.
Although Facebook may not have the overall reach of Google or even Bing, it’s a powerhouse when it comes to targeted advertising. If you have a specific audience in mind, you can hone your Facebook ads with extreme precision—based on a narrow set of unique interests, for example, or on recent behaviors like whether they’re currently planning a vacation.
Facebook offers a variety of locations for your advertisements: on the right hand of the homepage; in the newsfeed on the consumer’s desktop or on the customer’s mobile device (either through the Facebook app or by navigating directly to Facebook.com through the device’s web browser); via short videos shown during Facebook Live sessions or within Facebook Watch programs; in Facebook Stories; in the Facebook Marketplace; and within the Facebook Messenger application.
That’s before we discuss Facebook’s answer to Google’s Display Network, the Facebook Audience Network—although the Audience Network isn’t that effective. If you want to increase brand awareness within a narrowly targeted demographic, Facebook itself is your best bet.
Facebook uses a bidding framework as well, only here your entire ad (and not just keywords or phrases) is on the auction block. Like Google, your bids are based on the daily budget you’ve provided to Facebook. The difference is that, while Google values relevance, they favor the big spender.
Whether you’re an auction winner on Facebook depends more on the relevance of your ad to the user, as quantified by Facebook’s Relevance Score, than on how much you’re willing to spend. This reflects Facebook’s focus on audience precision, as mentioned above.
As with Google, you can set your bidding to manual or automatic. Automatic bidding will optimize your campaign(s) for the goals you’ve set—conversions, impressions, etc. Manual bidding allows you to control additional settings like whether your individual bids max out a given price per ad, or whether you’re willing to settle for an average price per bid.
An average price per bid can provide a slight advantage, as it allows Facebook to slightly increase your bids in certain auctions in order for you to win. Maximum bids are just that, and Facebook will not exceed them unless told otherwise.
Best of all, Facebook tends to cost far less than Google—especially in popular categories. The average CPC on Facebook in 2018 was $1.72, and the average CPA was $18. CPM hovered around $10, a huge savings over Google’s Display Network, so you can get those ads in front of people and increase brand awareness without overspending. Even making subtle choices in Facebook ad campaigns like using slideshow ads rather than videos will lower costs without sacrificing efficacy.
Although Facebook’s reach might not be quite as broad as that of Google, Facebook is still used widely across demographic groups and throughout many countries.
If you know your audience, Facebook is an excellent choice for your advertising plan.
Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, and since then, the operation of the two platforms has converged. Ads on Instagram can appear either in the user’s feed or within their Stories, although sponsored or branded content is far more popular on Instagram than on any other platform.
Sponsored content is when a company pays an Instagram influencer to post content that speaks positively to their brand. An influencer is someone with a lot of followers who the company’s customers are likely to respect. Such posts and stories have become so common that Instagram created a Branded Content Tool for them. It results in a line below the username that says, “Paid partnership with brand X,” and looks something like this:
Photo credit: business.instagram.com
Branded content is quite popular on Instagram because the majority of Instagram users fall into two age categories: 18-24 and 25-34. Those two groups, often called millennials and post-millennials, are known to distrust traditional advertising, but are likely to listen when their favorite celebrities endorse an item in what they deem to be an authentic fashion. A traditional commercial, for example, won’t suffice, but an Instagram post that shows the influencer using the product appears to hit home.
Official Instagram advertisements run through the same Ad Manager as Facebook, and costs are roughly equivalent. The price of influencer posts, however, can vary widely. Brands report payments from $250 to $1 million per post. (Hello, Kylie Jenner!)
Luckily, as a small business, you can probably find micro influencers in your industry. These people have smaller followings, but are still influential in certain arenas. Micro influencers might post about your company in exchange for free product or for a much lower price than celebrity influencers.
Now that Instagram boasts over 1 billion users, it’s worth investing some advertising dollars into this platform—especially if your target audience is younger.
If your company is a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, LinkedIn (now owned by Microsoft) is by far your best bet. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this one says it all:
Photo credit: business.linkedin.com
Why wouldn’t you advertise your B2B company where affluent, well-educated, high-level professionals spend their online hours? LinkedIn’s most popular advertising options are sponsored posts or videos that show alongside user-generated content within user feeds, text ads with a small photo that appear on the right-hand side of any page within the platform, and sponsored in-mail that sends personalized emails to a user’s inbox.
You can target LinkedIn ads based on size of company, title of the individual, the industry in which they work, and their location. Ads run with a preset daily maximum budget on a CPC, CPM, or CPV (cost per video view) basis, and top digital influencer Neil Patel reports that his tests came in at about $2 per click, with a maximum of $5 per click. AdStage reports an average CPM of $6.59.
Although both outlets reported a low CTR (Patel showed only 0.025% and AdStage just 0.13%), consider the quality of the business leads you’re likely to receive.
In other words, fewer people may click on your ads, but those who do would seem far more likely to convert.
That alone makes LinkedIn a top choice for professional advertising.
Twitter is the redheaded stepchild of the social media marketing and digital marketing worlds, and, in our opinion, it doesn’t get a fair shake. There are some valuable reasons to consider advertising on Twitter. Let’s start with the demographics.
Aside from LinkedIn, Twitter is where the most highly educated and affluent users spend their time. It appears these individuals use LinkedIn for their careers, and Twitter for everything else. If your target market includes those with college degrees who make more than $75,000 annually, Twitter is a wise place to spend some of your advertising budget.
Twitter also provides an excellent bang for your buck. They only charge for ads—which include promoted accounts, tweets, hashtags, and trends—when you’ve achieved your conversion goal. If your objective is to increase your followers, for example, you’ll only pay when you receive a new follower. LinkedIn fails to offer any options that remotely compare, so you may reach a similar audience for far less cash.
In some ways, Twitter is the best of all worlds. Similar to Google, Twitter has a keyword auction, but the CPC can be remarkably low due to lack of competition. It also offers some of the precision targeting capabilities of Facebook, but without the hefty price tag.
For instance, you can aim your ads at people who recently used a specific word or hashtag in their tweets, or who interacted with other tweets that did. That’s quite granular, and might result in reaching the exact audience you seek. You can also retarget individuals who engaged with a particular tweet, which takes the guesswork out of whether they’re interested in the topic.
Additionally, you can create custom audiences for your ads based solely on the Twitter handles of those who follow a competitor’s account, for example. With Facebook, you need additional contact information to use a similar feature.
Twitter claims that ad engagement increased by 50% in 2018, while cost per engagement decreased 14%. These figures don’t surprise us, as we believe that Twitter is underappreciated as a whole. Consider including Twitter in your plan to advertise your business online. We suspect that you won’t be sorry.
As we’ve seen, where one chooses to advertise online depends on the goals and the budget for your campaign(s). Although you’ll cover all your bases with Google, you might find that your cash doesn’t go very far. If your target market includes American Gen Xers with some money to burn, Bing could offer a lot more bang for your buck.
Facebook is the optimal choice if you’ve narrowed your key audience to a small, select group. You’ll still spend some serious dough, but if you’ve set your parameters correctly, you should receive an excellent return on your investment.
Instagram is where it’s at if you’re after the millennial crowd, though the cost of sponsored content there might send your spend through the roof. LinkedIn is by far the best choice for business-to-business leads at decent prices. And Twitter provides excellent value, especially if you’re after a well-educated and well-to-do customer.
Determine the demographics of your target consumer and take stock of your advertising priorities to decide which online advertising platform is best for your business. Consider an appropriate combination, if your budget permits, which would allow for the best of all worlds.
Elizabeth is a marketing and communications consultant who specializes in expansion, strategy, and branding. With a background in ecommerce, tech, and lifestyle, she’s written and managed digital media campaigns for websites and corporations including Glamour and Amazon. You can follow her on LinkedIn.