Brand & Marketing Strategy, Marketing Channels

Digital Advertising for Small Businesses: Waste of Time or Worth It?

digital advertising for small businesses

Digital advertising for small businesses is everywhere. Whenever you scroll through Facebook, search for something on Google or visit a website, you’re likely to see adverts.

All the major social media platforms offer advertising options, and there are also options like Google Adwords and website banners to consider. But does digital advertising for small businesses actually work?

I’ve taken a look at some of the stats, as well as the benefits and potential problems of digital advertising, to help you decide if this type of advertising is right for your small business.

Digital advertising for small businesses

digital advertising for small businesses
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Digital advertising can be a useful tool for small businesses. But it comes with a bunch of caveats and can, if done wrong, be a huge waste of money, time and resources. Getting advertising right – no matter the platform – is tricky.

But lots of businesses are using digital advertising to promote their products and services online. If other people are doing it, that must mean it works, right? Well, not necessarily. What works for others might not work for you.

There are many factors that determine a successful advertising campaign: The results depend on things like your industry, keywords, goals, your budget, your products and the timing of your campaign.

Even more important is the wording of your campaign as well as the design and content of your landing page. If the content of your ad is not relevant to people, they won’t click.

And even if the ad made them curious enough to click, they will walk away if your landing page doesn’t get them straight to the information they’re looking for.

So, before jumping in and setting up your first Facebook advertising campaign, here’s what you need to know.

Read more about landing pages and why you need them to successfully promote your small business

What you need to know about online advertising

1. People don’t like ads

One thing to keep in mind when considering both online and offline advertising is that many adverts just get ignored. Actually, the human brain does a fantastic job of ignoring ads.

Think about it: chances are, you probably pop to the kitchen to make a cup of tea during the ad break of a TV show. Or flick straight past the advert pages in a magazine.

The same goes for online. Most people are pretty good at filtering out adverts because they don’t like to be sold to. Lots of people use ad blockers online or scroll straight past adverts on social media.

digital advertising for small businesses
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2. High volume = high cost

81% of consumers have closed their browser because of annoying pop-up ads (no surprise there!). And approximately half of all Google banner adverts are never even viewed.

As a result, you need to display a lot of adverts to make any impact. And for most small businesses, this can get quite costly.

Consider this: According to research by Wordstream, the average click-through rate (CTR) in Google Ads across all industries is 3.17% for the search network and 0.46% on the display network (ads shown on third-party websites).

That means you need 1,000 people to see your ad to get around 30 clicks to your landing page. And then you still need to convert these clicks into paying customers (or sign-ups).

The average cost per click (CPC) across all industries is $2.69 on the search network and $0.63 on the display network. So, bearing in mind that a click doesn’t necessarily mean a sale, this can quickly add up to be very expensive.

Chances are, you have to constantly run adverts to get enough of a return to cover your costs.

3. Niche audiences

Additionally, it’s also worth considering the audience you’re trying to reach.

Facebook advertising might be a great option for B2C (business to customer) small businesses, but for B2B (business to business)? Not so much.

The more niche your small business is and the trickier your audience is to find, the more money you’ll have to invest doing digital advertising tests to find the right platform and message to reach them.

digital advertising for small businesses
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4. Known vs unknown

Generally, marketing your small business and products gets easier the more known your brand is. And the same goes for online advertising.

The less brand awareness you have built up amongst your target audience, the harder – and as a result more expensive – it is to see results from your online advertising.

(An important point Rand Fishkin has made in his presentation at Engage PDX 2019, see slides 92 and following.)

If you see high frequency advertising campaigns about a new business or new product, they are meant to boost brand awareness, while other marketing activities are built up in the background to ensure a longterm baseline of clicks and clients.

It often does the trick and can yield good, sustainable results (if the landing page & product is sound). But it’s an expensive way to promote your small business and can only be sustained in the short-term.

How to use digital adverts successfully

But, it’s not all doom and gloom! Digital advertising does work and it can give your small business a boost – if done right.

And here are a few of my top tips on how to make digital advertising work for your small business:

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1. Look at the bigger picture

My biggest piece of advice would be to use digital advertising as part of your marketing mix, even better: as part of an existing campaign.

For example, you may want to boost a special offer you are promoting through your mailing list, social media and on your website with ads. Or reach out to people who don’t know you yet to sign up for your next event.

Tie the digital advertising in with your wider marketing campaign, and ensure your social media content, blog posts and PR activity all works together to strengthen your advertising. And vice versa.

2. Advertise to people who know you

As mentioned above, it’s harder (and more expensive) if you advertise to an audience that doesn’t already know you. And tools like the Facebook Pixel are really helpful for this.

It allows you to track visits to your website and advertise directly to those people. You can also set up advertising which targets people who have signed up to your mailing list, for example. As they’re already familiar with your business, they’re more likely to pay attention to your adverts.

Focus your marketing on leveraging your existing contacts and customers first, before you target people who have never heard of you before. This is likely to get you the best return for the least amount of money.

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3. Have a purpose

Any digital adverts should have a purpose. Don’t just throw up a general advert about your business, as this is likely to be ignored. Think carefully and specifically about what you’re trying to achieve.

More sign-ups to your newsletter? More social media followers? Sell a particular new product? Get customers to take your free trial?

Once you have a clear idea of this goal, set up a dedicated landing page for this advertising campaign.

Not only will this help you to track how many click-throughs and sales/sign-ups you’re getting, it also makes the whole process nice and easy for your customers.

4. Be precise

When preparing adverts on online search result pages, make sure to avoid generic keywords. If your product is very common or your keywords very popular, it may be very expensive for your ads to rank and get clicks.

For example, if you want to be shown for “women’s running shoes”, you’re probably up against the likes of Adidas.

The average PPC ad click-through rate (CTR) increases by a massive 74.5% when you jump from position two up to position one.

Using the same example again, it’s likely that Adidas will have the budget to be top of the search every time – but your small business probably doesn’t.

Instead, you want to be as precise and specific as you can be to help maximise the effectiveness of your digital advertising. Make sure your digital advertising is part of a campaign that focuses on a specific, unique aspect of your small business or product.

If you’re organising a promotion surrounding selling running shoes to women who are taking part in the Edinburgh Marathon, make this the basis of your advert rather than just “women’s running shoes”.

digital advertising for small businesses
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So, should I advertise online?

As you can see, digital advertising isn’t a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution. It takes hard work and lots of planning to create a successful digital advertising campaign.

I would urge you to consider digital advertising for small businesses as part of your wider marketing strategy, as if it’s done right it can give your business a big boost.

Just remember to keep it specific, and don’t forget to tie it into the rest of your marketing campaigns, too!


To read more about this topic, have a look at these:
The Pros & Cons of Direct Marketing for Small Business
9 Benefits of Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses
The Best Online Marketing Channels for Small Businesses
How to Choose the Right Marketing Channels for Your Small Business

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.