Online advertising can be very effective - as long as you advertise in the right places. You want to advertise on web pages your target customers will see, with an ad that will deliver the results you want at a cost-effective price.
While there are millions of individual websites, you have four broad advertising options:
Download our free guide to digital advertising to learn how pay-per-click advertising works and how to launch your first PPC campaign alongside practical help on SEO and analytics.
Search engine advertising
Advertising on search engines is hugely popular - because it can be very effective. You advertise using keywords chosen to match what your target market will be searching for. So your ads show up in front of potential customers who are ready to buy.
Search advertising uses a pay-per-click (PPC) model, so you only pay when someone actually clicks on the ad and gets taken to your website. You can also get detailed reports of how your ads are performing: how often they are seen, how many people click on them and so on. That lets you see what's working, so you can tweak your ads to get better results.
The biggest disadvantage of search advertising is cost. Because it works so well, competition for popular keywords can be intense, driving up your advertising costs.
There are two main options for search advertising in the UK:
- Google Ads has the biggest market share and reaches the most potential customers.
- Microsoft Advertising provides ads on search engines powered by Microsoft. It reaches fewer customers but can be more cost-effective.
Social media advertising
Advertising on social media has grown dramatically in recent years, and is second only to search advertising.
Unlike search advertising - which only reaches people who are actively searching for the kind of thing you are offering - you can use social media to reach out with a promotion. For example, you might use a discount coupon, or the offer of a free whitepaper, to generate new leads. Used well, social media advertising can create an immediate response.
Social media can be particularly effective for reaching consumers, but don't rule it out if you sell to business customers. Employees and decision-makers use social media both in their personal lives and professionally. As with search advertising, you just need to make sure that your ads are targeted at the audience you want.
Social media platforms
Each of the main social media platforms offers a different audience and different advertising products. Unless you are using an agency to advertise for you, you'll need to invest some time in learning about different advertising and targeting options, and how much they cost.
Before you advertise, make sure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve. Broader 'branding' objectives can include building brand awareness or increasing your social media community. Or you may have more direct objectives, getting people to click through to your website to make a purchase or give you their contact details.
Equally, make sure you know what you will be paying for. As well as pay-per-click (when people click through to your website), with some options you pay when users 'engage' with your ad (eg following you on Twitter) or simply see the ad.
Small trials can help you see which platform, and what kind of ad, delivers the best results. The biggest social media networks include:
- Facebook has the biggest reach and is a good starting point, particularly if you market to individual consumers.
- Instagram (owned by Facebook), Pinterest and Snapchat can be good options for reaching a younger audience, particularly if what you offer suits image or video advertising.
- LinkedIn is generally seen as the best platform for reaching business professionals (and for recruitment).
- Twitter can be particularly useful for quick, time-limited offers and is also an option for building a community of followers.
Most businesses use an online advertising network for display advertising. The network automatically places your ad on relevant websites - where your customers are likely to see it.
For smaller businesses, the most convenient option is to use a network linked to your search or social media advertising provider. Google Ads, Facebook and Microsoft Advertising all offer display advertising options.
Like search advertising, these networks use keywords and sell ads on a cost-per-click basis. But because ads are seen by people who are not actively searching, click-through rates and costs are lower. That makes display advertising a good option for branding, but less powerful for driving immediate results.
For some businesses, it may be worth approaching individual sites directly. For example, a hotel might want to advertise on Trip Advisor, or a retailer on Amazon. Or there might be a niche website that gets a lot of visits from your target market. Again, it's about advertising wherever your customers are.
Individual sites will offer their own advertising options and costs. Larger sites often charge on a pay-per-click basis, while a smaller site might charge a flat rate for a banner ad or offer a menu of ad sizes and costs. Identifying suitable sites, negotiation and setting up custom ads will add to the costs of this approach.
An alternative payment model is to use affiliate marketing. Instead of pay-per-click, you pay only when the customer actually makes a purchase. This can be a very successful approach for ecommerce businesses.
Free options for adding to your online advertising presence include:
- Helping your website get found in 'organic' search results using search engine optimisation (SEO).
- Making sure you have online profiles at Google My Business and Bing Places. These help you stand out in local searches and on online maps.
- Setting up profiles on the major social media platforms, even if you don't intend to actively post or advertise on them.
- Submitting your business for a free listing in local and trade directories like Yell, especially if you offer a local consumer service.