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One of the wonderful things about digital media is that there are so many opportunities to get in front of your target audience. For a digital marketing newbie, it can be a bit overwhelming, though! 

In this article, we’ll cover an overview of all the different types of online advertising channels that you have at your disposal as well as some of the pros and cons of each.

Let’s dive into how to advertise online. Paid search is one of the most popular – if not most popular – of the digital advertising channels. Paid search ads are the ads that are delivered on the search engine results page (SERP), at the top, right rail, and bottom: surrounding the organic results. 

See some online advertising examples for paid search below:

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How Paid Search Targeting Works

Paid search primarily utilizes keyword targeting, so advertisers choose the keywords that they want to deliver ads for, and then they “bid” on those keywords. Advertisers are only charged when their ad is clicked.

Bids used to be entirely manual, meaning that advertisers would input the price they were willing to pay per click for each individual keyword. 

Manual bidding is still an option and advertisers now have additional options to adjust bid modifiers based upon different criteria.

There are also additional automated bid strategies, in which the system algorithmically attempts to set bids based upon the auctions that are most likely to achieve the advertiser’s goals.

One of the most important parts of search marketing is selecting the right keywords to ensure that you’re only spending money on the clicks that are most likely to achieve your goals. 

Whether you’re just learning about paid search or are a seasoned pro, our PPC Toolkit can help advertisers research and select keywords to optimize their campaigns.

The Keyword Gap Tool is also useful when creating a paid campaign. This allows you to compare your keywords against your competitors to identify opportunities that you may be missing.


Shopping ads go hand-in-hand with paid search. Shopping ads are feed-based, so they do not specifically target keywords, but they are delivered based upon keyword searches, as the engines work to contextually match the search term to the feed.

Pro Tip: Using our PLA (Product Listing Ads) Research tool, you can research how competitor ads are ranking for different keywords on the SERPs, view ad examples, and more. 

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Paid social ads come in many shapes and sizes. Every major paid social platform also has an ad platform, because that’s how they subsidize a platform that is free to its users. 

YouTube, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok all have ad platforms, which can be used to target their user base.

An example of a paid ad on Twitter.

Just as the platforms are numerous, so are the targeting options. 

For starters, every paid social platform offers pixel-based and email-based remarketing. The first targets folks who have engaged with an advertiser’s website, the second allows advertisers to upload email lists of prospects or customers to target with ads. 

Many of the platforms also enable advertisers to remarket folks who have engaged with the brand on that platform – such as viewing videos or engaging with posts. If you’re interested in testing one of the paid social channels but have reservations, remarketing can be a good place to start.

Beyond that, the targeting options are very diverse. One of the main perks is that outside of remarketing, you have a unique opportunity to get in front of folks who may not know about your product but that may likely be interested if they knew. 

One great way to take advantage of a social platform’s data is to use lookalikes. Most of the above-mentioned platforms offer lookalikes, which allows advertisers to create audiences and then use those same lists to tell the system to go find other folks who are similar. 

The platforms use their own methods for analyzing the lists based upon what they know about these users and then they go find other folks who are likely to perform similarly based upon what the platform knows about the audience pool’s demographics, interests, and behaviors. 

Paid social platforms often have more robust demographic targeting than search or even Google display.

For example, LinkedIn has excellent demographic targeting as it pertains to a person’s work, including things like company size, vertical, job title, job function, skills, groups, and more. 

Facebook has a hodgepodge of targeting including some work-related targeting, interests, life events, behaviors, and some deeper demographics. 

Twitter and Quora allow advertisers to target people based upon the types of things that they’ve posted about, along with a breadth of other targeting options. 

Display Ads

Similar to paid social, display ads allow advertisers to target many stages of the funnel with eye-catching image ads. Display ads are delivered across websites, apps, Discover, Gmail, and more. 

If you’ve ever noticed an ad when reading a blog or news site, that ad was most likely a display ad.

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Display Ads Targeting Options

Display can be used for retargeting or prospecting. 

The Google Display Network (GDN) is probably the most popular of all display ad platforms. This network can be leveraged directly through Google Ads. 

GDN allows advertisers to target prospects through a host of different prospecting options (in addition to remarketing), which include: 

  • Contextual targeting – Based upon keywords, using 3rd party audiences such as in-market and affinity audiences
  • Using custom audiences – Created by the advertiser using a mix of keywords and URLs
  • Topic targeting – Targets folks based upon the topics of sites that they are browsing
  • Placement targeting – Allows advertisers to input the specific URLs of pages that they want to deliver ads on

Pro Tip: The Display Advertising tool allows advertisers to research competitor display ads by looking at things like audience targeting, example ads, landing pages, and more! 

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In conclusion, there are unlimited opportunities for advertisers to test new channels and targeting options. The key is to define the specific goals of each campaign, then pairing that with what you know about your target audience to determine the best platform and targeting options for each initiative.

Try not to limit yourself to only the platforms you’ve tested in the past, or even just the largest one or two platforms. You might find that testing some of the smaller or newer platforms could yield less competition and therefore better cost-efficiency. 

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