• Sadie Scotch

Online Advertising: Pay & Pray or Pay & Track?

Updated: Jan 5

Online Advertising Definitions

Let’s jump right into it! Online advertising is really a catch-all for paid or promotional ways to get your message across to your consumers. There’s been quite an evolution in advertising (even in the terminology, as the word “media” has nearly been dropped and “integrated” has become more popularized) in the past decade. From intrusive pop up ads to beautifully designed social media adverts that seamlessly appear in your feed on the consumer side, to programmatic and geofencing advertising to target the right consumers at the right time on the company side.

As a small business, you probably don’t need to run multimillion-dollar campaigns to get your messages across. But there are still tons of ways to digitally promote your online storefront to your online shoppers. Which ones work best? That comes down to effective monitoring and evaluation of your ads so that you’re not paying and praying for results.

Let’s go over the channels where you can advertise your storefront and look into the right ways to select, evaluate and iterate on your ad spends.

Paid Google Ads

The behemoth. Google! Google makes it really easy to advertise, offers free tools to select which keywords you should use and, with the help of some free resources (like SEMRush, Moz.com or Ahrefs trial versions), you can check what your competitors are doing to find the gaps. According to Oberlo, in the United States in 2020, Google still dominates the search engine market with 88.3% market share. Bing is in second place with a market share of 6.54% and Yahoo trails behind at 3.51% market share.

Let’s consider this for a second. If the grand majority of people searching online are using Google, should you worry about advertising on Bing or Yahoo? Maybe. According to a 2015 study, users aged 65 and above were the most likely to be found using Bing. That makes sense because Bing is the default browser on Windows. But your webmaster or agency partner should be able to tell you what percentage of your overall CTRs (click-through rates) originate from which search engines.

Monitoring and evaluation are essential for your Google Ads, as is testing. Start by testing organic content on Google by writing powerful articles that would attract your ideal buyers, see from which search engines your CTRs originate and then double down, percentage-wise, on Paid Ads across Google, Bing or Yahoo. Paid Ads may perform differently versus organic search, but the knowledge you gain from organic click performance will solidly position you to dive into paid campaigns, and you can always iterate after the first month or AB test from the start.

Social Media Advertising

Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok are just some of the social media platforms that come to mind. Even though Twitter has 335 million MAUs (monthly active users), it may not be the most popular site for people who are searching for goods and services, since it is often used to share news stories or political topics. Flip that scenario around and you’ll find that Houzz, a specialized platform for interior designers, which says it has more than 40 million monthly unique users, has far fewer users than Twitter, but it is an ideal place for people searching for home advice, local contractors or remodeling ideas. Therefore, this is definitely a site where you should test ads or have a specialized agency do it for you and report back on the results. Make sure you understand the niche social media channels that are relevant to your business and leverage them to promote it.

Now that you’ve identified which social media platforms your target audience prefers, what next? Fortunately, each of these platforms, similar to how Google helps you understand its ads, tries to make it easy for you to post and get analytics on your campaigns (coupled with Google Analytics, of course). Remember to set up unique links in each campaign to monitor CTRs from each source!

Once you’ve got those in place, you’re ready to get those creative juices flowing. Social media sites are truly visual mediums, and you’ll want to select the right approach (humorous? luxurious?) with the right message consistency (your color palette, your aesthetic) that appeals to your buyers. Mocking up pictures online is not as hard as it sounds, you can find free images repositories online or use paid services like Canva to make pictures or Lumen5 to make compelling videos.

Google Maps Ads

More from Google! We’ve all seen the Map image pop up when we google something local like “Tupperware making classes near me” (which isn’t really a thing). This is, again, Google’s way to help match local shoppers’ intent with up-to-date, high scoring shops, restaurants and other geographically confined places near them. As always, we’d recommend you get your organic capabilities up to scratch before jumping into paid, so I want to briefly start there.

Claim your Google My Business. Make sure you have a local phone number listed, and not a Google Voice or 1-800 number (this won’t help with local search). Make sure your hours of operation are correct. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a positive review or two and some nice images.

Now that that’s taken care of, advertising or putting some money behind your Google Map search can take you far. Remember that with Paid Ads on Google, shoppers often skip the ads that appear at the top of the page because they don’t want to feel like they’re “being sold to” and instead find articles or pages that offer more info and insight lower down on the page. With ads on Google Maps, shoppers are looking for more of an immediate solution; they know they want to take an action like find a number to call or a website where they can peruse its contents straight away.

As a Product Director of Google Maps said, “[companies should be careful about creating an ad experience that] is a great addition to user experience and doesn’t get in the way of what that user is trying to do with the application.” So, if your Maps Ad is up to date and targeted to your local area, you have a huge chance of helping your buyers take notice of your space!

Other Forms of Online Advertising:


Geofencing is the art of using GPS in mobile phones to create a geographic boundary, so when a smartphone enters a particular area, that user will get a different set of ads than when they are outside that area. Geofencing is important because many small businesses serve local communities, and within local communities, there are characteristics of your ideal buyers that exist in different geographic divides. You might want to target a higher-end zip code in your metropolitan area because you offer premium furniture. You can set up geofencing on the ads displayed on search results like Google, social media sites and display ads. So you’ll want to ask whoever is in charge of your advertising to see if they’re applying geofencing and, if not, maybe imply that they should start!

Display Ads

Display Ads are the banners (usually rectangular pictures) that appear on the top or sides of a website or embedded within social media feeds (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.). As far as creative goes, you can use tools like Bannersnack to animate your visuals, if you like. One of the major problems with banners is that Ad Blockers, if they are installed or turned on, allow buyers to skip these ads altogether or quickly choose to minimize them. They are seen as more intrusive than helpful content, as the user is just being shown a brand, rather than a reason to click. Costs and payment models vary, but costs are generally calculated according to their “number of impressions”. So you’ll want to calculate how many clicks your typical ads receive before an action is taken, and stats show that average CTRs are 6.22% for non-video banner ads and 4.25% for video banner ads.

Display Ads go hand in hand with retargeting...which we’ll cover next.

Retargeted and Remarketing Ads

Display Ads appear based on custom segmentation to deliver relevant ads to your audience. This is how retargeting works. Basically, you get to follow your audience around as they leave your website (because you’ve placed “pixels”, or code, on your website, which makes their browsers “cookied”) and visit other websites. Or maybe banners follow them around when they’ve googled or been on sites that relate to keywords and phrases associated with your products or services. You can also choose when to show them these ads. Retargeting sounds highly technical, but the concepts aren’t that hard to grasp. Still, you’ll want a trusted partner to execute a branded retargeting campaign for you and monitor it to get the data you need to decide if you want to divert resources away from, or double down on, this form of advertising.

You can retarget on social media sites too by providing or uploading a lead list to these platforms, determine your destination URL and track and monitor the performance of these ads.

Remarketing is often confused with retargeting, because, well, they sound similar. But remarketing is actually the act of email nurturing leads based off of their patterns online. If you can see or capture your prospects’ email addresses, like if they gave it to you by downloading an ebook or if they are logged into your site but don’t complete an action or purchase, and you have some insight into what pages they were on (like your catalog or pricing pages), then you can email nurture them based on their intent.


Phew. That was intense. Hopefully you now understand how important it is to get your analytics up to speed so that when you decide to engage in paid advertising, you aren’t just praying that you’ll get results!

Research, smart planning, testing and analytics are key to successful promotional media campaigns. Most agencies will recommend you do not spend less than $2,500 per month on your Google Ads (that doesn’t include all the other platforms we discussed above!), so there is very little room for error.

So don’t just “throw 5K dollars at Google every month”, as I was recently told by one designer. Be ready to invest, and do it wisely. Consider working with an expert when you’re ready to dive in!

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