No matter how small your business’s budget or how you decide to spend it, allotting some of your spend toward advertising your business online can be a smart move. 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, consider how these popular online platform can fit into your overall business marketing plan.
All businesses should create a free Google business profile so they show up on Google Maps and when someone searches for comparable businesses nearby. For paid advertising, Google Ads is the top online advertising choice for companies of all shapes and sizes. Google captures more digital ad dollars than any other company in the nation (approximately 28.6% in 2021, compared to 23.8% by its closest rival — Facebook).
Google operates two ad networks: search and display. We’ll examine each in turn.
Google’s Search Network
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.” Google decides which ads to show you based on a complex, real-time auction process for the “keywords” that people might type in the search bar.
Google assigns an ever-changing value to each keyword based on how often the term is searched and how steep the competition is. Although you can participate in the keyword auction with a budget of any size, top bidders are more likely to have their ads shown.
To maximize your ad spend, look for keywords that are related to your product, are often searched and for which there is little competition.
Google’s Display Network
Google’s 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 acquisitions, like AdSense.
If you’ve ever searched for a product on google.com or visited a non-Google website only to later see an ad for that same product or webpage on an entirely unrelated, third-party site, then you’ve witnessed Google’s Display Network (or one of its competitors) in action. It uses a form of marketing called retargeting, where marketers attempt to sell you items based on your previous online actions.
Display Network is less effective than Search Network, which is more targeted. Despite its relevance, click-through rates 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.
The final element of advertising your business online with Google is deciding on the type of keyword bidding. Two of the most common are cost per click and cost per mille:
CPC: You only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad. This is best if your goal is to increase visitors to your website. While you won’t lose valuable advertising dollars if no one interacts with your ad, CPC can still be costly.
CPM: “Mille” means one thousand; therefore, CPM measures the cost per one thousand impressions (people who view your page). Google charges more for this option, on the theory that the more customers who view your ad, the better the business outcome.
Microsoft’s Bing uses a similar model to Google, complete with bidding, keywords and a search and display network. Bing’s reach is much smaller than Google’s, but the prices are commensurate. Less competition for popular keywords results in lower costs, and your advertising dollars can stretch further.
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.
Facebook is 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 or on recent behaviors like whether they’re currently planning a vacation.
Facebook offers a variety of locations for your advertisements: on the homepage; in the newsfeed of the consumer’s desktop or mobile device (either through the Facebook app or web browser); via short videos shown during Facebook Live sessions or within Facebook Watch programs; in Facebook Stories; and in the Facebook Marketplace.
Similar to Google’s Display Network, there’s also the Facebook Audience Network. 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.
As with Google, you can set your bidding to manual or automatic. Automatic bidding will optimize your campaign 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.
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 [insert your brand].”
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.
If your company is a business-to-business enterprise, LinkedIn (now owned by Microsoft) is worth looking into.
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.
A version of this article originally appeared on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.