The Guide to Effective Online Advertising

Everyday, consumers are becoming more and more comfortable engaging with brands on their computers, phones, and other devices. With over 4 billion users on the Internet, it’s imperative that businesses learn how to effectively call attention to their products and services online.

But it can be a struggle to navigate online advertising across all these channels and technologies. In this article, we’ll break down the different options and opportunities available to you, so you can develop a core understanding and get started with your online advertising more confidently.


What is Online Advertising?

Online advertising, also known as digital marketing, is the use of Internet technologies to promote a product or service to consumers. The most common methods are paid search and paid social, where you pay to feature an advertisement on a search engine or social media platform, respectively. 

For both types of online advertising, advertisers must understand who their customers are, what their customers are looking for, and how their customers respond to and engage with different types of content. This means advertisers need to do the following:

  • Designate the target market. Taking the time to pinpoint the demographics and characteristics of your audience will help you run a campaign that’s relatable, engaging, and cost-effective. 
  • Understand what customers search for. Understanding your audience’s needs, desires, and pain points will help you construct advertisements that really speak to them. For example, if a customer is searching for a product that is similar to yours, the advertisement should include keywords that are related to their search so that they find it relevant. Your ads can lead customers to products they’re both actively and passively searching, increasing the likelihood of conversion.
  • Split-test different variants. Once you have a good understanding of who your customers are and what they’re searching for, you still won’t really know which advertisements perform best until the campaign goes live and you begin collecting data. Running many different variations of the ad to see engagement and conversion rates can indicate which are the most successful. Define KPIs upfront so that you can quickly access, modify, and iterate on your ads.


Paid Search

Paid search is a form of online advertising where advertisements are placed in search engine results. Marketers use these ads to engage with active consumers who are explicitly looking for products and services related to the content being advertised, which can greatly improve conversion rates when implemented correctly. 

In fact, Google Ads boasts an impressive3.48% conversion rate on its search network. This can be even higher with retargeting campaigns, where customers have already interacted with the brand and are reengaging by performing a search related to the product or service.


Elements of Paid Search

While most people think of paid search as simply text advertisements embedded within Google search results, there are actually a few different types of advertisements that can be run through the search networks. These include:

  • Display Ads are text, image, and video ads display on third-party websites. Most often they run through the Google Display Network, which reaches about90% of all worldwide Internet users. This allows marketers to get very broad reach for a relatively low cost. Unfortunately, ad blockers can filter these ads and they often have lower conversion rates than other types of paid search ads.
  • PPC (pay-per-click) Ads show up within search results and are billed by the click rather than impression. PPC ads allow marketers to show ads to consumers who are explicitly searching for products or services relevant to the ad. This is done by defining keywords that relate to the content. Pay-per-click ads can sometimes achieve high click-through and conversion rates. However, the cost-per-click is higher than other forms of online advertising,averaging around $2.69 on Google.
  • PPC Landing Pages are standalone web pages that specifically relate to the content of your PPC ad rather than directing to your standard website. This allows you to customize the content and call-to-action and ultimately maximize conversions by providing the most relevant content for someone clicking through the ad. The only downside is that these landing pages require a lot of custom work to implement, which increases the overhead of creating and managing ad campaigns.


Platforms for Paid Search

Once you decide on the types of paid search advertisements you want to run, you need to pick the search engines to run them on. Google and Bing are the two major providers most advertisers choose:

  • Google is by far the leader in search, with86% of the market. Therefore, if you’re trying to reach a wide audience, the Google ad networks are likely the way to go. Their ad tools can provide granular filtering and segmenting tools, along with retargeting and analytics.
  • Bing provides the ad network behind Bing, Yahoo, and AOL search engines. While much smaller than Google, Bing still processesover 12 billion searches per month. Since there is less marketing competition, the cost-per-click has been shown to bemuch lower on average than on Google. Therefore, the Bing network can provide a cost-effective way to still reach many Internet users.


Paid Social

Paid social is another form of online advertising where advertisements are placed within social media platforms. While the viewers are often a bit more passive than those using search, the impressions are often less expensive than Google Ads and the targeting options provide granular targeting due to the type of information that social media platforms gather on users.

Nearlyhalf of the world’s population is now on social media. These users are actively interacting with friends, followers, and brands. They are creating and exploring content, and generating data that can be used to help advertisers target relevant customers. Therefore, advertisers can be confident that they can get their ads to the right users cost-effectively.


Elements of Paid Social Online Advertising

Social media affords a unique advantage over paid search in that many brands and individuals already have large organic followings that can be leveraged for marketing. There are a few ways this can be done:

  • Native advertising allows the use of social media platform advertising tools to promote content to users. This allows advertisers to utilize the segmentation and targeting features to get their ads to the right customers. For example, you can target customers by age range, gender, location, interests, and more.
  • Sponsored posts allow advertisers to pay someone on social media to promote a product or service through an organic post on their profile. Often brands will utilize influencers with large followings to do so. This can ideally provide a more natural, less promotional feel that consumers can relate to. However, it’s important to understand the audiences for whom these posts are intended, as advertisers have less control over the final audience.
  • Affiliate marketing is how advertisers can set up programs where third-party affiliates—often influencers, celebrities, or other brands—receive a commission on the sale of a product or service by promoting it. Affiliate networks facilitate this process, which enables anyone with a social media  to sign up and begin promoting without the brand having to find and negotiate with every potential affiliate. This is low risk for brands since it doesn’t typically require upfront cash or commitments, and it can prove lucrative for both the brand and its affiliates.


Platforms for Paid Social

While there are a number of different social media platforms that support both native advertising and sponsored posts, there are a few in particular that all marketers should be aware of:

  • Facebook is the largest social media platform with2.7 billion monthly users. It’s often the go-to for native social media advertising due to its large and diverse customer base, along with powerful tools such asLookalike Audiences, which can significantly improve ad performance.
  • Instagram also has a very large user base butskews a bit younger. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can take advantage of Facebook’s advertising and targeting tools for native advertisements. Instagram also has a lot of active influencers which makes it a good platform for running sponsored posts.
  • LinkedIn provides a platform primarily geared toward business and work-related content. This is particularly useful for B2B businesses. As part of the native advertising tools, you can target people from specific businesses or job titles.
  • Snapchat provides a platform for video-based, casual content. Its users are primarilyunder the age of 24, so advertisers should use it for products and services that appeal to a younger demographic. The platform supports both native advertisements and sponsored posts.


Other Elements of Online Advertising

When starting an online advertising campaign, there are a number of general strategies that you can implement to ensure their success:


Remarketing is the process of showing advertisements to consumers that have already engaged with your brand. Typically this is done using tools like theFacebook Pixel to track when users have performed certain actions, such as viewing a page or adding items to their shopping cart, so you can show them advertisements for products they’re likely already interested in. These campaign types can have the highest ROI since they’re marketing to customers who are already aware of the product or service and may have already considered purchasing.

Email Marketing

Email marketing involves sending promotional material to consumers via email. Advertisers can gather email addresses when leads sign up for newsletters, create an account, or buy a product or service. These are also very engaged audiences, since they’ve likely engaged directly with your service and provided their personal email. The cost of emailing them is extremely low, so it can be a very high ROI tool.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is the practice of asking customers where they learned about the product or service when they call the business. Advertisers can set up call tracking through custom phone numbers or automated voice response systems, or marketers may simply have a customer service representative ask the customer directly. This can provide valuable data on the efficacy of ad campaigns. However, many customers don’t know the first time they were introduced to a brand, so the data may not be completely accurate.


A call to action (CTA) is an appeal to the customer to perform an action, such as to call a business or purchase a product. Advertisers should construct CTAs in a way that relates to the advertisement and the consumer without being so promotional that customers are turned off from the brand. Often marketers will add a sense of urgency by providing limited-time deals if the customer takes immediate action.


Many advertising platforms provide analytics tools to help track and report advertising performance. For example,Google Analytics can be used to track the average session time, conversion rates, commonly searched terms, origin of site traffic, and more. Advertisers can use this information to make decisions on how to improve marketing campaigns and make informed design changes to their website. 

A/B Testing

A/B testing is the process of running multiple versions of an advertisement or web page to determine which variation is more effective, and it’s based on relevant KPIs. So, for instance, if you were trying to drive purchase of a product, you could run two variants of an ad and track which drove more purchases, and therefore determine the more effective copy and creative. This allows for quick iteration and the ability to stop ineffective campaigns. Facebook even provides native A/B testing tools to ensure that both versions of an ad receive a random sample of people and a comparable budget allocation to ensure statistically significant results.


Automating Your Online Advertising Campaigns

With many different platforms and strategies involved in running an effective online advertising campaign, the overhead of maintaining and iterating on them can get cumbersome. Therefore, it’s important to use marketing automation software to ensure quality and consistency of these campaigns in a cost-effective manner. Marketo Engage provides all the tools necessary to automate these processes.View a product tour of Marketo Engage to see how you can better automate your online advertising.

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