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Cheap online advertising ideas for small businesses

Cheap advertising online: business owner using laptop

Key takeaways

  • To find cheap advertising online, start by researching the online platforms that your target customers are most likely to use
  • Create social media accounts and claim your Yelp Business Page to generate brand awareness and grow your audience
  • Use pay-per-click ads on social media sites, search engines, and business platforms to drive more website traffic to your business

When you think about advertising, you might imagine expensive TV ads or splashy billboards, but you don’t need a massive advertising budget to reach your target audience. The rise of digital advertising means there are more ways than ever to get the word out about your business without spending a lot of money.

From pay-per-click (PPC) ads that only cost money when someone clicks to free marketing ideas like content marketing and email marketing, these cheap advertising methods are affordable enough that you can sustain them over time.

Learn about the best options for cheap advertising online, including free DIY marketing strategies you can implement today.

What is the cheapest way to advertise your business?

Since every business has a different target audience and every business owner has their own set of skills and resources, there’s no single low-cost way to advertise your business online. Digital advertising examples range from display ads to video ads to search ads. As such, many brands use more than one marketing strategy to maximize their efforts. An ecommerce company may rely primarily on paid ads while a local business may use a combination of online advertising and earned media.

Ask yourself the following three questions to find the most cost-effective online advertising option for your business.

What is my advertising budget?

Before launching an ad campaign, get clear on how much money you’re able to spend. According to Forbes, initial branding costs for a small business—such as logo design, product photography, or copywriting—can range from $1,000 to $5,000 while ongoing advertising may cost $1,000 per month.

If you don’t have that much money on hand, that’s okay—some cheap advertising options cost a lot less. In general, aim to put 7–10% of your revenue towards advertising. 

To lower costs, consider going the DIY route by creating your own eye-catching business logo and learning how to take good product photos. Be sure to create an effective advertising budget and make a plan for your advertising dollars before buying your first ad.

How can I best show off my brand identity?

The type of business you operate will help you decide what kind of advertising budget you need. If you run a food or clothing company that relies on visual appeal, you may need to spend more on high-quality photo and video content.

Other businesses can show off their brand personality more effectively with text ads or audio content. Maybe you’re a startup or entrepreneur with a great tagline or business slogan that’s best communicated through a marketing jingle or soundbyte.

There’s no point in spending money on ads that don’t show off your brand accurately, so focus on the ad formats that will make your brand shine.

Where does my target audience spend their time?

To reach new customers, determine where potential customers are spending their time. Are they posting on social media platforms, browsing for new products on Amazon, or listening to podcasts or playlists on Spotify?

Some social networks appeal to specific demographics. TikTok has been driving book sales, making it popular with readers and writers, while a B2B brand is likely to have success on LinkedIn, which caters to startups and professionals.

Many customers are also searching for businesses online using business platforms. In fact, 80+ million people visit Yelp each month looking for businesses of all types, and eight out of 10 searches don’t include a business name. Customers are typically looking for a specific product or service and/or are comparing their options.

7 low-budget advertising ideas for small businesses

Cheap advertising online: business owner creating video ad

Once you have your target audience in mind, it’s time to look for the most cost-effective advertising methods to reach them. Advertising is just one part of your overall digital marketing strategy, so by finding inexpensive advertising options, you’ll have more money to spend on other types of marketing promotions, such as flash sales or promotional giveaways.

These seven low-cost advertising ideas can help you reach customers where they’re at without spending all of your advertising budget at once.

1. Social media advertising

Social media advertising can be a cheap paid advertising idea for small businesses. The cheapest option is to create social media accounts on one or more platforms and post content that’s relevant to your target audience. Essentially, these accounts and your social media posts become free advertising platforms

However, many social media platforms also offer paid advertising options. On Facebook, you can pay to “boost” posts on your Facebook page so they reach more users or you can use Facebook Ads, which costs more but provides additional customization options.

The cost of social media advertising varies from platform to platform. For Instagram Ads, expect to pay 40–70 cents per click; for Facebook, the average is 97 cents with some ad types and industries more expensive than others.

2. Online business platforms

Online business platforms like Yelp are another affordable way for small businesses to advertise. Just like creating a social media account, it’s free to add or claim your Yelp Business Page with the option to pay for Yelp Ads and/or the Upgrade Package.

Customers often use online platforms to read reviews, find more info about a business, like hours of operation or its specialties, and to compare businesses. In fact, 90% of people on Yelp are comparing their options before making a decision, so be sure your page is updated, accurate, and engaging to stand out from the competition.

Maintaining an online profile can also help you boost your online reputation, drive traffic to your site, and make it easy to announce seasonal deals and special offers.

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3. PPC advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is an advertising model in which you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Instead of the flat fee you’d pay for a billboard or magazine ad, you’ll pay based on how much engagement your ad gets.

One of the most common measurement methods is cost-per-click (CPC), but some websites charge by views or impressions instead.

PPC ads can appear almost anywhere online, including social media platforms, search engine results pages (SERPs), and display ads on third-party websites.

For example, Yelp Ads offers affordable online advertising that displays your business in a number of key places on the site and app, such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages. You can set an ad budget for as low as $5 a day on average and pause or adjust your ad spend at any time. Businesses with Yelp Ads get 2.5x more leads, making it a cost-effective way to get more business.

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4. Search engine advertising

Gaining more visibility for your business on search engines can happen two different ways: organic and paid. You can boost your search rankings organically with local SEO (search engine optimization). That means tailoring your website so that it emphasizes keywords or phrases that customers are searching for in their area, such as “dry cleaner near me”—this option is free.

Since search engine optimization can take time to have an impact, paid search advertising can get your business to appear on SERPs faster. Search engine ads, such as Google Ads, are typically PPC ads that appear above or alongside search results.

Like social media ads, you’ll usually pay per click. Google search ads are estimated to cost between $1–2 per click, depending on keyword popularity.

5. Email marketing

Advertising via email is a cost-effective way to stay in touch with your current customers and nurture new leads. This often takes the form of a recurring email newsletter to show off your latest marketing content—such as a new product tutorial or unboxing video—but you can also send out one-off special offers or deals to those on your email list.

Email marketing can be a cheap or even free advertising method depending on the size of your business. Email marketing services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact typically offer a free tier with a cap on how many emails you can send per month or your total number of contacts.

As your business grows, you may need to invest in a premium plan, but this will come with additional features like list segmentation and A/B testing.

6. Content creation

Content creation is a great option for small business owners because it allows you to build your brand by demonstrating your expertise in your industry.

Let’s say your company sells high-end cookware. Your content marketing strategy could include offering recipes that customers can use at home or a how-to guide on properly cleaning and storing your cookware. You can post the content on your blog or social media profiles or use it as a lead magnet to grow your email list.

Helpful content can serve as free advertisement, especially if you already have useful tips or ideas written down. If not, hire a professional copywriter or graphic designer to create content for you so you don’t have to do it yourself. Platforms like UpWork and Fiverr make it easy to commission an infographic or blog post from a freelancer while keeping costs down.

7. Audio advertising

If your business concept is easy to convey in an audio format, podcast advertising can be an affordable option. According to Pew Research, nearly a third of Americans listen to a podcast every week, and 42% listen to one monthly.

Podcast advertising works a little bit differently than PPC advertising. Pricing is based on the ad’s placement in the podcast and how many impressions, or listens, it receives. Cost is measured in CPMs, or “cost per mille” (thousand) impressions.

Podchaser estimates that a “pre-roll” ad that runs before a podcast costs $15 CPM and a “mid-roll” ad that turns during the podcast costs around $30 CPM.

Knowing how to advertise with no money can pay off

Business owner researching advertising ideas

Figuring out how to market your brand with no money can be a challenge, especially when you’re starting a new business. Copywriting, logo design, and other professional services can be a big expense for a small business without a large advertising budget. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap advertising options that don’t require a lot of money, and you can save even more by creating and implementing your business advertising campaigns in-house.

In fact, some of the best ideas for free advertising only require an upfront investment of time and energy with no ongoing advertising costs at all. Try these 26 local advertising ideas for more inexpensive ways to advertise your business, including free and low-cost methods.

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.