"Comprehensive Guide to Online Advertising: Updated for 2024"

What Is Online Advertising?

Online advertising involves promoting products or services using the internet through methods like display ads, search engine ads, social media ads, and video ads, offering precise targeting and real-time analytics to reach a wide audience effectively.

Navigating the realm of online advertising involves grasping diverse formats across various platforms. This beginner’s guide offers a comprehensive overview, encompassing types, examples, and best practices to equip you for success in internet advertising. Let’s delve in.

Online advertising, a subset of digital marketing, disseminates promotional messages to targeted audiences for a fee, ubiquitous across emails, search engines, websites, and social media platforms. For instance, consider this LinkedIn ad by Amazon Business:

Online ads aim to prompt specific actions from the target audience, facilitating the achievement of business objectives. Common goals include enhancing brand awareness, increasing website traffic, capturing leads, boosting sales, and retargeting previous brand interactors.

How Does Online Advertising Work?

Websites and advertising platforms like Google Ads, Meta Ads Manager, and Amazon Ads gather user information such as interests, location, and browsing habits to create distinct user groups, known as “audiences.” Brands pay to promote their offerings through these platforms, targeting specific audiences most likely to be interested. Advertising platforms employ various cost structures for different ad types, including Pay-per-click (PPC), Cost-per-mille (CPM), Cost-per-install (CPI), Cost-per-lead (CPL), and Cost-per-view (CPV). The process of running online ads entails selecting the desired ad type, cost structure, and platform, followed by specific steps to initiate the advertising campaign.

Define Your Budget

Establishing your budget before commencing ad execution serves as your financial roadmap, outlining your investment for running ads. This process typically involves collaboration among multiple stakeholders and constitutes a portion of your total marketing budget. The flexibility of budget settings allows for adjustments based on ongoing ad performance and changing business goals.

Plan Your Campaign

Align your campaign strategy with your primary objective, be it brand awareness, website traffic, lead generation, or sales growth. In Google Ads, selecting the campaign objective is the initial step in campaign planning.

Understanding your target audience involves identifying who they are, their pain points, and their goals, facilitating the creation of a more effective ad campaign. Utilizing tools like Google Analytics can provide valuable insights into your audience. Access the “Reports” section of the tool to gain deeper understanding.

Next, navigate to “User,” “User Attributes,” and select “Overview.”

Upon selecting “Overview,” you’ll be presented with a dashboard displaying insights into your audience’s location, interests, and additional demographic details.

Once your campaign objectives and target audience are defined, pinpoint the optimal ad platform and type. Suppose Google Analytics reveals a significant portion of your audience hails from a particular city.

Leverage this insight in your campaign strategy by selecting Google as your ad platform and utilizing its location-targeting feature to effectively reach this audience.

By aligning your campaign strategy with your audience’s demographics, you increase the likelihood of successful outcomes. For instance, if your audience exhibits transactional intent in Google searches, opting for Google as your ad platform and product listing ads as your ad type can be particularly effective.

Create Ads

Effective ads captivate your audience’s attention and prompt them to take desired actions. Begin by crafting a clear and engaging message complemented by high-quality visuals consistent with your brand. Incorporate a compelling call to action (CTA) urging the audience to act, such as visiting your website or making a purchase. For instance, this Facebook ad from Colgate exemplifies these elements seamlessly.

Apply Settings and Targeting

Utilize your ad platform’s targeting capabilities to ensure precise audience reach. Targeting options may include demographics, interests, behaviors, and more. For instance, Google Ads enables targeting by interest, as depicted below:

In addition to targeting, adjust other settings such as:

  • Budget: Typically set as a daily or lifetime allocation.
  • Bidding: Choose payment based on impressions, clicks, or conversions, aligned with campaign objectives.
  • Schedule: Determine ad runtime, either continuous or specific dates/times.
  • Ad placement: Select where ads will appear on the platform, with options like “Advantage+ placements” (automatic) or “Manual placements” (control by the advertiser).

What Are the Benefits of Advertising Online?

Advertising on the internet offers numerous advantages:

Precise Targeting

Online ads enable precise targeting, reaching individuals most inclined to engage with your offerings while avoiding irrelevant audiences. This is facilitated by targeting options such as age, location, and interests, ensuring tailored outreach to specific demographics. For instance, consider an ad tailored for prospective parents residing in New York City, exemplifying the power of targeted advertising.

Assess the efficacy of your targeting by accessing data in Meta’s Ad Library. Simply click “See ad details” to access a breakdown of the audience demographics that viewed the ad.

In this instance, the ad primarily reached women aged 25 to 44, with nearly 100% of the audience residing in New York.

Faster Deployment Than Traditional Advertising

Online ads offer unparalleled speed, with campaigns ready to launch in as little as an hour, unlike traditional advertising, which demands weeks of preparation. This agility empowers you to swiftly respond to market dynamics, capitalizing on emerging trends and opportunities.

Wide Reach

Online advertising transcends geographical boundaries, enabling you to engage with customers worldwide. This global outreach not only unlocks new markets but also enhances brand visibility and fosters the expansion of your customer base.

More Measurable Than Other Tactics

Online advertising provides real-time metrics, offering precise insights into your ad performance. This comprehensive data empowers you to assess your campaign’s effectiveness and alignment with your objectives. Leveraging performance metrics enables you to optimize various elements of your ad, from copy to imagery to targeting. Below is an example of a performance summary for ads on Meta:

Types of Online Advertising

Numerous online advertising formats exist, yet five prevalent types include:

Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) encompasses strategies aimed at enhancing a website’s visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs), incorporating both paid and organic results. Below is an illustration of search results for the query “meditation apps”:

Note: Search engine marketing encompasses both organic and paid results. Some refer to paid search ads specifically as search engine advertising (SEA).

Paid search ads enable advertisers to align their ads with users’ search intent, maximizing conversion potential.

Common types of paid search engine marketing include:

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising primarily targets search platforms, ensuring ads appear alongside relevant search results based on specific keywords. Advertisers participate in auctions on their chosen advertising platform, bidding on keywords pertinent to their business. The beauty of PPC lies in its cost-effectiveness, as advertisers only incur charges when users click on their ads. An illustrative example of a PPC ad is provided below:

Product Listing Ads

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) constitute a specialized form of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) advertisement tailored for ecommerce enterprises. These ads manifest when users conduct searches related to specific products. In contrast to conventional text-based search ads, PLAs are visually appealing, showcasing products directly within the search results. They encompass essential product details such as the product name, price, and rating. PLAs usually occupy prominent positions at the top of search results, ensuring maximum visibility. Below is an exemplar showcasing PLAs:

Display Advertising

Display advertising represents a dynamic facet of online marketing, leveraging visual elements like images, graphics, and videos to convey messages effectively. This advertising format encompasses various forms, including banner ads, rich media, and more. One of the primary advantages of display ads lies in the creative latitude they provide, enabling advertisers to blend images, audio, and video to craft captivating and attention-grabbing advertisements.

It’s worth noting that display ads are commonly integrated into search engine ad networks, which comprise websites, apps, and other digital platforms collaborating with search engines to host ads. For instance, display ads may appear on websites utilizing Google AdSense.

Here are several types of display ads:

Banner Ads

Banner ads are prominent advertisements that commonly grace the top or sides of webpages, catching the attention of visitors. They can be disseminated via a search engine’s ad network or showcased on a website through direct collaboration between the publisher and the advertiser. Renowned for their visibility, banner ads excel at bolstering brand awareness among users.

Here’s an instance of a banner ad featured on The New York Times website:

Video Ads

Video ads are captivating clips meticulously crafted to captivate and retain viewers’ interest, thereby enhancing user engagement. These ads are frequently integrated into popular streaming platforms such as YouTube and Amazon Prime, seamlessly appearing before, during, or after video content playback.

Moreover, video ads have a versatile presence, extending beyond streaming platforms to feature prominently on social media feeds, within mobile applications, and even across websites.

Here’s an illustrative example of a video ad courtesy of Dollar Shave Club:

In-App Ads

In-app ads represent online advertisements seamlessly integrated into mobile applications, strategically targeting audiences while they actively engage with the app. Businesses harness the potential of these ads through mobile ad networks or platforms such as Google AdMob, facilitating the creation and management of campaigns.

These ads come in various formats, ranging from unobtrusive banners to immersive full-screen experiences, providing diverse avenues to capture users’ attention within the app environment.

Here’s an example showcasing an in-app ad:

Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising encompasses the execution of ad campaigns across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, each meticulously tailored to resonate with a distinct audience segment.

Distinguished by its interactive and personalized nature, social media advertising offers a multitude of formats to align with diverse campaign objectives. Below are some of the primary types of social media advertising:

Paid Social Media Ads

Paid social ads empower businesses to directly promote their content to a carefully targeted audience on a chosen social media platform. These ads come in diverse formats, spanning images, videos, carousels, and more, contingent upon the platform’s capabilities.

The primary allure of paid social media campaigns lies in their adaptable targeting functionalities. Advertisers can precisely tailor ads based on user demographics, interests, behaviors, and other pertinent variables, thereby maximizing their reach and effectiveness.

Here’s an illustrative example of a paid Twitter ad by Device ID Finder:

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing entails collaborating with individuals possessing substantial and engaged followings on social media platforms to endorse products or services. Central to influencer marketing is the concept of trust—followers rely on the influencer’s opinions and recommendations. Thus, when an influencer advocates for a product or service, it often generates considerable interest and engagement.

Here’s an instance exemplifying an influencer partnership:

Email Advertising

Email advertising represents a direct and personalized approach to online marketing, delivering promotional content directly to recipients’ inboxes. Here are several types of email advertising:

Inbox Advertising

Inbox advertising strategically positions ads directly within a user’s email inbox, typically within a designated promotional or social tab. Despite resembling regular emails, these ads are clearly marked as advertisements, ensuring transparency with users. This approach enables businesses to engage with users on a personal level, even if they are not subscribed to the company’s email lists.

Here’s an illustrative example of an email inbox ad:

Newsletter Ads

Newsletter ads, also referred to as sponsored emails, are promotional messages strategically inserted within another brand’s email newsletter. This marketing tactic enables businesses to leverage the established audience of a partner company. These ads seamlessly blend into the newsletter’s content and frequently offer value to readers while simultaneously promoting the advertiser’s offerings.

Here’s an example of a newsletter ad featured in Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic newsletter:

Native Advertising

Native advertising seamlessly incorporates promotional content into the platform where it’s hosted, aiming to engage users without interrupting their experience. Unlike conventional advertisements, native ads are skillfully crafted to blend with the surrounding content, enhancing their effectiveness and relevance. Here are several types of native ads:

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content entails brands paying for the placement of their content on another platform. Unlike traditional advertising, this content prioritizes offering value to the audience over hard selling, seamlessly integrating with the platform’s style and catering to the audience’s interests.

One prevalent form of sponsored content is in-feed ads, which seamlessly appear within a social media platform’s regular content feed. Regardless of the format, all sponsored content is meticulously designed to harmonize with the platform’s overall aesthetic and tone. To maintain transparency, such content is subtly labeled as “Sponsored,” “Paid content,” or “Promoted,” ensuring it does not disrupt the user experience.

Here’s an example of sponsored content featured on HuffPost:

Promoted Listings

Promoted listings are native ads strategically positioned within product or service lists, commonly found on ecommerce platforms. Despite resembling standard listings, they receive priority placement, increasing their visibility to users. To maintain transparency, promoted listings are frequently labeled as “Ad” or “Sponsored.”

Here’s an example of a promoted listing on eBay:

Online Advertising Best Practices

Absolutely, here are some key best practices to ensure successful online advertising campaigns:

1. Understand What Your Audience Wants

Understanding your target audience is paramount for creating effective ad campaigns. By researching demographics, pain points, goals, and more, you can tailor your ads to resonate with your audience. Here’s how you can gain insights and conduct research:

  1. Define Buyer Personas: Take the time to research and define detailed buyer personas that represent your ideal customers. Consider demographics, interests, behaviors, challenges, and purchasing motivations.
  2. Utilize Google Analytics: Explore the “Reports” section of Google Analytics to access valuable data on your audience’s demographics, interests, behaviors, and more. This information can help you better understand your audience and tailor your ad campaigns accordingly.
  3. Conduct Keyword Research: For search ads, conduct thorough keyword research to identify terms your audience is entering into search engines related to your business. Utilize tools like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool to discover keyword suggestions. Enter a seed keyword, choose your target country, and explore the suggested keywords to find relevant terms for your campaigns.

By leveraging these research methods, you can gain valuable insights into your audience and create targeted ad campaigns that effectively reach and resonate with them.

You see all word of keywords.

Filtering by search intent is crucial to ensure that the keywords resonate with audiences who are actively comparing brands or ready to make a purchase. In the “Intent” section, opt for choices like “Commercial” and “Transactional,” and then apply the filter. This precise strategy enables you to concentrate on keywords that have a higher likelihood of driving conversions, enhancing the efficiency of your ad campaigns.

To discover more precise and relevant outcomes, explore the suggested groups and subgroups located in the left-hand column. These categories aid in refining your search and selecting keywords that align closely with your campaign goals.

To align with your campaign objectives, choose keywords by checking the boxes beside them. Then, select “+ Add to keyword list” and assign a name to your list. This action will transfer the chosen keywords to Keyword Manager, a tool that offers comprehensive keyword analysis and generates keyword clusters automatically.


Utilize the PPC Keyword Tool to efficiently create, manage, and optimize your keyword lists for search ad campaigns. Simply navigate to the tool, input your domain, and click “Set up” to begin.

The easiest method for incorporating keywords is to add them individually by choosing the “Manually” option.


Then, input your keywords and specify your target location. Click “Start PPC Keyword Tool” to proceed.

You will now be directed to your main dashboard.

Within this dashboard, you can efficiently tidy up and arrange your keywords for the campaign.

The PPC Keyword Tool offers features to group keywords, adjust match types, and establish negative keywords. Furthermore, it provides insights such as search volume, cost per click, and competitive density.

Moreover, for those seeking a streamlined approach to crafting paid ads, Ads Launch Assistant by Semrush offers a solution. By inputting your URL, language, and location, you’ll receive keyword suggestions and AI-generated ad copy. Once you confirm campaign details and set your budget, you can launch your Google Ads campaign seamlessly.

Additionally, the app facilitates the creation and customization of alerts, ensuring prompt notifications whenever your accounts require attention.

2. Set Clear Goals

Prior to commencing any advertising campaign, it’s essential to establish clear campaign goals to accurately gauge success.

Your objectives might include enhancing brand awareness, driving website traffic, increasing sales, and so forth.

Adopt the SMART framework for goal-setting:

Specific: Provide detailed objectives. For example, instead of merely aiming to “increase traffic,” specify “increase website traffic by 20%.”

Measurable: Ensure that your goals are quantifiable. For instance, set a target to “generate 100 new leads.”

Achievable: Make sure your goals are realistic and feasible within your designated timeframe.

Relevant: Align your goals with your broader business objectives. For instance, if your focus is on brand awareness, a relevant goal could be to “increase social media followers by 30%.”

Time-bound: Set clear deadlines to instill a sense of urgency and maintain focus. For example, aim to “increase sales by 15% in the next quarter.”

Adopting this SMART approach will help you maintain focus and track the progress of your campaign effectively.

3. Craft Compelling Ads

A captivating advertisement not only captures attention but also convinces the viewer to take action.

It must effectively communicate your unique value proposition and clearly define the desired audience action.

A successful ad goes beyond catchy text; it incorporates compelling visuals (or videos), persuasive copy (or audio), and strategic calls-to-action (CTAs).

All components should harmonize to captivate the audience, stimulate interest, and prompt action.

For inspiration, analyze competitors’ search ads using the Advertising Research tool. Simply input a competitor’s domain and click “Search.”


The dashboard includes several tabs: “Positions,” “Position Changes,” “Competitors,” “Ads Copies,” “Ads History,” “Pages,” and “Subdomains.”

Navigate to the “Ads Copies” tab. You’ll encounter a display similar to this:


Analyze all the ad copy utilized by your competitor to identify the keywords they’re targeting and the emotional triggers employed to compel users to click.

4. Use Targeting Effectively

Utilize the targeting options provided by online advertising platforms to reach highly specific audiences, while maintaining a balance between over-targeting and under-targeting.

Over-targeting can risk intruding on the audience’s privacy, while under-targeting may result in reaching an overly broad audience, many of whom might not be interested in your offerings.

Here are some tips for effectively utilizing targeting options in your ad campaigns:

  1. Start with basic demographics: Begin by targeting based on demographic factors such as age, location, and language.
  2. Consider interests and behaviors: Take advantage of targeting options that allow you to reach users based on their interests and online behaviors, particularly on platforms like Facebook.
  3. Utilize geo-targeting for local businesses: If you operate a local business, employ geo-targeting to focus your ads on individuals within your immediate vicinity, as demonstrated in the image below from Google Ads.

5. Follow Platform Guidelines and Advertising Regulations

To ensure compliance and achieve optimal results, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the rules and best practices of each advertising platform. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Visit the platform’s official help or resource center: Start by exploring the official documentation provided by platforms like Facebook and Google Ads. This will give you insights into their ad policies and guidelines.
  2. Stay updated on policy changes: Keep track of any updates or revisions made to the policies of advertising platforms to ensure your campaigns remain compliant.
  3. Learn about unique platform features: Each platform offers distinct ad formats and targeting options. For instance, Facebook provides various ad formats and extensive targeting capabilities, while Google Ads focuses more on keywords and search intent.
  4. Understand platform differences: Take the time to comprehend the key distinctions between advertising platforms. For example, TikTok ads primarily appear in and around the main feed, whereas Facebook ads can be displayed in multiple locations.

Additionally, it’s essential to adhere to specific online advertising regulations, particularly those concerning data privacy and user consent. For instance, in many jurisdictions, businesses are required to obtain consumer consent before collecting data or contacting them.

In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act mandates that advertisers must offer an opt-out mechanism for emails, including newsletter ads, as depicted in the image below.

Absolutely, in Europe, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (ePrivacy Directive) plays a significant role in regulating data collection through websites. This directive mandates that users must provide explicit consent before their information is collected, particularly through the use of cookies or similar tracking technologies.

Adhering to regulations like the ePrivacy Directive is crucial for advertisers to avoid potential penalties and legal consequences. By obtaining proper consent and ensuring compliance with data protection laws, businesses can mitigate the risk of lawsuits and maintain trust with their audience.

6. Track, Test, and Optimize

To enhance your paid ad campaigns, it’s crucial to continuously test different ad versions and analyze the results. Here’s how you can do it effectively:

  1. Set key performance indicators (KPIs): Define the metrics that are most relevant to your campaign objectives, whether it’s views, clicks, conversions, or others. Establishing clear KPIs will help you measure the success of your ads accurately.
  2. Analyze and optimize: Utilize the data provided by the advertising platforms you’re using to run your ads. Analyze performance metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and return on investment. Based on these insights, make data-driven decisions to optimize your campaigns for better results.
  3. Test different ad elements: Conduct A/B tests to experiment with different versions of your ads. This could involve tweaking various elements such as ad copy, visuals, CTAs, or targeting parameters. By testing different variations, you can identify which elements resonate most with your audience and drive the best results.

By following these tips and continuously refining your ad campaigns based on data-driven insights, you can maximize the effectiveness of your paid advertising efforts and achieve better ROI.

Enhance Your Marketing Mix with Online Advertising

Online advertising serves as a valuable complement to SEO, social media, and other marketing strategies, providing an additional avenue to reach your target audience effectively.

If you haven’t already ventured into online advertising, it’s wise to begin exploring its potential benefits for your business.

Consider leveraging tools like our PPC Advertising Toolkit, which offers features to analyze competitors’ strategies, identify keyword opportunities, and optimize your ad campaigns. This toolkit can provide valuable insights and resources to help you navigate the world of online advertising and maximize your advertising efforts.