Small business marketing basics: Paid digital advertising

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Vintage Drinks Advertisements of the 1900s

Over the past week, I’ve had a chance to listen to various business owners’ impressions of what constitutes digital marketing these days. The conversations have been interesting and revelatory, so over the next few posts, I want to review the very basics of these channels for folks who aren’t marketers. If you are a digital marketer by trade, I’ll tell you up front that you can probably skip this series and go read another blog; I won’t be telling you anything you shouldn’t already know. If you have bosses, clients, or friends who are not marketers, however, this series might be helpful. Today, we’re going to tackle what you need to know about paid digital advertising.

Paid advertising holds great promise and great risk to small businesses. Budgets are small to begin with, so making the most of them is the top priority. Advertising strategies for small budgets are significantly different than for larger ones. Let’s look at a few of the key points.

  • Targeting: Unlike broader advertising strategies, you need to develop a precise set of targets that you’re willing to pay for. Be as absolutely specific as possible. What postal codes do you want? What demographics do you want? Every click costs you money, so make absolutely sure you know who to go after first. The best place to start is to look at who your existing best customers are.
  • Platform: Once you know who you’re looking for, you have to decide where you’re going to advertise. Run a simulation on the major platforms like Google AdWords, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, etc. and see which of the platforms has the largest exact, specific audience you want to target, then advertise there to start.
  • Tracking: One of the most important things to do with any of your advertisements is to carefully track with multiple systems. Services like Google Analytics providing URL tracking that lets you independently verify the clicks and conversions you’re getting. Add on other trackers like and you can be sure that your reporting of ad performance is sound.

So how do you get started? Once you’ve set up the above basics, start crafting your ads.

  • Most of the digital marketing self-serve ad platforms let you test out multiple ads under the same budget umbrella, so you can set up 5 or 10 ads all at once, all for a set budget per day.
  • Create ad variants and then roll them out in limited durations on the networks like AdWords, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Start with a 3 day ad, since many paid ads lose their effectiveness after 2-3 days.
  • Roll out one ad per each network you’re going to test out and see how it performs.
  • Once you see a set of ads perform well, keep iterating and tuning them up every 3-4 days so that the ads are fresh and the results stay strong.

Ad fatigue sets in much faster than in years past, so expect to spend a few hours each week changing them up.

How often should you be advertising? Whenever you need a rush of audience and you don’t have the time to acquire that audience organically. Maybe you’ve got a sales promotion coming up, or maybe there’s a seasonality to your business – during those times, turn on the ad machine!

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3 responses to “Small business marketing basics: Paid digital advertising”

  1. I liked this post a lot! Thanks for sharing
    Yariv Peled

  2. Chris- Hi! Where can I find archived posts? You did one on the value of attending conferences…

  3. Thanks for the clarity and especially the summary of when it’s time to turn on the ad machine. It’s getting to be that time for me.

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