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Online advertising ideas for small businesses

Online advertising for small business: marketing execs performing market research using laptop

Key takeaways

  • Perform market research to determine the best place for your small business to advertise, such as on search engines or social media
  • Hire professionals to create your ads or design them yourself based on existing brand assets and marketing materials
  • Track your campaign and set a daily ad spend to ensure you get the best return on your investment

There are so many different options for online advertising that it can be challenging for small business owners to know where to start. The right approach for you will depend on your business type, location, advertising budget, and digital marketing strategy.

Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar shop or an ecommerce business, advertising online can help you reach more potential customers and build an authentic brand.

Here’s what you need to know about online advertising for your small business, including types of online ads and the best places to promote your brand.

Online advertising vs. marketing

Online advertising is just one part of your overall marketing strategy. Marketing refers to all the steps you take to bring a product or service to market—identifying what your customers want, undertaking market research, and so on—while advertising refers to the steps you take to promote that product or service.

Marketing tends to be a long-term process that guides potential customers through the four stages of a sales funnel: awareness, interest, decision, and action. Advertising is less about building a customer relationship and more about getting your product or service displayed to new customers as soon as possible.

Traditional ad campaigns include print advertisements in magazines and newspapers, billboards, and radio or TV commercials. Digital advertising refers to ads that appear online—on search engines, on social networks, or directly on a web page.

The best places to advertise online will depend on your target market, level of brand awareness, and how much money you want to spend on ads.

Types of online advertising

Best place to advertise: business owner creating a video ad using mobile phone

Online advertising has changed a lot since the early days of the internet. Once, banner ads were the preferred ad format, but they’ve been on the decline in recent years. The share of ad spend on mobile devices has been holding steady as the most dominant, according to Statista, with connected TV (CTV) gaining ground on desktop ad spend.

As the Harvard Business Review puts it, the most challenging part is “breaking through the digital clutter.” Small business owners should seek creative places to advertise in order to reach their audience.

Here are six different ad formats to consider, ranging from straightforward display ads like pay-per-click (PPC) ads to more creative content marketing strategies.

Display ads

Display ads are digital ads that are shown to users who are online, often in the header or margin or a third-party website. Display ads usually contain text and graphics, and allow the viewer to “click through” to learn more about what’s being advertised.

You can pay websites for ad space yourself—the same way you would pay for an ad in a newspaper—or you can opt for display advertising through ad networks. These networks automatically match advertisers with available ad space.

Let’s say you’re a dog-friendly restaurant that’s seeking to attract more pet owners. An ad network would place your ad in relevant places, such as pet store websites or pet blogs. In most cases, you’ll only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.

Most ad networks rely on demographic info, such as age, location, and gender, to determine where to place ads to reach your target market. Depending on the ad network, advertisers can choose between automatic and manual ad placement.

Search engine ads

Search engine marketing (SEM) is similar to display advertising. But instead of showing up on third-party websites, your ads will only show up on search engine results pages (SERPs). This allows you to target users who are searching for particular topics.

Search engine marketing differs from search engine optimization (SEO) in that you aren’t trying to get your website content to show up in organic (non-paid) search results. Instead, you’re paying to have your ad shown above, below, or alongside search results.

As with other display ads, you’ll usually pay for search ads with a pay-per-click (PPC) model. This model uses the cost-per-click (CPC) metric to determine how much each click will cost and allows you to set an ad budget for your marketing campaign so you don’t overspend on search advertising.

Social media ads

Social media advertising refers to the placement of digital ads on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Pinterest. It differs from social media marketing as you aren’t simply posting content for your followers to engage with; you’re paying to get your ad in front of new customers who may not be familiar with your brand.

Social media ads should be designed to match the format of the social media platform. For example, Facebook ads may be designed to look like a news update or blog post, while Instagram ads need to be either an image or video. Like search engine advertising, you’ll typically pay per click rather than per view or impression.

You can use social media advertising to promote a specific product or service, or simply to grow your presence online and attract more people to your social media pages.

Video ads

Video advertising has some overlap with display advertising because you can present your display ads in formats with audio or video content. However, true video ads require a different set of tools and resources than text or image-based ads. As such, it’s worth thinking of them as a separate category.

Video ads may appear on websites or social media platforms, although they’re less common on search engine results pages. They can range from short video clips on TikTok to full-length “commercials” that play before or during YouTube videos.

Although video ads can be more engaging than text ads, creating a video ad may require more time and effort compared to other ad types.

Mobile ads

Mobile ads are another variation of the typical display ad format. Depending on which ad network you use, you may have the option to place your ad in front of mobile users. Since more and more people access the internet from smartphones and other mobile devices, mobile advertising can provide a great return on investment.

Mobile ads can appear on websites and social media platforms as well as within apps themselves. One common type of mobile ad is an interstitial ad, which is a full-screen ad that pops up between other content, such as levels in a video game. This ad type can be a cost-effective way to reach a specific user base, like video game players, but there are restrictions on how “intrusive” interstitial ads can be.

Native ads

Native advertising refers to paid ads that resemble existing content on a website. The idea is that the design and style of the ads look similar to the content on the page so they’re more likely to be clicked on. “This formatting helps improve the user experience, making the ad into part of the user’s feed rather than an interruption. While people are trained to ignore banner ads and the like, native ads have a better opportunity of being seen—precisely because they blend in.” (LinkedIn)

Native ads can be an effective way to get your brand in front of a website’s active users without interrupting the flow of their experience. However, they must be clearly marked as advertising by being labeled “Sponsored Content” or through hashtags like #ad or #sponcon. The Federal Trade Commision has strict disclosure requirements to avoid “deceptive or unfair practices.”

Best places to advertise online

Marketers researching advertising platforms in an office

Finding the best place to advertise online requires some planning. Advertising platforms vary widely in terms of the demographics they cater to, which ad formats they accept, and how they determine pricing. Plus, your advertising plan will differ if your overall online marketing strategy is focused on lead generation versus increasing brand awareness.

Use this list of places to advertise online to explore your options and find the best platform to advertise your business.

Social media platforms

There’s no single social media platform that’s the best place to advertise your business—it depends on the specific audience you want to target. Facebook has the largest market share, but platforms like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all have their own marketing tools that can help you reach the right audience.

Social media platforms allow you to choose from multiple formats, including text, image, and story ads, and you can also market to users based on their location, interests, and whether or not they’ve interacted with your business before.


Yelp is an online platform that’s especially geared toward small business advertising. It’s free to add or claim your Yelp Business Page, where you can update your address and contact details, respond to customer reviews, and more. Fill out your page with updated and accurate info to attract high-intent customers who are searching for the types of products and services you offer. 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.

Yelp also offers pay-per-click advertising, which places your ad in key places on and the Yelp mobile app, such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages. Businesses with Yelp Ads get 2.5x more leads—you’ll only pay when someone clicks your ad, and you can adjust your budget or pause your ad at any time.

To maximize the effectiveness of your ad, ensure your Yelp Business Page is completely filled out and accurate. Also consider the Upgrade Package, which includes seven products to help you make a strong impression, such as Business Highlights that showcase what makes your business unique and a Call to Action button to help increase conversions.

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Search engine results pages

If you’re specifically looking to increase website traffic, then search engine advertising can be a low-cost way to market your business online. If that’s the route you take, you’ll be looking at search engines like Google and Microsoft Bing.

Google Ads offers two ways to advertise your business. The first is the Google Search Network, which displays your ad on search engine results pages for keywords that you select. The second is the Google Display Network, which uses an algorithm to display your ad on participating third-party websites.

Whichever option you choose, create a landing page to welcome new visitors to your website and introduce them to your business.

Local business associations

Teaming up with your local chamber of commerce or another small business association may seem like an old-fashioned advertising idea, but it can be a great way to promote your business locally and get to know other small business owners in your area.

Not only will you learn about networking events and promotional opportunities, but you can also get your local business featured on the website of your local chamber and other relevant professional associations.

Local websites won’t have the same global reach as big-name ad networks, but they can help build your brand’s online reputation and highlight your credentials.

5 steps to effective online advertising

Advertising team working on online marketing strategies in office

Once you’ve decided where to put ads, online advertising for your small business may be easier than you think. Follow these steps to successfully market your brand.

1. Do your research

First, do some research and develop a marketing plan to ensure you get the best return on your investment. That includes getting familiar with the latest advertising conventions in your industry and seeing what your closest competitors are doing.

While it’s good to get creative and think outside the box, you’ll need to adhere to certain advertising standards to ensure you don’t run afoul of any guidelines. Some social media platforms may have restrictions on what types of products and services you can advertise, and you’ll need to disclose any “sponcon” or branded journalism.

By studying online ads from other businesses, you’ll get a sense of how internet-based advertisements work and how they fit in with your existing marketing efforts.

2. Find your target audience

It isn’t enough to choose a marketing platform and hope your content reaches the right audience. You’ll have a better chance of reaching your ideal customers when you use advanced advertising methods like keyword research and retargeting.

Keyword research is especially important for search engine advertising. In most cases, the cost per click will be based on how popular a keyword is—that is, how many other businesses want to get their ad in front of people searching for the same search terms. Choose less common keywords for a more cost-effective keyword strategy.

Meanwhile, remarketing and retargeting focuses on showing ads to people who have already visited your site or purchased products from you. Retargeting ads works best with social media and email marketing campaigns.

3. Create your advertisements

Next, it’s time to create your ads. It may be as simple as writing ad copy, or depending on your ad format, you may need to hire a photographer or graphic designer to create high-quality content for your online ad. This is especially true for video ads or native ads with high production values.

Start the design process early and leave room in your marketing budget for potential video and audio production, editing, copywriting, and any other skill your ad requires.

Not all ads require that much work, though. Some platforms make it easy to create new ads based on existing content. For example, with Yelp Ads, you can create custom ads based on the information that’s already featured on your Yelp Business Page.

4. Launch your ads

Now you’re ready to launch your ads. For most display ads, you’ll be prompted to select an ad budget: the amount of money you’re willing to spend on PPC ads.

Since you’ll typically only pay for an ad if someone clicks on it, the cost to launch your digital ad is generally $0. The cost for each click will depend on factors like how many people are targeting the same keyword. Setting an ad budget ensures you won’t be stuck with an astronomical bill if your ad gets more clicks than you expected.

With Yelp Ads, you can spend as little as $5 per day and raise or lower your ad spend at any time. There’s no long-term commitment or fee for canceling your ad.

5. Track the results of your campaign

Once your ad is up and running, keep an eye on the metrics to ensure you’re getting a good return on investment. Key advertising metrics include:

  • Impressions: the number of times your ad has appeared to a viewer
  • Click-through rate: the number of times someone has clicked on your ad as a proportion of impressions
  • Bounce rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your website without viewing any additional content or taking an action
  • Conversion rate: the percentage of visitors who take a preferred action, such as making a purchase or signing up for your newsletter

A low click-through rate may mean that your ad isn’t appealing enough or isn’t reaching the right audience. A low conversion rate means that your ad is working but your website or landing page isn’t compelling enough.

How much does online advertising for small businesses cost?

Online advertising can cost anywhere from a few cents per day to thousands of dollars per month. The cost of online advertising depends on the dimensions of your digital ads, how competitive your keywords are, and how many platforms you advertise on.

It’s not unusual for competitive keywords to cost $1–5 per click on some platforms, but since there’s no fixed rate, the cost of an ad campaign can vary widely.

Small businesses should start small and gradually increase their ad budget. If your ad brings in new leads or revenue, it may be worth paying a higher rate per click.

Market your small business with Yelp Ads

Online advertising manager using iPad

Online advertising includes everything from traditional display ads to in-app advertising. Choosing the best place to advertise your small business requires knowing your target audience, deciding on the right ad format, and understanding pricing models. Many online advertising platforms, including Yelp Ads, use a pay-per-click (PPC) model in which you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

To complement your advertising efforts, consider these 17 apps for marketing your business on a budget.

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.