Understanding Online Advertising – Search Engine & Social Media Ads

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”  – John Wanamaker.

John Wanamaker is hailed as the pioneer of the modern department store and back when he started Wanamaker’s department stores, advertising was almost exclusively limited to print media.  Fast forward 150 years and the advertising landscape looks vastly different, largely as a result of digital and online advertising.

So what makes online advertising so special?  Well, for starters, you can dictate exactly what you spend and who you spend it on. Instead of blasting out an advert to a broad target audience, online advertising gives you much more control over who sees your ad, how much you pay and what you pay for.

For example, you sell high end fly fishing rods in Pretoria. You know that your main target market is men between the ages of 25 and 35. You could set up your ad to display to men in Pretoria between the ages of 25 and 35, who search for ‘high-end fly fishing rod’ in the search engine from their iPad.  The search engine will then only display your ad in the search results to that specific audience for those specific search terms. This is called search advertising.

Display advertising is similar but rather than featuring in search results is displayed as a banner or on specific websites that match whatever criteria you set up. So you may want to advertise a banner of your fishing rods on a fishing blog. People who then go onto the fishing blog will see your advert.  In addition, you can set up both your search and display ads to only charge you when somebody clicks on them. That means that you only pay for people who directly engage with your ad.

Of course, one of the other great things about online advertising is that you can edit your ad messages on the fly or create a bunch of different messages and pit them against each other to see which of your messages performs better.

Next time you’re on Google searching for something, check out the top 3 spots on the first page and you will see a tiny green ‘Ad’ icon next to each. You will also probably notice certain banner ads that ‘follow you’ around the internet. Those are display ads which have been specifically set up to display to you because you searched for a particular item.  This is known as remarketing.  Those businesses are paying to be there because online advertising helps you deliver the right message to the right person at the right time and that helps you get more traffic and sales.

Social media works in a similar way, although social media advertising, such as Facebook ads, lack one very important thing – intent. With Facebook ads as an example, you can still define your audience, budget and location but this is more of a blast to the people who may be interested in your products and is far less definitive than advertising on search engines. When someone searches for your product on a search engine, they are showing some sort of intent to see or learn more about or even to buy whatever they are searching for.

Search advertising is like you going to your local grocery store and asking the manager where the milk is. You wouldn’t ask unless you wanted to buy milk. Facebook advertising is like walking past the milk and seeing those little cardboard adverts telling you why you should buy XYZ milk. Although you were looking for milk when you walked in, that little cardboard advert may convince you to buy another brand of milk.

With that in mind, it is always a good idea to mix up your advertising spend for sales and awareness, on both search engines and social media for maximum effect.

Here are some of our top tips when you want to start advertising online:

  • Make sure you have a Google Analytics account. Google Analytics is free and you can connect your Shopify store to your Analytics account to track visitors on your website in depth. This will help you better understand the people that are coming to your website. Sign up for your Analytics account here: www.google.com/analytics
  • Get some help with your online campaigns. There are many, many online advertising experts out there who can help you get going with your first online campaigns. We recommend IEDM, who is currently running a promotion for Shopify merchants. Learn more at www.iedm.co.za/uafrica
  • Continuously monitor your ad campaigns and website data. The more you can learn about how people behave on your website, the better you can streamline your ads.

Happy advertising.