A Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Best Advertising Platforms for Your Business

What Are Advertising Platforms?

Advertising platforms are digital arenas where businesses showcase paid ads to promote their products or services to a specific customer base. These platforms encompass social media networks, search engines, websites, and apps, each offering various ad formats and targeting options to effectively reach potential customers.

Imagine the power of pinpointing your potential customers’ locations, effectively engaging them, and driving business growth with optimized spending. That’s the advantage of leveraging a digital advertising platform to convert your audience. In this article, we’ll delve into the unique features of top online advertising platforms and help you choose the right one to reach more of your target audience while maximizing ROI.

By utilizing digital advertising platforms, you can enhance your business’s visibility, drive website traffic, and boost sales. For instance, a local bakery could utilize social media advertising on Facebook to reach interested users in a specific geographic area.

Compelling ads can attract new customers, promote special offers, increase in-person traffic to a physical store, and more. Targeting a qualified audience allows you to allocate your marketing budget more efficiently.

How Do Advertising Platforms Work?

Advertising platforms function through three main components, enabling you to reach your target audience more effectively:

  1. Ad auctions: These occur in real time when an advertising slot becomes available. Advertisers bid on slots based on the value they assign to them, often determined by keywords, audience demographics, or the platform itself. The highest bidder, or the bidder providing the most value considering both bid amount and ad quality, wins the ad slot.
  2. Targeting options: These ensure that ads reach the most relevant audience. You can segment audiences based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. For example, a fitness equipment store can target individuals interested in health and fitness, fine-tuned by age, geographic location, or recent search history related to workout gear.
  3. Types of ads: These include text ads, display ads, video ads, and interactive ads. Choosing a format depends on your campaign goals, product or service, and where your target audience spends time online. For instance, a video ad might be more effective on a platform like YouTube, whereas a text ad could perform better in Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs).

The Top 12 Advertising Platforms

The right digital ad platform can help you reach your target audience, engage potential customers, and convert interest into tangible results. Understanding these platforms’ strengths and niches is the first step toward crafting a successful online advertising strategy tailored to your business needs. Here are some of the best platform options to use for your ads:

1. Google Ads  

Google Ads provides a direct path for your business to reach potential customers precisely when they search for your products or services. Its extensive network includes the Google search engine, YouTube, and the Google Display Network (GDN).

Here’s what a Google Search ad looks like:

The cost of advertising on Google Ads varies widely, depending on factors such as keyword competition, ad quality, and targeting specifics. Operating on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, making it a flexible option for businesses of all sizes to control budgets and bids for maximum ROI.

Google Ads supports various ad types, including search ads that appear in Google search results, display ads on websites within the GDN, shopping ads showcasing products in search results, video ads on YouTube for storytelling, and engaging potential customers, and app ads promoting mobile apps across Google’s network using auto-generated ad formats.

2. Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads offers the ability to run ads across Facebook’s vast ecosystem, which boasts over 2.1 billion daily users, thanks to seamless integration. This platform’s expansive audience makes it suitable for businesses of any size.

For instance, Colorado State University utilized Facebook Ads by running a video ad to promote its summer courses, as shown below:

One of the key strengths of Facebook ads is its detailed targeting options, which include demographics like age, gender, and location, as well as interests ranging from broad categories like fitness or fashion to niche hobbies. Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to target users based on activities such as purchase behavior and device usage. Additionally, connection-based targeting lets advertisers reach users who have specific connections to their page, app, event, or friends.

The integration with Instagram provides several advantages, including unified ad management, cross-platform targeting, and consistent branding across both platforms. This consistency helps build brand recognition and trust with the audience, creating a seamless experience for users transitioning between Facebook and Instagram.

As of March 2024, the average cost per click (CPC) for Facebook Ads was $0.778. Facebook offers various ad formats, including carousel ads for showcasing multiple images or videos with individual headlines, descriptions, and buttons. Collection ads feature a central image or video with three smaller images, leading users into an immersive Instant Experience for further engagement. Instant experience ads provide an engaging visual storytelling or brand experience when users tap on full-screen ads optimized for mobile. Poll ads engage the audience with a two-answer poll in the ad, perfect for gathering insights or preferences. Slideshow ads create a looping visual story with three to 10 images or a video, offering a cost-effective alternative to video ads. Messenger ads appear in the Chats tab of the Messenger app, expanding into a detailed view with ad details upon tapping.

For more information on building custom audiences for effective Facebook ad campaigns, check out our comprehensive guide on Facebook Business Manager.

3. Instagram Ads

Instagram ranks as the second most popular social network for marketers, trailing only Facebook. Businesses can set the same ad campaign objectives on Instagram as they can on Facebook.

The platform’s strong visual appeal resonates particularly well with younger demographics, who are highly active on Instagram. In the U.S. alone, as of January 2024, 28.4% of Instagram users were between 25 and 34 years old.

Advertising costs on Instagram can vary widely depending on factors such as targeting, ad format, competition, and time of year. On average, Instagram advertising costs range from $0.00 to $0.25 per click, $0.00 to $4.00 per 1,000 impressions, and $0.03 to $0.08 per engagement. Meta, the parent company of Instagram, recommends starting with a budget of at least $5.

Instagram offers several ad formats, including: • Photo ads: Simple yet effective, allowing brands to showcase their products through engaging images • Video ads: Up to 60 seconds long, providing a deeper look into the brand or product • Stories ads: Full-screen ads that appear between users’ stories, offering a highly engaging way to connect with the audience • Carousel ads: Allow users to swipe through a series of images or videos in a single ad, ideal for highlighting multiple products or telling a brand story

For example, a fashion brand might use a carousel ad to showcase its latest products, as shown below:

4. LinkedIn Ads

LinkedIn boasts over 700 million professionals on its platform, making it a highly effective channel for business-to-business (B2B) marketing. According to reports, 93% of B2B content marketers use LinkedIn for organic social marketing.

LinkedIn Ads offer precise targeting options based on factors such as job titles, functions, industries, companies, skills, seniority, education, and experience. This level of granularity enables businesses to reach their target audience effectively.

The platform supports various ad types to help businesses achieve their goals, whether it’s increasing visibility or generating leads. These ad types include:

  • Sponsored content: Ads that resemble regular posts but are labeled as “sponsored” in the feed. They can include images, videos, or a series of images.
  • Message ads: Direct advertisements sent to users’ inboxes, which can evolve into conversation ads with multiple calls to action (CTAs).
  • Text ads: Ads that appear on the side of LinkedIn pages.
  • Dynamic ads: Personalized ads that can display your photo, workplace, and job title.
  • Lead gen forms: Forms that automatically populate with a user’s LinkedIn information, simplifying the signup process without leaving the platform.

In the example of a sponsored content ad below, LinkedIn addresses its users with a highly relevant topic:

To run LinkedIn Ads, you need a minimum daily budget of $10 for any ad type. New or inactive campaigns must have a minimum lifetime budget of $100. After launching, the minimum lifetime budget is calculated as $10 multiplied by the campaign’s duration.

5. X Ads

The X platform, formerly known as Twitter, offers advertisers the ability to target ads based on demographics, interests, behaviors, keywords, and specific events or conversations. This targeting flexibility allows for effective engagement with the audience in real-time, making X Ads particularly suitable for live events, product launches, or time-sensitive promotions.

X Ads come in various types, including:

  • Promoted tweets: Paid tweets designed to reach a larger audience or engage followers.
  • Promoted trends: Initiatives to make a hashtag popular, placing it at the top of the “Trending” list.
  • Twitter cards: Tweets that contain more than just text, allowing for app installs or website previews.
  • Video ads: Short video clips that appear in users’ feeds.

Here’s an example of a promoted tweet from cybersecurity company Bitdefender:

You can tailor X Ads to fit your budget by setting a cap at the beginning of your campaign. Your choices regarding targeting, design, and bids will impact the overall cost of your campaign.

6. Pinterest Ads

Pinterest ads, known as “Pins,” are paid-for posts that promote a product or service to users on the platform. Given Pinterest’s visual nature, advertising primarily focuses on images and videos.

There are various opportunities to reach audiences on Pinterest, with 46% of weekly users reporting that they discover new brands or products on the platform.

Pinterest offers several ad formats, including:

  • Promoted pins: Paid pins marked as “Promoted” to increase visibility and drive web traffic.
  • Video pins: Engaging video ads used for storytelling and showcasing products.
  • Carousel ads: Multi-image ads that feature product details or tell a brand story.
  • Shopping pins: Direct-to-product links that facilitate easy purchasing, enhanced with Catalogs for auto-generated shoppable pins.
  • Collection ads: Main visuals combined with product images for an immersive shopping experience.

Check out this example of a promoted pin from the Mazda car manufacturer:

On average, Pinterest ads cost $0.00-$0.10 per click, $0.00-$2.00 per conversion, and $0.00-$1.50 per 1,000 impressions.

7. YouTube Ads

YouTube stands out as one of the most prominent video advertising platforms, offering ads that allow you to reach audiences of all demographics. You can choose from several video ad formats based on your objectives, target audience, and the story you want to convey.

  • Skippable in-stream ads: These ads play before, during, or after videos on YouTube, giving viewers the option to skip.
  • Non-skippable in-stream ads: Viewers must watch the entire ad before the main video plays.
  • In-feed video ads: These ads appear in YouTube’s content discovery areas, such as search results or related video suggestions.
  • Bumper ads: Short, unskippable ads lasting 6 seconds, ensuring viewers see your entire message.
  • Outstream ads: Mobile-focused ads that appear outside of YouTube, extending your reach across the Google Video Partners (GVP) network.
  • Masthead ads: These ads are prominently displayed at the top of the YouTube homepage for high visibility.

Here’s an example of an in-feed video ad:

YouTube ads typically cost around $0.11-$0.50 per view or action, with businesses often setting a daily budget of $10. The actual cost can vary based on the quality of your video, your target audience, and your advertising goals.

8. Snapchat Ads

Snapchat’s advertising platform can be a good fit for your business if your primary audience is young adults. In January 2023, one in five global users were men between 18 and 24 years old, and women in the same age group made up 18.3% of all Snapchat users. Snapchat’s focus on images, temporary messages, privacy, and creative expression attracts a younger demographic.

Snapchat’s AR lenses offer engaging and immersive interactive experiences:

  • They blend the real world with digital fun, making ads more memorable.
  • Users can interact by making faces or tapping, keeping them engaged.
  • They’re fun, leading people to share them and helping ads reach more users without additional cost.
  • You can tailor ads for specific events or products, grabbing the attention of the right audience.

Here’s an example of an AR ad from Coca-Cola:

You can spend as little as $5 daily on Snapchat ads, but the platform recommends at least $20-50 daily to help your ad complete an “Exploration Phase.” This phase allows Snapchat to determine which users in your target audience are most likely to take action on your ad and optimize its performance accordingly.

9. TikTok Ads

TikTok offers a unique platform for advertisers to connect with potential customers through short-form video content, with 1.5 billion active users worldwide in 2023. Advertisements on TikTok have the potential to go viral due to several factors:

  • Algorithm-driven discovery: The platform’s “For You” page promotes ad virality through personalized recommendations.
  • High engagement format: Short videos encourage viewers to watch and share repeatedly, increasing ad reach.
  • Creative and collaborative features: Hashtag challenges and branded effects transform ads into interactive, community-driven campaigns. See an example of a viral in-feed ad from TikTok:

TikTok offers various ad formats, including:

  • In-feed ads: These ads appear seamlessly within TikTok’s “For You” page, blending with organic content.
  • Brand takeover ads: Full-screen ads that users see upon opening the app.
  • TopView ads: Longer format brand takeover ads that appear three seconds after app launch, with up to 60 seconds of full-screen video.
  • Branded hashtag challenges: Sponsored challenges that encourage users to create and share content, boosting engagement and brand awareness.
  • Branded effects: Custom filters, stickers, and effects that users can use in their videos.

10. Amazon Ads

Amazon Ads can enhance your brand visibility, provide a competitive edge in the crowded ecommerce market, and increase conversion rates. The platform offers a direct shopping integration, seamlessly incorporating advertising solutions within Amazon’s extensive ecommerce platform, which recorded 2.7 billion visits in December 2023. The average cost per click (CPC) for Amazon ads is $0.81. For more information, read “What Is Amazon PPC?: A Complete Beginners Guide to Optimization.” Amazon offers various ad types, including:

  • Sponsored products: These ads promote individual product listings directly in search results.
  • Sponsored brands: Customizable ads that boost brand visibility by appearing at the top of search results.
  • Sponsored display ads: Ads that target and re-target shoppers both on and off Amazon based on their browsing and buying behavior.
  • Amazon Demand Side Platform (DSP): Allows you to reach audiences with programmatic ads across Amazon’s platform and the web. Check out this example of a sponsored product ad for a writing tablet:

11. Bing Ads

Microsoft Advertising, previously known as Bing Ads, serves as a compelling alternative to Google Ads. The Bing search engine and its partner networks, which display Bing ads, offer access to a different audience segment compared to Google Ads, often with less competition and potentially lower costs.

Bing Ads is an attractive option for advertisers looking to broaden their reach without significantly increasing their budget. The average cost per click (CPC) on Bing across all industries is $1.54. Ad formats on Bing include:

  • Text ads: These appear in search results and typically consist of a headline, display URL, and description text.
  • Shopping ads: Ideal for ecommerce businesses, these ads showcase products directly in search results.
  • Video ads: These can appear on Bing’s partner networks.
  • Responsive ads: This format automatically optimizes ad combinations using up to 15 headlines and four descriptions provided by you to present the most effective combination for your target audience.

12. Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads can significantly enhance your app’s discoverability, given the vast number of apps available in the App Store (over 1.83 million). Ads can appear in various formats depending on the user’s device and search query, always featuring a blue background and an ad disclosure icon. Here’s an example of an app ad displayed when searching for “vacation planner”:

Apple Search Ads automatically generates your ad based on the existing metadata, video, and imagery in your App Store listing. It’s worth noting that Apple claims more than 650 million people discover and download apps weekly through Search Ads. Apple Search Ads offers several unique features, including:

  • Direct targeting & high intent: Target users actively searching for apps, capturing their high intent and significantly increasing the chances of app downloads by ensuring prominent visibility in search results.
  • Customizable campaigns: Provide precise targeting options through keywords and audience segmentation (demographics, location, user behavior), along with creative sets (screenshots, app previews) for optimized ad presentation.
  • Performance tracking & optimization: Detailed analytics enable monitoring of ad performance (impressions, taps, conversion rates), essential for campaign adjustments and optimization.
  • Cost-effectiveness: A cost-per-tap (CPT) model ensures payment only for user engagement. Additionally, you can set daily and total campaign budgets for financial control.

Choosing the Right Advertising Platform for Your Business

When choosing where to run your ads, it’s essential to target platforms where your audience is most active. This ensures your ads align with your marketing objectives and are cost-effective. Here are four key criteria to consider:

Target Audience and Demographics:

Understanding your target audience and their demographics is crucial for crafting an effective advertising strategy that maximizes engagement and return on investment (ROI). By gaining insights into your potential customers’ behaviors, preferences, and online habits, you can better target platforms where they are most active and interested in your products or services.

Semco’s One2Target tool offers comprehensive audience insights to help you choose the right ad platform. By analyzing demographics such as age, sex, and location, as well as socioeconomics like education levels and employment status, you can tailor your ads to specific audience interests and behaviors for optimal engagement and conversion.

To use the tool effectively, click “One2Target” under “.Trends” in the left-hand navigation bar. Select your target location and enter up to five competitors’ domains to analyze their audiences.

You can also click the “Create List” tab to learn about the audiences of up to 100 domains.

Your report will look something like this:

The tool will provide a report covering various audience factors, including demographics, socioeconomics, behavior, and audience overlap with competing websites.

Some actionable tips for using the tool data include breaking down your audience into smaller, more specific groups to tailor your advertising messages effectively. For example, if you’re selling sports equipment, you can tailor your ads to fitness blogs or outdoor gear reviews and use social channels preferred by your target audience.

Additionally, running small-scale tests with short, identical ads on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can help you track which platform drives more visits to your website or has higher engagement. This allows you to adjust your strategy to focus more resources, such as ad spend and formats, on platforms that perform best.

Monitoring the latest platform trends and demographic shifts is also essential to keeping your digital marketing strategies relevant. For instance, if you notice a surge in Instagram’s popularity among 18-to-24-year-olds, you can create Instagram-specific content to reach this audience effectively.

Budget and Cost-Effectiveness:

Assessing the cost-effectiveness of different advertising platforms is essential to maximize reach and engagement while avoiding overspending. Begin by defining your advertising objectives and identifying key metrics for your business goals, such as Cost per Click (CPC), Cost per Acquisition (CPA), and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).

Choose digital advertising platforms whose metrics align with your goals and target audience, and estimate the potential Return on Investment (ROI) for each platform. For example, a platform with an average CPC of $1 and a conversion rate of 1% resulting in a $150 sale would yield a positive ROI.

To assess platform cost-effectiveness effectively, consider whether a platform’s user demographic aligns with your target audience. Even if a platform has a higher price, it may still be more cost-effective if it reaches a more relevant or engaged audience for your product.

Start by setting small budgets on a few platforms to test their effectiveness. Monitor metrics like click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, and overall engagement to make informed decisions about where to allocate your budget. Use analytics software to understand campaign performance across different platforms and make data-driven decisions.

If you choose Google Ads as your platform, Semco’s Advertising Research can support your campaigns by analyzing your paid search competitors. This tool provides valuable data on keywords that competing domains bid for, as well as estimated monthly costs for ads that rank on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

To access the “Advertising Research” tool, go to the “Advertising” drop-down menu and select “Advertising Research.” Enter your competitor’s domain and select your target location before clicking the “Search” button.

Upon doing so, you’ll be presented with a comprehensive report detailing your competitor’s advertising history on Google Ads.

In the report’s “Positions” tab, you’ll find the keywords that drive traffic to your competitor’s website, along with traffic volumes and estimated costs for ranking on those keywords.

Scrolling further down, you’ll encounter the “Paid Search Positions” section, listing keywords, their volumes, and respective CPCs.

Utilize these insights to enhance your ad campaign strategy:

  • Utilize cost data to allocate your advertising budget effectively, ensuring you can compete for desirable keywords without overspending.
  • Identify keywords with high volume and low cost to capitalize on more affordable campaign opportunities.
  • Adapt your current campaigns by aligning your ad and landing page copy with search intent, ultimately improving conversion rates and ROAS.

Ad Format and Content

Choosing the right ad format and content is crucial to captivating and resonating with potential customers. Platforms that support formats best suited to your message can significantly increase your chances of success. Here’s how to make the best choice:

  1. Research your target audience’s preferred content types and interactions. Select platforms that excel in the ad formats relevant to your content strategy (e.g., video ads on YouTube, image ads on Instagram).
  2. Test various ad formats on your chosen platforms to determine which ones yield the best engagement and conversion rates.
  3. Use analytics tools to track performance and make adjustments to your strategy accordingly.
  4. Regardless of the format, ensure your ads include attractive visuals and clear calls-to-action (CTAs) to maximize impact.

Utilize Semco’s Advertising Research to analyze your competitors’ ad copy in Google’s paid search results and find ways to outperform them. You can view their headlines, CTAs, and the landing pages they direct traffic to.

The report displays unique ad copy that the domain ranked for in Google’s paid search results, along with the number of keywords for which they ranked.

Click on the “Keywords” dropdown menu under each ad to view the keywords that triggered the ad’s appearance in the search engine results pages (SERPs),along with each keyword’s search volume, CPC, and competition level.

Use this information to:

  • Assess successful keyword and ad copy combinations to differentiate your brand and gain a competitive edge.
  • Identify new trends or emerging interests within your industry to stay ahead of the curve with timely, relevant ad content.

For further reading, check out Semco’s PPC Keyword Research guide on using the PPC Keyword Tool to streamline keyword management.

Performance Tracking and Analytics

Analytics are crucial for understanding your business’s performance, including key performance indicators (KPIs) like CTR, engagement rates, conversion rates, and ROI. These insights help you refine your ad campaigns and target prospects more effectively for higher ROAS. For example, if an ad is underperforming in terms of CTR, you can adjust its content, audience targeting, or placement to improve its effectiveness. Access to analytics is essential. It provides valuable data on who engages with your ads, when they are most active, and which ads drive conversions. When choosing an ad platform, look for:

  • Detailed insights into audience demographics and behavior
  • Real-time campaign performance tracking
  • Conversion tracking capabilities
  • Integration with other tools and platforms you use, such as Google Analytics or CRM software like Semco CRM, for a comprehensive view of your campaign’s performance.
  • Platforms that offer actionable recommendations or automated optimizations based on data analysis.

Diversify Your Advertising Platforms for Broad Reach

Using multiple ad touchpoints can broaden your brand’s reach and help capture more market share. A multi-platform presence reinforces your brand message and encourages deeper engagement through repeated exposure. For example, a consumer might see your brand on a Twitter ad in the morning, watch your YouTube video ad in the afternoon, and encounter a retargeting ad on Facebook in the evening. To maximize conversion potential through ad diversification:

  • Use retargeting ads to follow your audience across platforms with tailored messages that guide them through the conversion funnel.
  • Understand the unique strengths of each platform and optimize your content and CTAs accordingly.
  • Use unified tracking tools like Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to attribute conversions resulting from your multi-platform campaigns. This helps you identify successes and refine your efforts further.

The Semco toolkit can help optimize a multi-platform advertising strategy. Sign up for a free trial to understand your audience’s preferences and behavior, gain insights into competitors’ advertising tactics, and create ad content that resonates with your prospective buyers.