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How to run affordable online advertising campaigns

Cheap ads: two business owners checking stock

Key takeaways

  • The most affordable online advertising options include classified ad sites, social media platforms, and online business platforms
  • Share free content to build brand awareness, and invest in paid ads to generate leads and reach a more specific audience
  • Cost-effective advertising options like Yelp Ads use a pay-per-click model so you only pay when someone clicks on your ad

With more than 450,000 U.S. businesses launching each month, attracting new customers to your business is no easy feat. But gone are the days when getting the word out about your small business required a major investment in billboards and TV commercials.

Now you can reach your target audience through online advertising platforms where you can invest in ads on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis—and you can even create cheap ads from scratch on your own. Learn about affordable online advertising and how to start a cost-effective advertising campaign today.

What are the cheapest forms of advertising?

Just like traditional advertising, digital advertising exists on a spectrum: Some industries and locations are more expensive to advertise than others. The best-value advertising ideas for your business will fit within your advertising budget while still giving you the tools you need to reach your target audience.

Start by exploring the following five affordable internet advertising platforms.

1. Classified ad sites

Classified ad sites are the original cheap ads platform; think websites like Craigslist and Locanto. These sites are usually organized by category and location so they can be a good way for local businesses to reach potential customers online.

Some classified sites allow you to post free ads that stay up for a limited time, but you can also buy cheap ads that give you more prominent placement on the website. For example, commercial real estate listings start at $5 per ad on Craigslist.

However, don’t expect the same range of ad formats and targeting options that you’d find on social media platforms or display ad networks. Classified ad sites can get the word out but won’t necessarily build your online reputation.

2. Community forums

Community forums include websites like Reddit and Quora where people ask questions or learn more about a particular topic. Community forums can help you reach a niche market interested in your product or service.

Are you an accountant who offers services specifically for small business owners and entrepreneurs? Find out where they’re posting and advertise to them on relevant forums.

Posting on community forums is free, but paying for ads can help you reach your target market based on demographics or topics of interest. For example, Quora offers Paid Ads, Text Ads, and Promoted Answers, which are sponsored ads that look like native content and appear at the top of the list of responses to a user’s question.

3. Online business platforms

Online business sites like Yelp and Foursquare are where customers search for local businesses and can read or post reviews. Small business owners can add or claim their Yelp Business Page for free, helping to build brand awareness and ensure their business details are consistent across the web.

Because most Yelp customers are searching for a specific product or service rather than a specific business name, be sure your page is filled out with everything you offer and has the most up-to-date information. Businesses with a photo, website, phone number, and business hours listed on their Yelp Business Page averaged 7.6x more page views per month than businesses without that content.

As with classified ad sites and community forums, business owners can invest in affordable online advertising on Yelp. Using Yelp Ads can help you reach more customers—in fact, businesses that use Yelp Ads get 2.5x more leads. Yelp Ads uses a pay-per-click pricing model so you’ll only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Plus you can adjust your budget at any point, helping you easily manage your daily advertising costs.

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4. Search engine advertising

Search engine advertising is a cheap paid advertising option focusing on specific keywords, like “dog walkers near me.” The goal is to target customers searching for those keywords to generate more leads or get more website visitors.

Most search engine ads use a pay-per-click model with high-value keywords in major industries costing more than less popular keywords. For example, Google Ads cost an average of $1–2 per click, but lawyers can expect to pay significantly more per click than retail and ecommerce brands.

In addition to paid ads, small business owners can use search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic to their website organically. That said, SEO is a much slower approach that takes time to boost website traffic and generate leads.

5. Social media advertising

Social media advertising involves promoting your content on social networks such as TikTok or LinkedIn. Social media platforms are great for content marketing—sharing useful content like blog posts and infographics that attract new customers to your business—but you may need to boost your profile with paid social media ads.

As with search ads, your advertising cost will depend on your location and industry. Although PPC pricing is common, some sites will charge you based on a cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) rather than a cost-per-click.

Some sites also have a minimum ad spend: TikTok’s minimum budget is $500 per campaign so it may not be the cheapest option for your advertising budget.

What makes an effective online ad?

Affordable online advertising: business owner creating a video ad campaign

Before spending money on digital marketing, it’s essential to know what makes a high-quality yet low-cost ad. Advertising doesn’t just inform customers about your product or service—it helps build brand awareness and boost your online reputation. Here are four things that will help you achieve your business advertising objectives and increase your return on investment.

Distinctive visuals

The first thing that any online ad has to do is stand out. This can be especially tricky if you advertise on a site with a strong visual aesthetic, such as TikTok or Instagram. Fortunately, many sites have built-in tools to help you create ads that match the look and feel of the site, or you can use third-party design tools like Canva.

Don’t speed through the design phase of your ad campaign. Whether you’re creating video ads or banner ads, a high-quality design is more likely to stand out. If you don’t have the skills or expertise to do it yourself, hire a graphic designer or photographer who can give your online ads a professional touch.

Also, don’t forget to update your ad for every platform you advertise on—ad dimensions, file formats, and image resolutions can vary from site to site.

Compelling copy

Even image-based ads need at least a few words to communicate what your business is all about. This can be a short and snappy business tagline, a catchy and clever slogan, or a more in-depth explanation of your product or service. In any case, focus on creating copy that’s clear, concise, and compelling. And be sure it fits within the platform’s limits—such as 125 characters for a text-based ad.

Some ads are almost all text, such as native LinkedIn Ads designed to look like a news article or blog post. Maybe your CEO wants to position themselves as a thought leader in your industry with the help of a native advertising campaign.

If you need help writing ad copy, there are ad platforms that can generate ads for you. Yelp Ads can automatically create ad copy based on the details provided on your business page or from customer reviews.

Mobile friendly

As more and more customers access the internet using their smartphones and other mobile devices, it’s important for your online ad campaigns to be mobile friendly. In some industries, over 75% of digital ad spend is aimed at mobile devices.

Keep in mind that the size and placement of your ad may be different across mobile devices so adjust your image and ad copy accordingly. Ensure your tagline, call-to-action, and external site links are easily viewed on smaller devices.

Some advertising platforms will do the hard work for you: With Yelp Ads, your business page is placed in key places on and the Yelp mobile app so you can reach customers searching for businesses on their desktop and mobile devices.

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Clear Call-to-Action (CTA)

Avoid trying to achieve too many objectives with a single ad campaign. The best online ads have a clear call-to-action or a step you want potential customers to take. For some businesses, the goal is to make an immediate sale, while for others it’s just to generate more leads or get more website visitors.

Common CTAs include:

  • Subscribe to our mailing list
  • Sign up for a free trial
  • Make an appointment
  • Get 20% off now

Define your objectives before you launch your ad campaign, and create a landing page for each ad to align with your ad copy. If your ad mentions a specific product or service, link to it directly so customers don’t have to go looking for it.

The best part of affordable online advertising is that you can run multiple ads simultaneously while staying within your marketing budget.

3 steps to an affordable online advertising campaign

Business owner using laptop to create an online advertising campaign

Buying cheap ads online is just one part of your online marketing strategy. To ensure you get the best return on your investment, follow these three steps to run the most cost-effective online advertising campaign you can optimize over time.

1. Invest in brand assets

Brand elements (also called brand assets) include your business slogan, logo, and any other marketing materials that you carry from one campaign to the next. Although initial branding costs can be $1,500 or more, these are expenses you won’t have to pay again later.

By putting together a style guide—including the colors, fonts, and other elements that you’ll use in your ads—you’ll create a consistent brand identity and won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you launch a new ad campaign.

2. Launch your campaign

Once you have your first ad ready, kick off your affordable advertising campaign on one or more advertising platforms. Depending on which platform you use, you can choose which locations, keywords, or demographics you want to target.

If you’re running pay-per-click ads, set a daily ad budget to determine how much you’ll spend on ads daily. With Yelp Ads, you can set your maximum ad spend to as little as $5 per day on average and pause or cancel your campaign anytime.

3. Track your metrics

Finally, make sure that your ads are paying off by tracking your click-through rate (CTR) and conversation rate. A low click-through rate means customers aren’t clicking on your ad when they see it. Perhaps it isn’t visually distinctive or compelling enough.

On the other hand, a high conversion rate means your ad is working and you can increase your daily ad spend to reach even more new customers. For best results, use A/B testing to try out different images and taglines to determine the most effective options.

Remember that social media and search engine algorithms change all the time so revisit your ad often to ensure you’re still getting the best deal for your money.

Start an affordable online advertising campaign today

Online ads specialist using laptop in office

Affordable online advertising options include search engines, online business platforms, social media sites, and community forums. But the cheapest advertising platform isn’t always the most cost-effective so track your conversion rate and use A/B testing to optimize your ads. Expect to pay a minimum of $5 per day to run a successful ad campaign and more for advanced tools and targeting options.

For more ways to reach more potential customers, consider these low-cost ideas to promote your business.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.