A Beginner's Guide to Digital Advertising

A Beginner's Guide to Digital Advertising
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Paige Weiners, Corporate Marketing Specialist, Blue Fountain Media

If you run a business with an online presence, you’re likely already engaged in some form of digital advertising. But the term digital advertising is a catch-all that includes all advertising that occurs online. The scope of what digital advertising encompasses is huge. For those businesses that are new to digital advertising, or who have some experience in one channel but not others, it’s helpful to get an overview of the different types of digital ads at your disposal. An understanding of the main channels and their key uses and benefits will help you determine where to focus your ad dollars to best support your objectives.

Paid Search

Paid search, also commonly referred to a PPC (pay-per-click) and SEM (search engine marketing), is the process of showing ads in search engine results pages. Ads are shown based on search queries performed by users.

The major benefit of paid search is that your ads are shown to users who have expressed interest in a product or service that’s related to your brand. That means they already have a certain level of intent. With paid search you only pay when a user clicks on your ad, and you can start generating traffic very quickly if the search volume is high enough.

The paid search ads you’re probably most familiar with are text ads -- shown at the top and the bottom of the organic search results on Google. There are also Product Listing Ads (PLAs) which are the shopping results that appear when a product-related query is searched. PLAs include product images, product descriptions, prices, and sometimes ratings.

Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) are a specific subset of search ads that use remarketing lists to target search users who have already visited a business’s website. For example, if a user visits a website and looks at TVs but leaves without buying one, when they return to Google later and conduct further searches related to TVs, the website can automatically bid higher to reach that user.


Display ads are digital ads that appear across the web in the form of banners, overlays, and rich media. Display ads typically have conservative clickthrough rates, but they are effective for branding. Budgets permitting, they have the potential to reach wide audiences and introduce brands to a new set of users. Costs for display are most often on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis.

Remarketing is a form of display advertising where a company shows banner ads to website visitors after they have left the website and are going about their business elsewhere on the internet. Users sometimes refer to these ads as “following them around” the internet. While there is some risk of annoying users with remarketing ads if you overdo it, a well-executed remarketing campaign is an effective way to encourage users to come back to your website to complete a conversion.


Video ads are ads that use video content to promote your business. Video is an important channel to keep an eye as it’s experiencing a fair bit of growth. What’s more, video is shown to improve recall and positive video ad experiences can increase purchase intent.

Placements of video ads can vary -- they usually run pre- or mid-roll during other content in a video player. Alternatively, they can also be shown on websites in placements similar to banner ads and may automatically play when a user comes to the page -- though video ads of that format can be somewhat irritating to users.

Social Media

Social media ads are any ads that are shown on social networks. Every social platform monetizes differently, so ad formats and options differ based on the platform you’re using. Each social network also has unique demographics which means you should be able to find one that aligns with the demographics of your target audience. In general, you also have a lot of flexibility with targeting, so you can go broad or granular, depending on your goals.

Facebook is the giant of social media advertising -- both in terms of the size of its audience and the scale of its advertising offerings. Facebook offers tons of targeting options, so it’s easy to customize and tailor campaigns to your needs. What’s great about Facebook advertising is that it’s approachable for businesses of all sizes. Minimum daily spends are low, making it realistic for anyone to advertise on the platform.

Instagram is owned by Facebook and its ads are managed via the same system. Instagram’s ad options include in-feed ads that can include photos, videos, or carousels of either, and full-screen Stories Ads that are shown between user stories. Instagram ads only work with strong, aesthetically-compelling visuals, so they work best for brands that can create interesting visual content.

Snapchat ads consist of 10-second video clips, with options to engage the user further after viewing. They also have sponsored lenses, which allow brands to create branded lenses, but these are very costly ventures that are inaccessible to everyone other than huge national brands. Snapchat users are generally young -- 71% of them are under the age of 34 -- so it can be a valuable platform for brands with young target audiences.

Sponsored Tweets on Twitter are shown in the user’s feed and mimic the format of regular tweets. Twitter campaigns can be run on a number of different objectives -- including website traffic, engagement, brand awareness, and follower growth.

Pinterest has Buyable Pins, which are pins that are shoppable directly from the Pinterest platform. Since its launch, Pinterest has been associated with product research and discovery and it can be an effective platform for ecommerce brands trying to get their products in front of new users.

LinkedIn is obviously a strong option for B2B companies because of their large audience of business professionals. The platform offer traditional text ads, as well as sponsored content and sponsored InMail.

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