How to Leverage Social and Display Advertising

How can you bring more visibility to your brand?

A huge challenge for any business is getting found online. You can do your best to optimise your website and leverage search engine marketing; however, getting results from this can be a slow process.

Most businesses want to kick-start customer acquisition by using forms of paid advertising, which is where social and display ads come in. These can prove to be a valuable traction channel for creating awareness among a mass audience.

Social and display advertising represent opportunities for businesses at all levels. The big brands use them, but so do small startups – meaning the playing field in terms of access to mass audiences has been somewhat leveled.

How can your business take advantage of this opportunity? Let’s take a look:

Why use social and display advertising?

First of all, let’s quickly clarify what we mean by social and display advertising:

Social advertising – Social advertising is the use of social media channels for paid advertising. This will look slightly different depending on the channel used. In general, advertising might be “native” ( promoted posts, tweets or pins which look and feel like the other posts around them), or more obvious display ads, such as the advertisements you will see on the right sidebar of your Facebook feed.

Display advertising – The term display advertising is one that is often rife with confusion. It is generally referring to those more obvious advertisements that you will see on websites or on social channels. For example, these might be banner or video ads. They are distinct from native ads in that they don’t blend in with surrounding posts.

NOTE: These are not the same as Google or other search engine PPC ads, which are a different acquisition channel altogether. PPC ads are intent-based, shown based on keywords, whereas social or display ads are shown based on the type of person using the platform, for example by their demographics and interests.

The big “why” for using social and display advertising is that it gives you access to large, targeted audiences. There are tools available, particularly on social channels that allow you to really hone in on who should see your ad, which is brilliant for a couple of reasons:

  1. Finding the “right” people is more likely to bring you results than a “spray and pray” approach.
  2. It makes better use of your advertising spend. You’re paying for clicks from people who are within your target group rather than anyone who happens to come along (which happens with PPC ads).

As far as how much you need to spend to see effective results, social advertising is much cheaper than other options. A few years ago, Moz saw results with just $1 per day, although that hasn’t been our experience. We recommend starting with a budget of around £10 per day to see results, which still beats most other channels.

You might wonder, if using social channels is still free, why spend money on advertising? The answer to that is that there is a definite decline in organic reach happening for businesses. “Pay to play” has become necessary if you want to be able to reach audiences.

The flipside to this is that if you’re willing to pay, your ads should actually get seen on social platforms. A challenge for marketers in recent years is the expanding use of ad blockers – Facebook has taken on the challenge by making constant improvements to ensure ads are visible.

Where social or display advertising works well

First of all, you have to have a clearly defined audience for your advertising. This means that you also should know on which channels you are most likely to find them. A key to an effective social media strategy is to focus your energy on the right channels, rather than trying them all.

The audience sizes for each channel vary, with Facebook outnumbering them all by far. Facebook also has a wider representation of different demographics at present, although other channels are up and coming.

Source: Statista

It’s also worth noting how long people tend to spend on each social channel. At this stage, Facebook still beats all other channels, as you can see from the Comscore chart of UK social channel usage below:

People use each channel differently, which is also important to remember when you’re considering the placement of advertising. They connect with different types of people, media or brands depending on the platform. Overall, remember that they’re coming onto these platforms to be social, not with a credit card in hand ready to make a purchase.

You’ve probably heard the term “content is king” but this is really a fallacy when it comes to social advertising. What really rules is context – understanding the platform and the behaviour of its users.

How it works

We’ve created a chart below with our view on the effectiveness of advertising on the most dominant social platforms. Again, you should be aware of the audience types for each and the context of how the platform is used before going ahead with ads.

[table id=17 /]


Have you ever noticed that once you click on a website, post or advertisement once, it seems to “follow you around?” This is retargeting in action and it’s an effective strategy for getting more from your social or display ads.

Retargeting acknowledges that the customer journey is rarely a straight line. They check out your website, but then they leave again – maybe they come back another time and sign up for your email list. If you put retargeting campaigns in place (either by using a tracking pixel or by targeting people in your database), you can serve ads to people who have already made some kind of contact with you. It’s a way to boost brand recognition and hopefully encourage people to come back and convert.

What is involved?

We’re going to look at a general overview for a process we follow for social and display advertising on any channel. For detail on the logistics of individual platforms, look for our guides outlining the specifics of different social channels.

#1. Clearly define your target audience

We wrote a guide about the importance of creating buyer personas and how to go about them – these are very important to have clear before you embark on social advertising. Why? Here’s what can happen if you don’t “target smart:”

You put together an ad that targets all business owners in the English-speaking world. Thousands see your ad, and because you’ve done a great job of making it enticing, a lot of people click on it. You pay for each one of those clicks, but very few people end up buying. Your conversion rate is less than 1%, meaning you’re lucky if you make back the money you invested in your ads. You get frustrated and think that paid advertising must be a waste of resources.

What happened? You missed the “golden rule;” be specific!

Your product isn’t for everyone, in fact it’s probably only really for a small group of the people whom you think it’s for. Without specific targeting to a defined audience, you are throwing money away. This may even mean deliberately not showing ads to some groups who might be potential customers.

When you know who you’re targeting, social advertising lets you target by:

  • Location – This might include country, city, state or post code.
  • Age – Who is interested in both your ad and what you have to offer?
  • Gender – This can be a variable in different ways depending on what you sell.
  • Language – This isn’t necessarily covered by location. Some places have large populations of foreign language speakers (for example, Spanish in the USA).
  • Interests – For example “people who like …”
  • Background – For example “people who attended Oxford.”
  • Broad categories – This might be small business pages, as an example.
  • Connections – This might include fans, fans and their friends or people who aren’t fans or people who you have contact details for, like email address or phone number (you can use this for Facebook Custom Audiences).
  • People who have taken a specific action on your website (retargeting).

#2. Define your message

This is the “what” and “why” that you want to convey. The tricky, yet critical part is how you will be different from everyone else.

We suggest looking at a few things here:

  1. What is the main goal of your ad? (For example, to sign people up to your email list or to get them onto a 30 day trial).
  2. Who is it for? (Your customer persona).
  3. What is a particular “itch to scratch” for that person? (A problem they want solved).
  4. How is your solution different, or the best option for them to solve their problem?

“Where there is friction there is opportunity. Either you solve it for your customers today or a competitor will do it tomorrow” – Bryan Eisenberg.

When you have defined these things, you need to work on crafting your ad with these points in mind. How will you get the message across? An effective ad is well-optimised, including the use of compelling copy and imagery, correct spelling and punctuation and an attention-grabbing headline.

Don’t underestimate the power of the image used for your ad. You can write brilliant copy, but if your image is boring or simply doesn’t catch the eye, you won’t get any clicks. High quality and interesting is what you are aiming for.

You could try different ideas to test what works effectively. For example, use things that others don’t have access to, such as your own quotes and testimonials or user-generated content. Above all, keep that target audience and their preferences in mind.

We have a couple of useful resources to help craft effective ads:

  • Copywriting guide
  • Ad optimisation checklist

#3. Build your funnel

Your target customers will all be at different points of their journey with you. Some are just finding out what you are about, others are hovering over the decision to make a purchase. This is why it’s important to have a clear understanding of the “marketing funnel” and have a plan to move people through each step. No one goes from “cold to sold” in one step.

Here’s a depiction of each stage of the funnel from Aweber:

How does a customer enter the funnel having had no awareness of your product, then move through to conversion or even advocating for your brand? You warm them up to it. This means that you don’t lead with selling, you try to get them reading your content, signing up for a lead magnet that addresses a key problem of theirs and getting them onto a platform that you control (your website).

You need to plan for content for each stage of the funnel which you will use in your advertising.

#4. Leverage retargeting

Retargeting and the different stages of the marketing funnel really go hand-in-hand. How often would someone go from learning about your brand to making a final purchase in one session? It must happen sometimes but it’s not the normal way that the customer journey works.

You can reinforce your position and authority in the market by leveraging retargeting. To use it effectively, make sure it carries people through the different stages of the funnel. The beauty of retargeting is that you already know where people have been, so you can gear it with the next stage in mind.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” – Wayne Gretzky.

There are a couple of “rules” we always follow; never run an ad campaign without retargeting and rotate your ads every week to avoid “ad fatigue.” With these rules and a clear map of the marketing funnel, we see great results from social and display advertising.

#5. Set up reporting and tracking

How do you know that your advertising has been effective? You need to understand if you’re getting a return on investment or if it might be time to make some changes with how you’re doing things.

Reporting and tracking of your advertising is available on the various social channels, but you can do more advanced tracking by incorporating pixels from Google Tag Manager or using other ad tracking software. These have the advantage of providing you with more detail than what is available in the social channel analytics.

Once you have tracking set up, it’s important to be aware of some common pitfalls that marketers often fall into. One is that sometimes tracking hasn’t been set up properly, but more commonly is that you’re misinterpreting the results.

One area open to confusion is the meaning of a “click.” There are many different actions which may count as a click, depending on the channel. For example, on Facebook click-through attribution may include engagement clicks such as likes, comments or shares of your ad. Correct attribution of traffic is another area of confusion where again, it’s important to understand the specifics of the platform you’re dealing with. For example, Facebook conversion is counted on the day the ad click or view happened, not on the day the conversion happened, which often causes confusion.

Before you attempt to do any sort of ROI analysis, take the time to research and study how your tool’s attribution works first. Unless you market exclusively on one channel it’s important to realise that other channels could be influencing conversions, while another channel may take the credit for it.

An important message here is don’t “set and forget” ad campaigns. Always have someone monitoring them on a daily basis to ensure your money is well-spent.

#6. Keep testing

You can’t predict which ad type, format or copy will convert the best for you, so an important step in the process is ad testing. If you want to get accurate data about what has worked the best, just making small variations to each ad version is a good idea.

Our strategy is to put up multiple ads, rotate them evenly for 5 days and look at the click-through rates (CTR) to see which of the ads perform best. We would usually completely throw out the worst-performing of the ads and write all new copy.

You can test:

  • Switching out headlines but keeping the same copy and image
  • Switching out images
  • Changing your CTA
  • Changing formats – for example using video instead of image and text

Facebook is actually a great platform for copy testing prior to running a wider campaign. You can spend around £50 and get enough impressions at that low cost to be statistically significant. We would do this before using more expensive platforms.

Next steps

There’s a lot to know about successfully leveraging social and display advertising. For more detailed information, check out our best practise guides, and access our technology and expert database to optimise your advertising.

Guides can be found here:

  • Facebook Advertising
  • LinkedIn Advertising

Stuart Brameld

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