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How To Advertise Online: A Guide for Small Business Owners

Table of Contents

Understanding Digital Advertising

Digital advertising is an important tool in your digital marketing approach and can help build:

  • Awareness of your brand and products
  • Visitors to your website and store
  • Conversions of visits to leads and sales

Paying to get your ads displayed can deliver rapid results. The effort required to get organic visitors from Google or social media typically takes longer and has higher upfront costs.

Getting The Right Offer to the Right Person at the Right Time

Digital ads give you a lot of control of your offer, the person it is presented to, and when it gets presented. Getting the right offer to the right person at the right time maximises your opportunity with clients and customers.

The Art of Digital Advertising
The Art of Digital Advertising

You can also use digital ads to test alternative offers. If the offers work well with visitors from ads, you could invest more in that area with organic digital marketing. This is also very helpful for conversion rate optimisation. Consider a campaign that tests 100 visits at a time using a specific offer and landing page – does it convert? At what rate? Develop your best-converting offers further, and discard those that don’t work.

Key Concepts

To understand how to use digital ads effectively, it helps to work with a range of basic concepts.

Digital Advertising Elements
Digital Advertising Elements

Location Targeting

You can use location targeting to display ads to users who are physically located in relevant locations for your product, whether that’s a country, state, city, postcode or suburb. You can elect to show ads to a single suburb or postcode, or to a group of them. Ad platforms can determine location in various ways with varying degrees of accuracy, including location services for mobile phones or physical ISP location for internet connections.

For example, a Northbridge-based pizza restaurant sets up a Google Ads campaign with location targeting that focuses on Northbridge and surrounding suburbs. When someone physically located in those suburbs searches for keywords like “pizza delivery” or “best pizza near me,” their ad is displayed.

All ad platforms allow for location based ad display, either on its own or coupled with other audience targeting.

Audience Targeting

Different ad platforms allow you to target your ads to a particular audience based on interests, demographics, job role, skillset, and keyword. Ads can also be retargeted to prior users, or displayed on content publisher networks.


The interests of a particular user are tracked by ad platforms based on signals from search behaviour and online activity. If a user is searching for keywords like ‘guitar lessons’, they maybe assigned as having an interest in music. This might also occur if they visit a musician’s Facebook group or post using the #musiciansofinstagram hashtag. Ads can then be displayed to audiences with one or more defined interests.

For example, a fitness apparel brand might run a Facebook campaign aimed at individuals with an Interest in fitness and healthy lifestyles, showcasing their latest activewear collection with tailored messaging and imagery.


User demographics tracked by search and social media platforms include attributes such as sex, age and income level. In addition, different platforms might have a profile of a wider range of attributes such as relationship status, level of education and parental status.

A retirement planning firm uses Google Ads to reach individuals aged 45-65 who have searched for retirement-related keywords, ensuring their ad appears to people in that specific age group and life stage.

Job Role and Skillset

Where users nominate their skill sets to ad platforms, these same skills can be used to target ads to an audience.

For example, a supplier to the mining industry may run ads on LinkedIn that display specifically to users who have said they are skilled in Engineering. Or a business software company might use LinkedIn Ads to promote their project management software to professionals with job titles like Project Manager, IT Manager, and Operations Director.


Keywords are the terms people type into Google and can be broken down into four types.

  • brand keywords (looking for a business), e.g. “Jim’s Plumbing” (your own or competing businesses)
  • product keywords (looking at a specific product), e.g. “blocked toilet plumber.”
  • solution keywords (looking for a known solution to a problem), e.g. “unblock toilet.”
  • problem keywords (looking to solve a problem), e.g. “blocked toilet.”

For example, an online shoe retailer could use Google Ads to display an ad when users searched for specific keywords like “running shoes” and “adidas rome”.


Ad platforms can track when a user has visited your website or social media presence, subject to privacy consent. A Retargeting audience is a collection of users who have previously visited your website or social media.

For example, a marketing consultancy might set up a retargeting audience that includes all visitors to their website, Facebook and Instagram pages in the last 180 days. They might then display ads on Facebook on Instagram to their retargeting audience when they are on social media.

Content Publisher

Some ad platforms display ads on content publishing networks, such as news sites. Ads can then be displayed on a group of content publisher sites, or on specified sites.

For example, a cruise company might display visual ads for their cruises on major news websites such as the Sydney Morning Herald (smh.com.au).

Type of Ad

You can use different types of ads depending on the platform you choose. The types include text ads, image ads, text and image ads, ads with a lead form, job ads and boosted social media posts.

Text Ads

Text ads are the most common form of ads with Google. They appear above Google search results (mostly) and allow for a headline and two lines of description.

Text ads digital advertising

An example of a text only ad.

Text and Image Ads

Most common on social media, text and image ads combine a feature image with ad title and ad description text. The layout automatically changes depending on where the ad is being displayed, for example on narrow mobile devices or wider desktop devices.

Text and image ads digital advertising

An example of a text and image ad.

Video Ads

Short videos, together with titles and captions, can be used on a variety of ad platforms.

Video ad

An example of a video ad.

Image Only Ads

Image ads are image files that can include words within or over the images. They get displayed on ad platforms that only allow image files, for example news publishing sites.

Image only ads digital advertising

An example of an image only ad.

Ads with Lead Forms

Lead ads (from Facebook) are mobile-optimised ads that include a text/image ad together with an enquiry form for customers to fill out with their name and phone number without leaving the platform. Using Lead ads can improve conversion rates compared to ads that require clicking to another site.

Lead Form Example Ad

An example of an ad with a lead form.

Boosted Social Media Posts

Social media posts such as Facebook posts or Instagram posts can be boosted to appear in social media feeds.

Boosted Example Ad

An example of a boosted ad.

Buying Stage

The buying stage describes where a client or customer is in their buying journey. They will typically start their journey in the awareness stage, looking for more information about a problem or being introduced to the solution. Later, they enter the leads and sales stage, where they are actively looking for a specific solution and are ready to buy your product or service.

Example: Steve is researching general information about home fitness equipment to understand his options for starting a workout routine at home.


Customer intent refers to the current state of mind of your prospective customer and the level of intent they may have relevant to your product. Advertising is more effective when an offer is made at the right time, which means if they are actively thinking about a problem they need to solve, or are actively searching for information about it, they may have an informational intent. If they are actively looking for a specific solution to a problem, or for a specific product or brand, they are more likely to have a transactional intent.

If people are looking at some social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, they may more frequently be looking to be entertained or to connect with others – this may represent a social intent. Some other social media platforms such as LinkedIn may reflect a desire to build business connections or find potential employees, which may reflect business intent.

These are not hard and fast categories, rather they are designed as tools to help you better focus your advertising efforts towards the right offer to the right audience at the right time.

The Opportunity – What Each Ad Platform Offers You

Choosing the right platform or platforms maximises your opportunity to reach the right person with the right offer at the right time. They each offer different ways to do this.

Google Ads Logo
Google Text
Google Ads Logo
Google Display
Facebook and Instagram Logos
Facebook & Instagram
LinkedIn Logo


Location TargetingYesYesYesYes
Audience TargetingKeywordInterest
Content Publisher
Job Role


Type of AdTextImageImage & Text
Lead Form
Boosted Post
Image & Text
Lead Form
Boosted Post


Buying StageAwareness
Leads & Sales
Leads & Sales
Leads & Sales
Intent/State of MindTransactional




Google Text

Google text ads display on the search results pages after you type in a search query on Google. With these ads, you can fine-tune your targeting, appearing in front of individuals based on their location and the specific keywords they’re searching for. By targeting prospective clients as they seek out particular products, brands, issues, or solutions, you’re catching them right when they’re more likely to have a transactional intent (for example, by actively looking for a solution to their problem). Since your audience is actively typing in the search term they are aiming for, their intent can be very clear (for example, ‘plumber near me’) and you can present a very relevant offer right at the time they’re looking for it.

Google Display

Google display ads are image ads on the Google Display Network— a group of websites, apps, and Google’s properties like Gmail and YouTube. With these visual ads, you can target audiences based on their demographics, hobbies, or even specific digital content publishers, like theguardian.com. Another way you can use these ads is to retarget potential clients who’ve visited your site in the past. These ads are able to reach people in the Awareness stage, especially if they match your target demographic, showcase interests in your arena, or are browsing a site that aligns with your offerings. But they can also target those in the Leads and Sales stage, especially if your targeting is focused on purchase or solution-centric keywords, or if you’re retargeting them, reminding them of their recent virtual visit to your domain.

Facebook & Instagram Ads

Facebook and Instagram ads enable you to get your offer in front of people who have relevant interests or are in a relevant demographic while they are in a social state of mind. While they might not be actively looking for your product, these platforms can be powerful if your goal is to build brand or product awareness. You can also use retargeting to remind those who already know about your product and who are in the leads and sales buying stage or use a lead form ad to encourage potential clients to reach out to you.

LinkedIn Ads

LinkedIn ads can be used to target people based on their job role, skills, business size, business name, demographic, interest and more. It allows business owners to reach prospective clients or customers when they have a social or business intent which can be useful if your product is B2B or targeted towards those in a specific industry or job role. Some of the ad types the platform offers include Image and Text ads, Lead Form ads, Job Ads and Boosted Posts. While the Image and Text ads and Boosted Posts can help reach people in the Awareness stage, you can also use Retargeting and Lead Form ads to target those in the Leads and Sales buying stage.

Other Ad Platform Choices:

Here are some other ad choices to consider:

  • Google Smart Campaigns: Streamlined solutions that automate ad placements to target the set goals.
  • Google Shopping Ads: Products spotlighted with an image, title, price, and store name directly within Google search results.
  • Google Local Ads: Showing up on Google Maps, they promote physical locations to nearby potential customers searching for related offerings.
  • Bing Text Ads: Serve up textual advertisements on the Bing search engine, which has a less than 3% market share in Australia.
  • Conversation Ads on LinkedIn: Interactive messages tailored to the recipient, making promotional content feel like a personalised conversation.
  • Job Ads on LinkedIn: Aims to attract top-tier talent by showcasing job openings prominently to potential candidates on the platform.

Getting Started

Identify your highest value opportunities

The 80/20 principle of focusing on the highest value opportunities (the 20), can be a valuable way to approach digital advertising. Ask yourself, are there specific high-value products or services where you can target prospects with ads? By setting up a campaign for these, you can analyse and evaluate its effectiveness. What’s the expense involved, and what returns are you witnessing?

Every platform comes with its own cost which can also vary significantly based on the unique attributes of individual campaigns. To start you should allocate a distinct budget for each campaign within these platforms. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of digital ads, a ballpark budget of $300-500 per month can often be a good starting point.

Lastly, you need to establish and set up how you’ll monitor your results from the get-go. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, in particular, can be highly measurable compared to other forms of advertising so take advantage of knowing whether your ads are profitable or not.

There are two main layers to this measurability: how many leads, calls, emails, enquiry forms or purchases you receive (these are called conversions) and how much the ads cost. Ensuring you know both of these can help you determine whether the ads are performing and whether you’re getting a return on your investment.