Online advertising is a loaded subject as there is an ever-increasing number of innovative ways brands are using the Internet to try to attract your business. Every content based website from online magazines, newspapers, blogs, or new social media sites are trying to attract your advertising dollars away from their competitors by creating new ways for you, the small business owner, to advertise on their sites or apps. The goal of this article is to remove some of the mystery behind the advertising options available to you.

Text search ads

Mainly purchased through Google and Bing, text search advertising is where most small business owners should start dipping their toes into online advertising. The ad you create will be a short headline and description that Google or Bing will place within their search results. Take a look at the image below for the search results for the search term “yard service”.

Example of search advertising

On the first page, you see what look like results of the search, but you can see that they are “Ad”. You don’t even see the search results until you scroll down the screen.

Where you would show up on this screen is dependent on the following decisions you make (not necessarily in order):

  1. The keywords you have targeted. In setting up your ads, you will choose specific search terms that you want. When a Google user searches for those keywords, you have a chance of showing up. But, Google may also show your ad on related search terms. For example, if you are targeting “yard service”, Google may apply synonyms and show your ad on results for “gardening service”.
  2. How much you are willing to bid. The higher the bid, the higher the placement – you are competing for the right to be placed higher in ranking. In future articles, I will discuss methods of getting higher rankings while keeping your costs as low as possible.
  3. The relevancy of your site. If you are targeting “yard service”, but your website is selling plumbing supplies, Google will know this and you won’t rank well, no matter how much you bid. Google is smarter than that.
  4. The value of your site. Google gives preference to sites that show up well in its normal organic search, so before you embark on a keyword campaign, you should probably do some search engine optimization.

Display Advertising

Display ads can be purchased through Google or Bing, but can also be placed directly with the millions of websites that sell ads to businesses. In the old days, we used to call these banner ads. As a former graphic designer, I am partial to display advertising myself, as I enjoy the challenge of making an advertisement look good as well as perform. Display ads are similar to traditional magazine or newspaper advertising in that you are creating a graphic and placing it on a page. Below is a screenshot of the Honolulu Star-Advertising home page showing some display ads that they are selling.

Banner Ad examples

For small businesses, I suggest sticking with Google if you decide display advertising is right for you. They can be very effective in promoting a sale or giveaway. Google will automate the process of placing these on the millions of websites that allow Google ads to be displayed. Additionally, Google tracks user’s browsing history and helps place ads that are relevant to the user’s interests. For example, if the web user interested in “yard service” was just on one of your or your competitor’s websites, Google knows that they are looking for a gardener. Now, as they explore the web, they will continuously see yard service ads on the many website that they visit. If you are one of those ads, you would only pay when the user clicks on the ad and travels to your site.

Content marketing

Content marketing focuses on generating articles and other media such as videos that drive business to you. You often hear the term viral marketing – this is one type of content marketing. Think about a company blog, or putting up a YouTube channel. Content marketing is effective for small businesses because it directly answers your customer’s questions. Modern consumers are research driven and your goals as a business should be to create authority in your area, gaining the respect and loyalty of you potential customer base.

Here are some additional benefits:

  • You may find yourself answering questions that customers did not even know they had. Going back to the yard service example, image that a customer is searching for a new lawn mower, they happen upon an article that you wrote about lawn heights and whether to leave clipping in the lawn. The customer may travel to your website to read more and realize they he just wants to hire someone. By providing general information, you have fulfilled a need and gotten a new customer with very little effort.
  • Content marketing sells without being pushy. With access to information, modern consumers are empowered, they don’t want to be pushed into a purchase. Creating content makes you the authority in your field and is a softer way of asking for the sale.
  • Low barriers to entry. Content marketing takes time, but if you create the content yourself, it doesn’t cost anything.
  • You need to do it for SEO anyway. Content creation is one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization as you need to give search engines something to search for.

Now, simply creating content is not going to magically drive customers to your doorstep, but it is a start as you are creating additional reasons for customers to visit your site. Once you have some content to share, you can use social media or content advertising services to place your content on other websites to drive interest.

Email marketing

Email marketing started out with companies purchasing large email lists and blasting out masses of emails in the hopes of generating a response from just a handful of recipients. Thus, the birth of SPAM. As a result, most business owners incorrectly discount the value of using email to marketing their business. Admittedly, the advent of social media is making email marketing less and less relevant every day, but it is still a proven method of keeping in touch with your customers.

Today, email marketing is the process of capturing emails from your established customers, and emailing them notices of sales or other content only when they ask for it. The setup process is straight forward and can be very cost effective, but you’ve got to be willing to put in the time to generate the emails and of course, send them out regularly.

Social Media Advertising

It remains to be seen how effective social media advertising is in generating new leads, but it is absolutely one of the most effective ways to ensure that you are keeping in touch with your existing client base. I’ll write an article in the future just on this topic, so stay tuned.