So you have a website and you are really anxious to get visitors to your site. You have three main tactics to get visitors to your website.
You can either tell your network about it (ie, word of mouth, social media); try to be there when other people are asking about you (ie, search engine optimization); or just advertise your website to people who might be interested. That last method is by far and away the fastest and most scalable right away, but it’s hard to do right.
*EDIT: This post was originally published May 2013. It’s been quite popular, so I’ve edited and updated it throughout for the state of advertising online in 2017.
Here’s how to advertise your website online effectively in 5 steps.
1. Understand Internet Advertising Jargon
Advertising itself has a ton of jargon – from inventory (not what you think) to mindshare to retargeting. Online advertising has even more, but here’s what you really need to know.
Fat-head vs. Long-tail
The basic concept is that the broader your make your advertising (the fat head) – the more traffic you’ll get. But the less conversions (sales, emails, etc) you’ll receive versus specific advertising to the targeted few (the long-tail). The more “targeted few” are fewer in number for each category and are much more qualified to convert. It can be tedious to target very few. And it feel like it’s smaller potential, but in aggregate the “long-tail” or “targeted few” is larger than the big, broad approach.
The best example is in keywords. See the example from Google’s Keyword Planner –
If you have a review about Nike shoes, or are selling a Nike shoe – you’ll get the most visitors from an ad campaign targeting “shoes” though it won’t be as effective as a campaign centered around “nike air max running shoes” for example.
When it comes to how to advertise your website – it pays to spend the extra bit of time finding all those little niches to advertise in, rather than wasting your cash on the “fat-head” terms (unless you do just want to spend the money…if so, have at it).
The fat head vs long tail doesn’t just apply to keywords though. It also applies to audiences. Below is a screenshot of a Facebook ad campaign targeting specific audiences.
With some platforms such as Facebook or the Google Display Network – you don’t bid on keywords as much as you audiences, but the same principle applies – targeting the niches leads to a more effective advertising campaign.
CPM vs. CPC vs. CPA
These are the three ways of paying for your advertisement. With CPM (ie, cost per thousand impressions) – you pay a set rate every time your ad is shown. With CPC (ie, cost per click) – you pay a set rate every time your ad is clicked. And with CPA (ie, cost per action) – you pay every time someone who clicks your ad does something on your website.
By far and away the most common is going to be CPC. You only want to use CPM or CPA if you know what you’re doing, but it’s good to know that they are out there.
Do More Research According To Each Platform
Those are the two big concepts in online advertising – but there’s a ton more jargon in each ad platform. Be sure to to do your research and ask questions whenever you see something you don’t understand – otherwise you’ll be spending money you don’t have.
For example, Facebook has several flavors of CPM/CPC. They also allow you to advertise according to “objective.” These are different than Google or Twitter. Don’t assume that each ad network has the same terminology among them.
2. Know Your Advertising Options
When it comes to how to advertise business in the physical world, and how to advertise your website in the digital world, there is one common denominator – choice. There is a plethora of advertising options online, but they all fall into 3 main categories which can be found on a wide range of platforms. Here’s the main options and platform for how to advertise your website online.
Text ads are the most basic type of ad on the Internet. Nearly every type of ad platform runs them – most famously Google. It usually allows a headline, some text, and a call to action with a URL. They normally look like this:
Banner ads have been around since the dawn of Internet time. They are basically like text ads – except that they use pictures and rich media to get the point across. They are not available on many platforms – and some, like Facebook, use a hybrid Banner ad. However – if you are looking to how to advertise your website on other websites via an ad network – it will probably be with a banner ad.
They come in standard sizes, and most networks (such as the Google Display Network) make it very easy to execute professional ad campaigns for your website. I’m sure you’ve seen something like this before:
Native ads are basically advertisements that appear within the content. They are paid placements – but aren’t meant to distract. They are meant to appear like content – or at least appear within your content feed.
The lines get a little blurry – and native advertiser’s should always be disclosing their relationships, but there are plenty of ad platforms that make this method easy – such as Facebook. Here’s an example of a sponsored Facebook ad:
Lots of media companies are jumping on this bandwagon and making it easier and easier to execute. It can definitely be part of you plan on how to advertise your website – but for now let’s dive into actual platforms.
Google is the advertising master of the Internet. When you’re looking to how to advertise your website online…you start with Google Search Network.
Google has the largest search network in the world – which you can use to place ads on targeted keywords. Google is worth $375 billion because pay per click ads in search results are that powerful. You can get in front of people exactly when they are actively looking for your exact products and services.
It’s the place to test messaging, pricing, demand, and return on investment before expanding to other options.
Google also owns the largest display ad network in the world – and allows you to advertise to 85% of all Internet users everywhere. You – yes, you – can advertise your website on the New York Times, on a targeted niche blog, or on any website that your target customer visits (and yes, you can get the ads that follow people around too).
*Speaking of ads that follow people around (aka “retargeting”), that is the most effective way to get started with Google’s Display Network. Use it to stay in front of people who have already visited & expressed interest in your website.
And Google also owns the world’s 2nd largest search engine – YouTube – which also happens to be the largest video platform in the world. It offers a plethora of ad options, and just like in Google Search or Google Display – YouTube allows you to advertise as broadly or as specifically as you want.
You can get started at Google AdWords.
Bing + Yahoo
Bing and Yahoo together make up about 30% of the search market. They are Google’s only real direct search competitors. They offer very similar products (with fewer options though). They are worth trying out after you have experimented with Google and want to expand your search reach (and get lower costs on some ads).
You can get started at the Yahoo+Bing Ad Center.
As you saw in the screenshot in the concepts section – Facebook allows for some hyper-targeted audience advertising. You can reach any group among its 1 BILLION+ users. The magic of Facebook is that everyone on the network self-defines themselves into neat little marketing packages. They tell you exactly what they like.
So guess what? If someone says that they Like hiking…they will probably find your hiking store interesting as well.
If you know the audience that you are trying to target – Facebook makes a great network to try. It’s the place to build awareness of your store and get in front of your target audience. Like Google, you can set your budget to as high or as low as you’d like.
Facebook offers two main products – the ads you see on the side bar of the newsfeed, and promoted posts – which are just posts that you pay to appear in user’s newsfeeds. Here’s an overview on how to start with Facebook ads.
*Note that a great way to start using Facebook’s ad products is through “retargeting.” With retargeting, you only show ads to people who have already landed on your website (aka through your Google Search ads). It can be a cheap way to get people to come back and purchase. Here’s a solid guide to spending your first $100 on Facebook retargeting.
You can get started at Facebook Ads.
LinkedIn is the social network for professionals. It’s not actively used by many people (except when job-hunting) – but it is hyper-targeted, and is used heavily by the people who do use it (recruiters, sales, etc).
Ads are paid for by cost per click and has a very similar targeting functionality to Facebook, though not nearly as specific. If you have a website that relates to professionals or sales in anyway (or to a specific industry) – promoting your website on LinkedIn can be a great option. Outside of B2B, LinkedIn is typically an expensive option though.
Twitter has recently really stepped up it’s advertising options – and has created some pretty amazing products. You can either promote your account, promote tweets, or promote hashtags. The selling point about Twitter is that you get to advertise to people who are already talking about your niche.
It’s a hard note to hit, and there’s still a lot of experimentation happening around Twitter ads, but it does offer a really unique offering beyond Facebook targeting. If you’re the adventurous type – you should definitely check out Twitter ads, but before you do that, you should check out Shopify’s DIY Guide to Twitter Ads here.
*Like Facebook, Twitter has a very interesting retargeting option. It’s something I used in my Giveaway experiment here.
StumbleUpon – you may remember was really big back in 2009-2011. In fact, in 2011 – it drove more traffic to websites than Facebook and Twitter combined. And then it fell off the map.
The sort of open secret is that StumbleUpon is still really big. It’s not hot like Pinterest or Instagram – but it’s still a big part of millions’ of people’s Internet habits.
And it can drive a lot of interested traffic to your site for really cheap…really fast.
They don’t have a typical advertising model – it’s native advertising in it’s almost pure form. You basically set a budget to spend – and StumbleUpon guarantees that they will send visitors to your site at $0.10 a person for as long as your budget lasts.
In other words – you get to buy a tsunami of traffic. The goal with StumbleUpon is to hope that a few people from that tsunami stick around. They will show up and check out your site – but are very impatient, and the vast majority will simply leave and never return. But for what it is – it’s very powerful.
You can get started at StumbleUpon Paid Discovery.
Reddit is the the social news website on the Internet. It’s a hive of activity and curates almost all the memes and stories you see around Facebook and the rest of the Internet.
It has lots of “subreddits” where like-minded people of mind-bogglingly unique interests hang out. And you can advertise to them.
Now – one caveat – Redditors are highly allergic to marketing and over the top messaging – even in the form of an obvious ad…unless it’s useful and a really good product – because then they love it.
Reddit allows you to advertise in various subreddits at the top of the feed and in a banner on the side of the page. Rates are very cheap, and can be a great place to try out.
One tip though – get on Reddit and make a conscious note of how many of the ads are written. They have a certain style for a reason. You should also do plenty of research to find the best subreddits for your ads. You can use the Subreddit finder to help out. **Note – Reddit is a reflection of the Internet at large, with all the good and bad that comes with it. There is no censoring, so be careful while exploring.**
You can get started at Advertise on Reddit.
Outbrain / Taboola
These are the two biggest “sponsored content” networks. They are best known for placing the…”odd” looking stories beneath articles around the internet. They are cheap and can drive a lot of traffic. The catch is that you can’t advertise a product or service. Instead, you have to promote a piece of content, which can promote your product or service within the content.
As of early 2015, Pinterest has rolled out a new ad platform which is definitely the most anticipated ad product since Facebook. There’s a few introductory posts floating around, but best practices have yet to be defined.
There are tons of other, smaller ad networks (and direct buys). So when deciding how to advertise your website online – don’t feel limited to the big networks. For example, BuySellAds runs a really high quality network with better visibility for advertisers and higher rates for publishers than Google Display can traditionally offer. Even Amazon runs an ad network within their own site (aka, promote your Amazon listed products on Amazon).
I wrote all about alternative PPC networks here.
If there are forums or websites in your niche – by all means reach out to them directly. But no matter how you approach promoting your website – you need to take care of a couple more things to do it right.
3. Track Everything
For me – what really makes digital advertising so much better and more interesting than traditional offline advertising is that you can track everything. And thanks to Google Analytics – anyone with a website has access to enterprise-level Analytics (and you’ll spend more money with Google when you can see exactly how effective your ads are).
So let’s dive in and look at tracking.
Know where to look in Analytics
If you use the big ad platforms – they should include the basic referral data for your Google Analytics to make sense of the visitor. You can check out their performance in the Traffic Sources column, and either under the referrals tab – or under Paid Search, or if you have linked your AdWords and Analytics – then you’ll get even more detailed and amazing data.
Use the URL builder
In order to get the most data from the people who click on your ads – you’ll need your ads to be fully trackable, and to pass data over to Google Analytics.
If you are using Google Adwords, be sure to go to Preferences and Turn ON Auto-tagging. Otherwise, when you are setting up a campaign – don’t just input the URL of your website or landing page into the URL – add parameters to the URL to help Analytics understand your ad visitors. Parameters are little snippets added onto the end of a URL. They don’t affect the user or ad, but simply tell Google Analytics where the visitor is coming from, so that you can track and test your advertising.
When you see an ad string – it looks complicated, and hard to build, but Google has a free URL Builder tool here that you simply must use. Here’s what it looks like…
When you fill out the fields with the appropriate content (ie, facebook, display, males+sports, ImageA, Facebook). You can use whatever tags make sense to you because whatever information you put in here will be seen by you in Google Analytics. Be sure to fill it out completely. Here’s an in-depth guide to the URL builder.
Once it outputs at URL – use that URL for your ad campaigns.
But what URL are you sending people too in the first place? That’s the next step to understand in how to advertise your website online effectively…
4. Create Landing Pages
Basic rule of running an ad campaign – unless you have a very good reason – is never send your visitor to your homepage. Send your visitor to a page specifically crafted to match whatever was being advertised.
You should set up specific landing pages for every single type of ad you’re running. Pro tip – setting up unique landing pages with keywords matching your ads also helps lower your costs on Google by increasing your Quality Score.
Your landing pages should include AdWords conversion codes, and even though they don’t have to be as beautiful as these landing pages – they should be unique. Look at landing pages as part of building your ad campaign.
And this extends to blog promotion as well. Don’t send people to your home page or main feed. Promote specific posts – and send those ads directly to those posts.
5. Watch & Test
This whole system feeds back into itself and never ends.
You learn new ad concepts and different keyword strategies by using different ad platforms and watching your Analytics like a hawk.
You can improve the effectiveness of your landing pages by watching your best performing ads. You can improve the performance of your ads by watching your best performing landing pages (whether it’s a pure landing page, blog post, or product page).
The point is that you can’t just set a campaign and forget it. Learning how to advertise your website online is all about starting (not planning forever), getting data, and adjusting. It’s sort of a ready, fire, aim approach.
You can set a low budget, test, then ramp up when you find something that works by watching your Analytics like a hawk.
This post covers just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how to advertise your website online. What you need to do now – is start.
Love to find useful marketing posts? Get my curated list of digital marketing “must-reads” here.