While we run the majority of our client’s ad budgets on the largest and most established ad platforms (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, & Amazon), it’s always important to consider all of the digital ad channels options (Reddit, Pinterest, Quora, NextDoor, Twitter, TikTok, Yelp, & Snapchat) for each client and use case.
Stackmatix has a proven framework for proper decision-making when it comes to digital ad channel selection. In this post, we outline the factors that make up this framework, which every marketer should consider as they evaluate their digital ad channel options.
1). Consider Where You Are in the Ad Funnel
It makes sense from an ROI perspective to target your warmest prospects first, and then to expand your reach when you’ve maximized these most efficient opportunities.
One reason Paid Search tends to perform well is because the targeting is based on intent data while many other channel’s targeting is based on contextual data (i.e. what types of content people are browsing at a specific point in time) or audience data (i.e behavioral or demographic characteristics of users).
When someone searches on Google for a product or service, they are essentially saying, “I need _____ and I need it now”. Specifically, the user tends to have a problem and is already in the process of looking for a solution.
If someone is browsing content (e.g. they are on a travel website or on social media), there is a chance that they are looking for specific information, but in a lot of cases users are simply casually browsing (especially on social media). While certain webpages or sites may be high intent, display banner ads suffer from a concept called “banner blindness”, where people have become used to ignoring ads, or they may have turned them off completely using ad blockers.
With Search Ads on the other hand, people are looking to click on the most relevant link that presents a solution to the problem they’re seeking to fix, or offers the product they want. The truth is, many people cannot distinguish or do not care to distinguish between the ad links and the organic search links - they simply want to click on the most relevant one available.
Starting with Search Ads or other channels where you can target users based on high intent is often a great place to start, but there are two potential challenges you may face with Search Ads, which we will cover in the next section, that may lead you to move to other channels more quickly.
2) Volume and Competition
Search Ads can be a great place to start, but marketing involves game theory, and if everyone thinks it’s a great place to start, and you have a lot of competition, you could face challenges.
With Search Ads, one factor which determines cost-per-click is how much others are willing to pay for clicks on the same search terms. If you have competition that is well-capitalized and plentiful, you may find that despite the presence of high intent search terms, you will need to pay a lot for clicks, which in turn can affect profitability. Well-capitalized competition can afford to acquire customers at a loss in the short term, hoping that over the length of their customer relationship, they can grow their relationship with the customer to make the investment profitable. For a small business or startup, you may not have the financial resources nor runway to play by the same rules.
Another factor that can create challenges with Search Ads is a lack of search volume for relevant search terms. Perhaps you offer a new product or service, and because it’s new, people may not be aware of the service or keywords related to it, and are therefore not searching for it directly, resulting in a low search volume overall.
With both of these challenges, you may still find opportunity on Search Ads, but it will require a more creative approach in terms of which search terms you pursue. For example, you may need to research terms that are less competitive, which are normally terms whose relation to your business is less obvious to other advertisers.
If you are early to market and search volume is low, you will still want to set up your Search Ads to ensure you’re ready and have the most optimized campaigns when the market develops, but in the short term you may need to explore other acquisition channels to find meaningful volume and traction to scale your business.
3) Contextual or Audience-Based Targeting Options Available
As most advertising on Social Media and around the Web (banner or video ads you see on publisher sites) is contextual- or audience-based in nature, it’s important to understand the targeting options for each platform in order to predict whether you can (or can’t) effectively reach your target audience.
With Google (including YouTube and publishers who sell banner/video inventory using Google) and Twitter, keyword-contextual targeting is a key feature, meaning that you can target your ads on certain webpages, YouTube channels, or near certain tweets featuring your target keywords. Google and Twitter have content covering almost every topic, so keyword contextual targeting can be a good starting point to place your ads near relevant content, increasing the chance that it converts.
With Google, you can also more broadly target specific websites, YouTube channels, or categories like News for example, however typically the broader your targeting, the lower the intent, and the lower the chance of conversion. Category-level targeting is often more appropriate for brand-focused advertisers looking to build awareness rather than conversion-focused advertisers who are looking for their campaigns to be profitable more immediately.
With most other Social Media, Display, and Video targeting, your options are largely audience-based, meaning that the platform has organized individuals into buckets based on their online behavior. Facebook for example might offer a Sports Fan category, which Facebook has determined based on the pages individuals follow and based on their content engagement (how they like, share, comment, and save posts) on their platform.
These audiences change over time so it’s always important to conduct fresh research for every new campaign launch to make sure that audiences have not been removed or added on each platform.
The key factors when assessing audiences and contextual targeting are relevance and volume. Relevance will impact the performance metrics of a campaign while volume is important to make sure your strategy is scalable and a broad enough reach for your given budget is available. If your budget is too big for a particular audience, you’ll find that this usually leads to high CPM’s and CPC’s, and ultimately high costs to acquire a customer, so it is important to find the right balance between audience size and daily spend.
The more developed platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon offer much wider and richer audience segments because they have more users on their platforms and data on said users, which they leverage to categorize individuals. The newer platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest, and others are quickly catching up in offering comparable audience targeting features, but overall are relatively less developed. Everything takes time to build, and Google’s and Facebook’s ad platforms have been around for much longer, and both have data on billions of users globally.
Volume is the other factor at play, and TikTok for example is growing in volume quite quickly, but with smaller platforms that are not growing as fast such as Quora, even if you have relevant targeting at your disposal, you might be disappointed with the amount of volume available, and the scalability of your campaigns as a result.
4) Time Equals Money
Finally, when it comes to choosing ad platforms, the age old mantra that time equals money couldn’t be more applicable. There are a finite number of hours in the day and nobody works for free. You do need to find someone to be sufficiently qualified to run your campaigns as well, otherwise you will be spending money to waste money. (Of course, if you can find a friend that is qualified to help at no cost, that’s always a bonus!). It’s easy to set up campaigns that perform poorly, but a much larger challenge to develop campaigns that are profitable, and an ever taller task to scale these campaigns successfully.
When choosing the platforms you want to focus on it’s imperative you choose those that can be profitable and scalable for you first. You are either paying talent on a per hour or retainer model basis, so you want to make the most of the time allocated. Choosing the platforms that can drive a profitable result first and that scale quickly will justify labor costs.
One channel that tends to fit the mold is Search. Because it’s text-based, it’s quicker and easier to set up and optimize ads. Most other platforms require additional time and costs due to the fact that you need to produce creative assets. As a result, getting quality creatives made quickly and inexpensively is yet another hurdle businesses must face in scaling digital ad campaigns successfully on other channels. Also, because Search has a lot of intent, users tend to convert more quickly and efficiently than other channels on average.
Last but not least, each platform has setup costs related to tracking and integrations in the form of time investment that must be considered. Setting up tracking for each platform is an independent process and there can be varying levels of integrations required for each platform. As such, you’ll want to get one platform set up quickly and work towards making it profitable, then you can reinvest these proceeds into the fixed and variable costs of setting up other platforms. Digital advertising can drive short-term results, but it’s also a long-term play as your performance typically improves over time, meaning that you need to invest short-term losses to learn in order to get campaigns to a profitable state. You can minimize short-term losses by staying focused and ramping up platforms one at a time, or a few at the most.
In choosing your ad platforms there are a number of considerations. Most importantly, start where there is the highest intent. Next, focus on areas with high contextual or audience-relevance with sufficient volume so you can find performance and have the ability to scale. From there, develop your ad platforms one at a time, or focus on the best platforms first, as there are fixed and variable costs associated with setting up each ad platform, and not all of them will scale equally well for your business. And finally, if you can get a platform to drive profitable results, you can reinvest those earnings into other platforms, and you’ve likely learned things about your audience, messaging, and other factors that could make other platforms easier attain profitability.
Stackmatix’s mission is to support the growth of startups and high-velocity businesses over the long term. We support every digital ad platform. We can help you assess which platforms are best for your business, we can set up your accounts, your tracking & integrations, develop creatives, and optimize your campaigns to profitable states. With our experience, we can make these initial assessments and platform developments more quickly, saving you both time and money. We’d love to see how much efficient growth we can drive for your business. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an introductory call with our team!
If you’re looking for this type of partner, Stackmatix could be your solution. From pre-seed to Series C, we aim to build integrated technology stacks that create consolidated data sets and analytics across all sales and marketing activities to maximize revenue and marketing return. Kick off an email thread at email@example.com for a free growth consultation to explore how we can help you to zero in your measurement and scale your business.