Advertising online – The 3 most popular options for small businesses

In a world where over three billion people use the internet, and no one can put down their smartphone or tablet, it seems obvious that startups and small businesses would look to advertise their products and services online.

Paid advertising puts your brand in front of a defined audience, and encourages them to make a purchase or a decision of some kind. In addition to increased sales, it can increase social media followers, newsletter sign ups, and brand awareness.

To help you get to grips with online advertising, and to ensure you make the most out of every penny you spend, here’s a beginner’s guide to paid advertising online.

The 3 main options for advertising online

If you’re a new or small business, you have three different routes you can go down when it comes to advertising your business online;

  • Pay per click advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Social media advertising

They each offer different benefits, so let’s look at each of these in turn;

1. Pay per click advertising

PPC or ‘pay-per-click’ is a form of paid advertising most commonly associated with search engines such as Google or Bing. With PPC ads, you pay for how many times someone clicks on your advert or link.

For example, when you search for a keyword or sentence on Google, the results shown at the top of the page are usually pay per click adverts. To differentiate them from the organic search results, PPC adverts are marked with a small ‘Ad’ as shown in this screenshot;

PPC advert positions

As a pay per click advertiser, you will pay the search engine each time someone ‘clicks’ on the link in your advert.

PPC can be really beneficial to your business, as it allows you to set a maximum budget for each click based on what it is worth to your company. This also allows you to keep track of it in real time, and evaluate its exact value.

If you’re setting up a PPC campaign for the first time, remember that keywords are crucial. These words will be used to help someone find your advert in a search engine, so you need to select keywords that not only represent your brand well, but are also the ones that your target audience is likely to be using.

This can be tricky as many businesses will be competing for the same keywords as you. For example, if you run a small marketing company and you select the keywords ‘social media marketing’ there will be a lot of other companies bidding for the same thing. This drives up the cost and makes it harder for your small business to be seen if you’re not willing to spend more.

Try to select keywords that are more unique to you and your business. Google Adwords has a very good ‘Keyword planner’ tool to help you set up your PPC campaign.

When you run a pay per click ad campaign with a search engine like Google or Bing, they already have algorithms in place to help you get as many clicks as possible (and spend more!). You will still need to work to optimise your advertising campaign, but they do a lot of the work for you.

One thing to bear in mind with PPC is that its primary use is to get people to click on your advert or link, so consider why you want people to click. Are you trying to get them to buy something or build your lead database? Or are you trying to raise brand awareness? If it’s the latter, then read on.

2. Display advertising

If you want to put your products on display, or are running a project as part of a wider advertising campaign, display advertising could be for you. This is when you put an advert on another website or blog. There are a range of different size adverts you can choose from, just look around this page to see some examples.

Display adverts allow you to use graphics, images, animation and even video to promote your products and build your brand. If you want to establish your brand in the minds of potential customers, display advertising is a good option.

When buying display adverts you will usually be quoted a £CPM figure. CPM means ‘cost per 1000 impressions’, so if you are quoted a figure of £10CPM this means that it will cost £10 to have your adverts displayed 1,000 times. In this case, that would be 1p for every time your advert was shown on.

Buying adverts on a CPM basis means you can put your advert onto more premium websites and be more selective about who sees it. This makes buying impressions more valuable for businesses that want to drive awareness of a new product or brand, because they can ensure the advert is seen in the right setting, by the right people.

For example, if you sell walking shoes, you might select a popular mountaineering or adventure travel blog to place your ads on, as the audience will be more specific to your product. So even if they’re not looking to make a purchase at that point, they’ll be aware of your brand and consider it when it’s time for them to buy.

Display advertising is great to build your brand, however, if the main goal of your advertising is lead generation or sales, as it is for many small businesses, then pay per click might be a better route.

One thing to keep in mind when you’re considering display advertising is that many people nowadays have ad blockers, or simply ignore banner ads, so take that into account when planning your campaign.

3. Social media advertising

Social media is free, and there are a lot of things brands can do without parting with their pounds, such as setting up a business page on Facebook or attracting followers Twitter. But if you want to take things one step further, advertising on social media channels can be very rewarding. It works much the same as display advertising, only it appears on social media platforms instead.

The advantage of using social advertising is the ability to target your audience on a much more granular level. For example, on Facebook you can select the gender, age, region, likes and dislikes of the audience that will see your advert. This increases the likelihood that you will be reaching your exact audience.

Social media channels also allow you to create lookalike audiences, so you can target people who have shown an interest in your competitors’ products. Additionally, you can deploy re-targeting – which means that people who have visited your website in the past will be shown an ad relevant to the pages they have visited. It means your brand is present at every step during their social media journey, and this can be very effective in increasing your conversion rate.

Social media advertising can have the benefit of increasing engagement with your brand, whilst driving more traffic to your site. However, bear in mind that many social media users are savvy about ads, and could well ignore them.

The bottom line

If you are just starting out, or you feel that you are struggling to reach your audience, then advertising online could prove very useful. It gives you instant reach, putting your brand in front of the people who you want to see it, without them having to find you.

It is also a lot easier than traditional and organic marketing. Organic marketing especially can take a long time (or a very lucky break) to build up a community of dedicated supporters who will share your content widely enough to have significant reach. But with paid advertising, you can hit the right audience for your product or service, without as much spend or resource as using print or billboards. It is also a lot cheaper than other forms of advertising like radio and TV.

The data you get from paid advertising is also much richer (what type of person clicked, how many times, and from where?), which means you can then optimise performance. As you learn more, you can usually bring down the cost of each lead or sale which will mean you get more from your budget.

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to go for paid advertising is down to the nature of your business; are you likely to reach your audience successfully via this medium? Can you engage more fans this way? Or might there be other methods such as marketing or PR that would be a better investment?

Whatever the decision, as a small business, you need to get yourself out there to drive attention to your brand. What channel you decide to do this through depends on your business needs. Just remember that spending money isn’t always a bad thing as it can often reap rich rewards.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Lynn Morrison who is the Head of Business Engagement at Opus Energy. Prior to joining the team, she worked as a marketing consultant for start-ups. She is also an avid blogger and is a regular newspaper contributor to the Huffington Post and Metro.

More help on getting your business noticed

ByteStart is packed with lots of help and great advice on spreading the word about your business. Try some of our most popular guides and articles for starters;

Online marketing

Social media

 Marketing & PR



Funding your business


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