The basic elements of a digital marketing outreach program are search, social and email.  These elements are fuelled by content with the aim of enthusing, inspiring, and engaging your audience.  Investing your time in a program like this, when coupled with a clear conversion strategy, can really pay off in the short term but after a while you may start to notice things stagnate.

And here’s the problem:

Search – Search Marketing (SEO) is hard and it takes time.  

There are no guarantees of success and if you are in a competitive field it can be expensive.

Social – Once you’ve established your easy audience (and by that I mean you’ve connected with the people you know) it becomes harder to find authentic audience growth.  There are lots of strategies out there for forcing social audience growth but they tend to lead to a very disengaged audience.  You want followers who are genuinely interested in you and what you do.

Email – An engaged, well built email list is by far the best way to reach your audience.  Building an email list is at the top of my list of program goals – above making a sale.  Email lists, however, decay over time. If you don’t have a plan for growing your email list then it will shrink as people become disengaged and ultimately unsubscribe.  

Pay to Play

Reaching beyond your easy audience used to be simple.  A program of search, social and email allowed the savvy marketer to build and grow an engaged audience pretty easily, but that’s no longer true.  The platforms we all know, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google, Yahoo and so on, are big and well established businesses.  Social media and search can be done for free but if you want to have a meaningful reach or impact then you’re going to have to pay.  

In this post I want to walk you through the landscape and the benefits of paid social and search.  

This isn’t a definitive guide to online advertising.  My focus is on the basic online ad options open to every business.  Whether you’re a startup or a multinational these are all relevant and appropriate for you.   

There is nothing exotic or niche included in this run through.  If you’re already well on your way with these basic options and want to step up to the next level then get in touch for more detailed advice.

All of these platforms and options are listed here because they have a relatively low technical ability required to implement them. They are known to work and they can be applied to virtually every business.

A modest financial outlay, carefully deployed, can have a huge impact and transform the overall ROI of your digital marketing efforts.

Paid Search

Within paid search there are two main styles of advert: display ads such as banners and the square ads you see all over the internet, and the text based ads or sponsored listings normally found at the top and the bottom of search results.  

Text based ads.

When we need something we “Google” it.  Paid advertising is available on other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing, and there’s an argument to putting your efforts into a less crowded market, but for this post I’ll be looking at Google.

Your search is worth money to someone and the chances are that when you search for something online you’ll see sponsored listings sprinkled through the search results.  

I’ll tell you how this works.

As I said – your search is worth money and Google knows this. They offer to position you in the search results for key phrases that you choose, if you pay them enough.  This is known as bidding for key phrases.  The more you bid the better your position.  You don’t pay for the placement of the advert, you only pay for resulting clicks which is why it’s called Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.

As well as targeting key phrases you can also target geographically.  So, if you are an accountant in Aberdeen, your key phrase could be “Aberdeen Accountant” and your target location would be the North East of Scotland.

For a service based business like a local accountant PPC is quite easy to set up across all the major search engines.  It becomes more challenging for retail style businesses where many product categories, names, and brand names lead to hundreds or even thousands of target key phrases.  This is where experience, skill, and, above all, processes come into play.  Managing a PPC campaign on a large scale can be very profitable but, make a mistake and it can become very costly.

Display Ads

Display ads are not strictly a paid search feature but are offered by the major search engines.  The lion’s share of display ads are powered by the Google display ad network.  The majority of websites where you see display ads will have subscribed to Google’s ad network and have offered to show ads for Google’s customers in return for a share of revenue.  

All adverts work best if they are targeted and Google, as well as the other search engines offer two main targeting options. Display ads tend to work on a PPC basis however they are an excellent way way to target beyond keyphrase and geographical targeting.


As a website owner,  you know that a visit to your website is a pretty strong buying signal but there is a high chance that visitor won’t act on their impulse to transact today.

The majority of people now spend a lot of time browsing and researching before making a purchase so you can accept that the majority of your website visitors won’t transact, or you can try and influence them once they leave your site.

This is where retargeting comes in.

If you visit a website today that has retargeting set up, a snippet of code reports this to the Google display network and for the next few days, weeks or months, you will see display ads for that website’s products or service across the Google display ad network.  

This has a powerful impact which allows businesses to continue building their brand but only to those who have demonstrated some buying intent.

Email list targeting

Another less well known form of display ad targeting is email list targeting.  For businesses with a solid email list, that rely heavily on repeat transactions, this form of targeting can be very powerful. You can build display ad campaigns targeting very specific groups of people within your email list.

A common approach might be to have one display ad series targeting active customers, one targeting lapsed customers and another targeting people who are fresh to your mailing list.

Both types of display ads are sold on a PPC basis.  There are some other payment models but these are best left for those with a little more experience.   The PPC model means you don’t pay for all the visibility but only for the resulting clicks that bring people back to your site, and hopefully to a transaction.

Paid Social

Many people spend more time on social media than on any other part for the web.  While search advertising is great, social advertising is where the real action happens.  The mix of platforms you ultimately select will reflect where your audience spend their time online.  

If you plan on spending significant money across any of these then it might be worth asking for help in order to manage budgets and optimise conversion rates.

All of these platforms make it quite easy to control budgets.  You can cap budgets for campaigns or for periods of time, and also cap daily budgets so that you get an even exposure during the campaign.


Twitter offer two main options for promotion.  You can promote a post if you want to promote a particular offer, or you can promote a profile if you want to build your follower base and drive brand awareness.  

Twitter offers powerful, but simple to set up, targeting as well as retargeting.


Linkedin also offers two mainstream options for promotion.  You can offer a promoted post or a straightforward display advert.  

Targeting features allow you to narrow the industries, job roles, location and more, but retargeting and specific list targeting are not available.  Costs are based on a PPC model and are easy to control.  It should be said that the slightly more limited targeting available, and the absence of retargeting, makes it hard for smaller businesses with sensitive budgets to ensure that budget hits its mark.


Facebook offers the opportunity to boost a standard Facebook post or to run a Facebook ad.  

A boosted post can be created by clicking the “boost” button under any post on your company Facebook page.  The tactical goal of this is simply to help your post reach more people in order to get more post likes.  Converting a boosted post into action can be difficult but they are a good low cost way to build awareness.  It’s really easy to do – you just click the boost button, select your target audience, and follow the instructions.

Facebook adverts allow you all the targeting you could want as well as sophisticated retargeting to website visitors.  They also allow you to import a mailing list and build a custom audience based on this list.  The retargeting capabilities of Facebook are particularly attractive for gaining maximum exposure to a very self selecting audience of website visitors.

The key difference between Facebook ads and boosted posts is that posts only allow you to like or share them.  The copy in the post can invite people to take action but the buttons available to click still only offer “Like” or “Share” as an option.

Your ad will have a text element, a visual / creative element and a call to action.  You set goals such as website visits, brand awareness, purchases, app downloads and so on as part of the creation process and then Facebook will suggest a relevant call to action button.   

The visual / creative element can be tricky. Facebook have a rule dictating that the ad creative can’t have too much text embedded in it.  If it does they will restrict the reach the ad can achieve.  This means that you have to put some work into creating a simple ad that communicates well with little text.

An alternative to a simple graphic is to use a video for your ad.  This takes a bit more work but will get around the problem of not being able to make your pitch in writing as you can now use your own words – subtitle your video for maximum effect. Video ads are extremely effective and worth trying out.

Facebook ads can be a little complex but the rewards are worth the effort.  Facebook is where most web users spend most of their time.  You might not, but they do.  


Youtube is the world’s second biggest search tool after Google and is also owned by Google.  It’s no surprise then that it’s a very good platform for advertising.  

Advertising on Youtube falls into two parts.  Part one is easy.  Youtube is part of the Google display ad network, so if you already have display ads running as outlined above then chances are you’ll see those ads on the Youtube website.

Part two is also surprisingly easy.  When you hit play on a Youtube video you’ll often find a short “pre roll” advert.  Normally there will be a “Skip this video in three seconds” button.  These pre roll ads and a few other display positions are open to anyone and can be very effective.

Youtube ads offers the same level of targeting and retargeting that you’d find in a Google service with the addition of interest types available for targeting.  Costs are on a Per View basis with the first three seconds excluded from your cost per view.

That the first three seconds of video is free for the advertiser is very significant.  This means that if someone watches past the three second mark when they could click out you must be resonating with them.   

Most people think of Youtube advertising as only available to big brands but this isn’t the case.  It allows for easy budget management and targeting.


Instagram has a growing audience and for many is their primary social platform.  Facebook own Instagram and in order to run Instagram ads you’ll need to connect your Instagram account to Facebook Account Manager or Power Editor.

You can promote posts directly within Instagram or manage more targeted posts from within your Facebook Account Manager. The same targeting and retargeting options are available as outlined on Facebook. When creating an ad within the Account Manager you also get the option to push an ad to only Facebook, Facebook and Instagram or only to Instagram.


If you advertise in magazines, newspapers or any other offline medium you’re depending on the advertiser to deliver your message to the demographic and reach that they say they can achieve.  The problem with offline advertising only becomes apparent when you compare it with online advertising.

Online advertising, no matter which platform mix you choose, offers complete transparency over what works and doesn’t work.  When configured correctly you can be certain that advertising is only being displayed to a targeted and qualified audience.  In addition you can trace back which ads had most impact, those that didn’t, and adjust things accordingly.  This should lead to a much higher ROI than offline advertising.  All this while gaining the same great visibility you get in print or on TV.

In the offline advertising world you won’t hear people talking too much about conversion rates.  That’s because they really don’t expect advertising to deliver specific results.  They’re more interested in the compound effect advertising has over time.  Online advertising is focused on conversion.  Every ad campaign should have a very specific and measurable conversion goal.

There is a place for online advertising for every business.  In small business it’s easy to set up modest monthly budgets with several of these platforms and see great results.  Larger businesses with established advertising budgets but little online activity can see spectacular results by simply reallocating existing budgets.

Breaking out of your traditional online audience is where the magic happens and where the real rewards of growth are found. Please get in touch and let me know if you found this article useful or if you need more information.  I’m always available for a chat or to offer advice.

About Bob Gentle

I work with businesses of all sizes on digital marketing, host the Amplify digital marketing entrepreneur podcast and work with entrepreneurs to help them amplify their business online.