Online ads: what’s the best platform for you?

Controls on Facebook ads

I recently ran some online ads for two clients, as well as for my own company, Awdesign Digital. Ads were shown on Google, Facebook and LinkedIn and promoted:

  • A virtual sponsored running event
  • A business energy comparison service
  • My digital packages for start-up businesses
  • My general web design services

Types of online ads

There are two main ways that ads are served to users online. Some are shown as they browse websites, while others are shown in response to user activity.

Traditional brand awareness ads, similar to billboards in the physical world, appear on users’ social media feeds or on websites in the form of images and videos. These are usually targeted at specific groups based on their age, location or interests. These are examples of push marketing.

Facebook ad on a timeline
Sponsored ad on Facebook

In contrast, pull marketing describes ads that are shown in response to a user action, such as a Google search. Text ads appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) and are aimed at those ready to make a purchase. They generally lead to a landing page with a clear call to action (CTA), such as a purchase button or enquiry form.

Google ads on a search results page
Ads at the top of Google results

Why choose online ads?

There are four main reasons to consider using online ads to promote your services.

Targeting

The first reason is the ability to have your ads appear directly in front of your target audience. You will know the age, location and interests of those who buy from you, and platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to target people matching those parameters.

You can also build custom audiences based on those liking similar products to yours, people who have previously visited your website or users who have interacted with your social media channels.

LinkedIn ad targeting options
Targeting options on LinkedIn Ads

Cost

The second reason is cost. Online ads are a relatively cheap option compared to traditional advertising methods, such as TV, radio or newspapers. Google has a minimum daily budget of 1p (although you’d never get an ad showing for that price) and Facebook’s is 75p. LinkedIn’s in much higher at £8 (£9.60 when VAT is added).

Google operates a pay-per-click (PPC) system where you only pay if someone actually clicks on your ad. This means that you can have your adverts appear hundreds of times at no cost, subtly raising brand awareness. With an average click-through rate of 2% (i.e. two clicks per 100 views of an ad), this is a great way to get yourself noticed. Indeed, one of my clients reported that one enquiry came from someone who kept seeing their ad, thus enhancing the company’s legitimacy in their eyes.

On the other hand, Facebook and LinkedIn operate a range of payment levels including cost-per-click and cost-per-impression. The most common figure quoted is the cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM), i.e. 1,000 appearances of an ad on a screen. On ads that I ran on Facebook in May 2021, my average CPM over two campaigns was £1.64.

Control

The third reason to use online ads is that you have complete control. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google expect very little commitment from you, meaning you can turn ad campaigns on or off at any time. You can also change your ad budgets and content throughout a campaign, or pause specific ads based on relative performance.

Controls on Facebook ads
Ad options on Facebook

Capturing leads

The final advantage of online ads is the ease with which you can capture customer details. Users who click on your promotions can either be directed to a contact form on your website, or a form on Facebook or LinkedIn that already has key information pre-populated, such as names and email addresses.

When to use each online ads platform

The choice of ad platform depends on a few factors, such as campaign stage, target audience and desired user action.

Campaign stage

There are three campaign stages common to all the ad platforms:

  • Awareness: letting people know your brand exists
  • Consideration: showing potential customers what you offer or how your products work
  • Conversion: encouraging people to make a purchase or send an enquiry
Campaign selection on Facebook Ads
Campaign objective selector on LinkedIn

Different types of ads run at each stage, with early ones being more general and later ones more specific. If people have previously interacted with your content or visited your website, you can run ads featuring products or services they showed interest in (what I call the ads that follow you around the web).

In general, brand awareness ads are more visual so are better suited to social media timelines or Google’s display network (these include banner images on websites and short video ads on YouTube). Remarketing ads on social or search ads on Google are great for reaching those at the point of purchase.

Target audience

Who you’re looking to target, or what you’re trying to sell, will determine which platform is right for you.

If your focus is business to consumer sales (B2C), Facebook and Google is a good place to start. On the other hand, if your main client base is other businesses (B2B), LinkedIn should also be considered. There are, of course, times when all three are appropriate to use at the same time, although the content of ads should vary depending on the target audience.

User actions

When creating campaigns, it’s important to start with the “what”. You need to be clear about what you want the user to do, and decide how they will achieve this. You then need to get them to the place where they can complete this action easily.

Every ad should have a specific landing page to visit or a form to complete. These landing pages and any resulting confirmation pages (e.g. thanks for your purchase/enquiry pages) allow you to accurately gauge the success of ad campaigns. This information can then inform future ad spend based on the return of investment (ROI). Tracking user behaviour with tools like Hotjar can also support data-led decisions on how to improve landing page design.

Summary

In general, my clients and I have had a positive experience using online ads. While conversion rates can be on the low side (the old adage of leading a horse to water is particularly relevant here), the relatively low cost, level of control and amount of information you can pull from this activity is unrivalled.

One of the key selling points for me is the ability to target specific user groups based on a customer profile. You can specify age groups and locations, down to postcode level in some cases. It’s a great way to make sure your ads reach the right people, ensuring more bang for your buck.

I’ve found Google Ads generates most leads and enquiries, so recommend businesses selling a product or service use them. If budget allows, also consider running a campaign on Facebook as you can achieve a high level of coverage for very little money.

Only consider LinkedIn Ads if you’re specifically targeting other businesses or you have a decent budget and money isn’t a concern.

If you want to find out more about online ads, or if you need support in running a campaign, do get in touch!

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