The Basics of Paid Advertising Online

by Lindsey Winsemius - Posted 7 years ago

There is no denying the need for businesses to be active online to stay competitive in today’s digital world. I’m always talking about the things crucial to online success:
  • Having a simple yet effective website that gives a great first impression.
  • Being active on at least one social media site to build your brand’s persona.
  • Maintaining a blog to increase your website traffic. 
  • Building a list of subscribers to regularly email, since email has the highest ROI of any online marketing.
But what if you’ve done all these things, and still can’t seem to get leads or build a subscriber list? What then?

The Internet has become saturated with content, and as a result, is increasingly becoming a pay-to-play arena. Facebook Pages have seen a significant drop in interaction that is a direct result of the network’s new algorithm that rarely shows Page posts in news feeds. Google’s top real estate (literally, the top of the page of search results) is now owned by paid ads. Twitter feeds hundreds of posts into overly-crammed feeds each minute, resulting in few posts actually being viewed by the intended audience.

What’s a small business to do? 

Use Paid Advertising.

Paid Advertising on places like Google, Bing, Facebook, or even Twitter or Instagram can be the extra boost you need to start bringing in more traffic and building your subscriber list.

I’ve already covered Making the most of your PPC Budget, and how to create a great Facebook ad, so let’s just go over some crucial best practices you should keep in mind when setting up any kind of campaign.

First a glossary of the terms I’m going to throw around, for the newbies here:

Keywords: The search words people use when searching for a product or service online. For example, “sea food” is one keyword someone might type in.

Long tail keywords: These are keywords that are longer and more specific. Using our example from above, a regular keyword might be “sea food” while a long tail keyword might be “sea food restaurants with high ratings near Seattle.”

PPC or Pay Per Click: This is how most advertising models work. You set up your ad, and then when it is displayed, you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. You can also select pay per impression or pay per conversion.

Impression: This is what we call a view of your ad. When someone sees it displayed on their screen, that is an impression.

Conversion: When a user performs your desired action, we call this a conversion. For example, filing out the form on your landing page is one example of a conversion. 

Landing Page: A landing page is merely the web page that incoming visitors who click on your ad will “land on”. A landing page can be any page on your website, or it can be a special page designed specifically to go with the ad you’ve created. Good landing pages should have a clear call to action.

Call to action: The place on your web page or landing page where you tell visitors what you want them to do, such as making a purchase, filling out your form, or signing up for your newsletter. These are all “call to actions”.

Now that we're speaking the same language, let's dive into some PPC or Paid Advertising Basics:

Long tail keywords work best.

Keywords are the what people will search for when they want to find your product or service (or the search that will trigger your ad to be displayed). We run ads for our software, and recently created a campaign for iPayAuto, our online transaction software for car dealers. We started getting leads, but many of those leads were for individuals looking for something different than what we were selling, such as car owners looking to make their car payment.

The best way to avoid getting junk leads is by selecting specific keywords, or long tail keywords. Instead of “Merchant Processor”, which has high competition and bid price, we might select “Mobile merchant processor for car dealerships”, which is more specific of a search.

The more specific you can be about your product or service that people will be searching for, the better leads you’ll end up with. And if you’re paying twenty to thirty dollars per click on your ads, you’d better be getting good leads! Remember, quality over quantity when it comes to the clicks on your ad, and a quality click will come from choosing specific, long tail keywords.

Understand the different types of ads and ad platforms.

Yeah, it is a little overwhelming. Where to start? Well, you’re in the right place. Below I'm going to cover the pros and cons of some different paid advertising options. You can also check out a list of the top paid advertising platforms.

Display Ads or Banner Ads



You can use both image and text.

You need to design a banner.

Can attract impulse buyers or customers not actively searching for something.

Banner blindness (people’s tendency to glance over advertisements on pages).


Can select where you display your ads; target a specific website, audience, or product type.

Rely more on “impulse” clicks

Banner ads immediately come to mind when we think about online advertising because they stand out so noticeably on the page. They are very common and come in a variety of sizes. These ads can be effective, but they tend to target customers who are not actively looking for something new.

For example, a person may be reading a newspaper article and not be interested in a new social media course. Display ads can be successful, but they need to be used properly. Display ads can be purchased using a pay-per-click model or they simply can be displayed for a certain length of time. 

Below are the standard banner sizes:

Text Ads



Target customers actively looking for something specific.

Can have high competition and bid prices.

Less expensive and gives you complete control over the budget.


Depend heavily on good keyword research and testing.


Text ads are the type you usually see on the primary Google search page. These ads generally are less expensive than display ads and target customers that actually are looking for something specific. They can be very effective but depend heavily on good keyword research and A/B testing.

Here are a few of the places you should try listing your ads, though there certainly are many others:

  • Google AdWords. – Google AdWords are an obvious choice for many businesses. They offer display and text ads in association with highly targeted keywords. AdWords are a clear choice for any campaign. Bonus Tip: Your Google Adwords ads will produce a better return on investment the longer you use Adwords. Google will rewards long-term customers with better “quality scores”.
  • Bing or Yahoo. – Bing and Yahoo both offer alternative ad platforms that work similarly to Google’s. They combine display and text ads with targeted search terms. Some brands find that, while these options bring less traffic, the overall ROI is a bit better.
  • Facebook or LinkedIn. – Social advertising has grown enormously in popularity over the last few years. These ads combine text and display elements and are targeted based on user preferences, demographics, and location. Depending on your business type, both Facebook and LinkedIn are valid options to consider.
  • BuySellAds or Direct Buy. – is a great place to go to find additional display ad opportunities. These usually allow you to “rent” space on a site or a blog for a fixed cost. Additional opportunities like this can exist if you contact some of your favorite bloggers directly.

In the beginning, it is important to try several of these options and use hard data to make final decisions about where you want to put your money. Often, we simply guess which sites will be best without putting much effort into finding out if we actually are right. Hard data, not guesses, will tell you what gives you the best return. Good tracking capabilities will make this possible.

Test and track your results.

This can often be the most difficult part of any marketing campaign. We tend to spend a lot of time on graphics and planning, but fail to follow through. The only way to truly have an effective campaign is by trying out different things and learning from your successes or failures.

Consider basic things for each ad, such as how much are you spending per lead? How valuable are your leads? Perhaps your spend on each lead is low (a $.5 click) but none of your leads have ever become customers. Then the value isn’t as great if you’d spent $2 per click on leads that convert more often.

You don’t have to get crazy with your analytics, just use some common sense to make changes over time in your paid ads, the landing page, and where your ads are being displayed to learn what works.

However, don’t make more than one change at a time, or you won’t know what change resulted in your new results. For example, if you change the audience for your Facebook ad and also update your landing, you won’t know if the new landing page or a better target audience is responsible for higher conversion rates. Just like in any good psychology experiment, try to make only one change at a time to get a better idea of what is really working. 

Don’t be afraid to try.

I know the many options and different industry jargon and strange new interfaces can be intimidating. I’m still clicking on those little question marks in Google Adwords to remind myself what some of the stuff means. But don’t let uncertainty stop you from trying. Roll up your sleeves, grab your credit card, and start small with a low monthly budget so you don’t feel bad for choosing wacky keywords or getting thousands of impressions with no clicks. It’s ok. The average industry click-through rate is only around 2%, anyway. But, with a good ad and landing page combination, you can get thousands of impressions, so that 2% can become a couple hundred new leads for your business.

Have questions about Paid Advertising? We love to hear from you; just ask!