With a vast and growing portfolio of online ads, it’s easy for new marketers to feel overwhelmed. The key is to focus on the message that will resonate with your target audience.

online ads

Since the 1990s, when it first emerged as a marketing strategy, online or internet advertising has evolved into a mainstay for digital marketers and consumers alike. These ads are everywhere across the internet, raising brand awareness, promoting products and driving traffic to websites.

Online ads aren’t just ubiquitous. They have evolved to become more relevant, more targeted and more contextual than ever. This is the reason they are so effective: they resonate and connect with consumers, leading them to become customers and increasingly, brand champions.

Online advertising explained

What is online advertising

Online advertising is a marketing strategy that uses the internet to send a specific message to a predetermined target audience. These ads appear on social media, search engine results pages and websites, as well as in email campaigns and apps.

You can purchase online ads in a few ways:

  • Cost per thousand: You pay when your message is exposed to specific audiences.
  • Cost per click: You pay every time a user clicks on your ads.
  • Cost per action: You pay when a user takes a specific action (e.g., makes a purchase).

Benefits of online advertising

  • Expanded reach.
  • Precision targeting with high-intent audiences.
  • Analytics-driven insights.
  • A wide variety of types and formats.
  • Mobile optimization.

12 online ad types and formats

Search engine marketing (SEM) ads

These advertising campaigns run on a search engine’s results pages and are managed via the search engine’s advertising platform. For example, Google Ads is Google’s online advertising platform and Microsoft Ads is Microsoft’s online advertising platform. Both search engines offer pay-per-click ads — a hugely popular form of online advertising that allows advertisers to pay a fee for each ad click. Typically, brands can choose from a number of bidding strategies, set budgets, create text and more. The biggest benefit of paid search advertising is it allows you to target people with intent to research or buy what you’re selling. Keyword targeting can help you find new customers at the start of their buying journey.

Social media ads

More than 4.5 billion people around the world (57.6 per cent of the population) use social media.  These channels present an important opportunity to reach your target audience where they like to spend their time: on their social feeds. Most social media platforms offer their own tools and advertising products to help brands tell their story and promote their products directly on their channels. Unlike organic posts, these ads are sponsored and can take the form of pay-per-click advertising, branded content, display ads and shoppable posts consumers can click on to make a purchase. They can help you reach targeted audiences based on demographics, products shoppers have already viewed and other parameters that will take you to your ideal buyer.

Here’s a brief look at what this can look like on three dominant social channels:

  • Instagram ads are paid posts, short videos, carousels and stories that appear in your Instagram feed or stories. They look just like regular content on Instagram, with two key differences: they are labeled “sponsored” and you can include call to actions to encourage users to visit your website, sign up for a webinar or make a purchase.
  • Facebook ads are paid online display advertisements that run on Facebook and its other properties: Instagram, Messenger and Audience Network. They are created using Facebook’s comprehensive Ads Manager tool and are only displayed to Facebook users selected by its targeting algorithms.
  • Facebook’s Metaverse is the social channel’s latest innovation and a new space for brands to reach their target audience. These ads are immersive, interactive and employ augmented and virtual reality. Just like in the real world, in Metaverse you can place ads on buildings, buses and signposts, as well as inside games, events and experiences.
  • LinkedIn is the top social channel for lead generation. Marketers report conversion rates are up to two times higher. LinkedIn’s all-in-one advertising platform takes you through each step of launching a campaign and allows you to choose from more than 20 different audience attribute categories to precisely target your high-potential customers. It offers four types of ads: sponsored content that runs in the LinkedIn feed in the form of single image ads, video ads and carousel ads; message ads that are sent directly to your prospects through LinkedIn messaging; dynamic ads that are used to promote content, products, events and jobs; and text ads, which are pay-per-click ads that appear to the right or on top of the LinkedIn desktop feed.

Video ads

The use of video in advertising continues to grow in popularity and for good reason: video ads are informative, fun, shareable, flexible and affordable. Most importantly, they drive better engagement. The latest research shows 85 per cent of businesses already use video as an advertising tool and 92 per cent of marketers have made it an important part of their marketing strategy. Video display ads are distributed on YouTube, display ad networks, Netflix and social ad networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Fast facts: 75 per cent of U.S. consumers use social media to watch video regularly. On Facebook alone, there are 8 billion video views every day.

Email ads

Eighty two per cent of consumers open emails from businesses and 76 per cent of email subscribers have purchased products promoted in email marketing. With the number of email users on track to grow to 4.3 billion by the end of 2023, it’s easy to see why email advertising is an important and effective tool for advertisers. Email ads are sent via webmail and can be used to turn the spotlight on things like special events, promotions and new products. Best practices include a compelling subject line, concise text and large images. Incorporating video can improve click-through rates by up to 300 per cent.

Tip: Google Ads’ Discovery campaigns use machine learning to target ads on all its properties — Discover, YouTube and Gmail — providing users with the ability to reach up to 3 billion people.

Banner and display ads

Banner ads are the best known format of display advertising. They can be static or animated, are image based and feature embedded graphics, as well as text. They include a URL that leads to the advertiser’s website landing or product page, where customers can learn more and/or make a purchase. Banner/display ads are delivered by ad servers and appear across the top, bottom or sides of a web page or social media platform.

Google’s display ads appear across the Google Display Network, which reaches 90 per cent of internet users around the world across millions of websites, blogs, forums and Google-owned properties, such as Gmail and YouTube. The network will place your display ads on sites you or Google’s display algorithm choose. You need to use Google Adwords to have your online ads on the Google Display Network.

In-app ads

Recent research shows about a quarter of shoppers want to be able to make purchases from inside an app on their smartphone or other mobile device. These ads are optimized for mobile and can be text or image based. They can also be interactive.

Interstitial ads

Google describes these mobile display ads as full-screen advertisements that cover the interface of a host application. They are commonly used in mobile games and appear during transitions from one level of game-play to the next. These ads are one of the top ways to monetize mobile games.

Retargeting ads

Retargeting is a marketing tactic through which you serve ads to people who have shown interest in your company by visiting your website but haven’t made a purchase. Retargeting ad campaigns use cookies on your website to create a picture of how individual users have interacted with your site, where they landed, the pages they visited and products they clicked on. When these users leave your site, retargeting cookies show them relevant ads based on the data collected to keep your brand and products top of mind.

Interactive ads

As the name suggests, these ads are designed for user participation. Think quizzes and games. For added impact, encourage users to share their results on their social channels.

Voice-activated ads

Voice-activated ads provide brands with a unique opportunity to engage in direct conversations with listeners via their voice assistants and smart speakers. Messages are precisely targeted based on a number of criteria and create a memorable experience for users.

Audio ads

Audio advertising includes ads on digital radio, music streaming sites, podcasts and audiobooks. It is driving the emergence of audio search engines, audio SEO and making audio advertising the tool of choice for brands to reach their target audiences in a meaningful way.

DOOH ads

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) ads are an online version of traditional out-of-home ads that appear in public spaces on billboards, buses and buildings, both inside and outside. They use technologies such as geo-fencing, tracking and retargeting to get their digital boost.

Online ads are part of daily life for anyone on the internet. Digital marketers have more options than ever to reach target audiences. Understanding what’s available and how best to use online ads will help you drive engagement and conversions.