This is part of a series of articles for founders, marketers or anyone new to the display advertising world who needs to market their product or service.

You can read the first article of this series "How does modern display advertising actually work?" which covers the basic knowledge and lingo to understand how modern display advertising works.

Focus your efforts

The most common mistake in the advertising world is to scatter your efforts into several ad strategies, spending budgets on multiple ad-networks will make you lose track of what is actually going on: You want to be surgical on where your conversions come from or you will end up burning cash way too fast.

Recognizing which acquisition channels should have the highest priority in terms of budget & time is one of the most important skills you’ll have to learn in order to master web advertising

In this article we will cover some topics that will teach you how to select the most relevant ad-networks for your business:

  1. Search Engine advertising
  2. Display advertising
  3. Relevant display ad-networks for startups
    a. Social media ad-networks
    b. Platform-based ad-networks
    c. Generalist ad-networks

Search engine advertising (SEA)

When we talk about marketing most people like to start thinking in terms of banner advertising. That’s wrong.

You should in most cases start with Search Engine Advertising (SEA = pay per click text ads in Google, Bing, and other search engines). This paid acquisition channel is by far the most efficient way to reach your customers (prospects or prospective customers).

The main benefits of SEA are:

  • In depths measurability & analysis
  • High optimization & targeting possibilities
  • Ease of reach for your ideal audience
  • Natively displayed on every type of device (desktop, mobile, …)
  • Fast to set up & budget-friendly and scalable

In the last decade Google has been dominating the search advertising market. Your audience however, might not exclusively use Google for searching. Depending on where you are geo-located you could consider investing in Bing search ads.

  • Google Ads
    One of the biggest advantages of Google Ads is the platform’s enormous reach. A monopoly within the market, Google holds over 75% of the search market and processes over 5.6 billion searches a day. That alone, should suffice to prove that it is the go-to platform for every marketer.
  • Bing Ads
    In January 2019 a partnership agreement stated that Microsoft’s Bing Ads will be the exclusive search advertising platform for Verizon Media properties, including Yahoo and AOL. These 3 search engines combine over 10% of the search market. The Bing Ad-network is not to be forgotten. It is less crowded than Google when it comes to ad-buyers and therefore there is less competition on keyword bidding.

Be careful with your money!

It’s easy to invest a lot of money on the wrong search keywords. Most small businesses’ marketing budget is limited, nevertheless everyone should invest their money and time into paid search.

To get the most out of your marketing budget you should pay attention to not overbid on keywords and avoid high competition keywords. You will learn from your mistakes and use them to your advantage in the future.

Display advertising

When looking at display advertising and their numbers it’s easy to understand why some marketers might not want to invest in them.

Display ads have across all ad formats and placements one of the lowest CTR (≈0,46%) of all digital marketing strategies. When compared to the average CTR for SEAs (≈3.17%) and the fact that you have to create display advertising banners you might think it’s not worth the effort investing in such marketing strategies.

Source: Wordstream - Google ads by industry benchmarks

What are the benefits of display advertising?

  • Highly customizable tools: segmentation, A/B testing and targeting possibilities
  • Enables you to set-up cost-efficient retargeting campaigns
  • Gathering valuable data
  • Reach a broader audience
  • Increases brand awareness & visibility

When doing banner advertising the right way, you enable your company to reach your customers at every stage of the marketing funnel, from awareness to interest to conversion, efficiently. More on this in a later article.

Online marketing is not a sprint, you should view it as a marathon, and display ads are part of a good customer acquisition strategy.

While you can promote your banners directly on some websites by contacting them (highly inefficient and time-consuming), most display ads are published through programmatic ad-networks.

Most of these networks will give you access to a range of tools enabling you to narrow down your audience targeting.

Available networks for display ads are mainly divided into 3 big categories:

  • Social media ad-networks (Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, ...): Currently social media ad-networks are one of the fastest-growing acquisition sources in display advertising, Facebook is by far leading the pack and is currently part of the digital ad spend duopoly with Google.
Source - eMarketer
  • Platform-based ad-networks (Amazon, Pinterest, ...):
    These ad-networks are publishing ads on their own platform, by extension every social-media platform also fits this type of ad-network.
  • Generalist ad-networks (Google, Microsoft, ...):
    These are the most common type of networks, they are able to ad-serve on a variety of external websites giving you the ability to target everyone, everywhere.

Relevant display ad-networks for startups

You should be careful about which display ad-networks you select, some of them perform mostly for specific types of businesses, whereas others are more forgiving.

Keep in mind that display ads strategies are one of the trickiest, and I would not advise you to run these types of campaigns without already running other types of marketing strategies (SEA, growth hacking, ...). When poorly executed, these could cost you money and time.

Finding the right ad-networks that fits your business and audience will be a big part of your ad-strategy. Finding secondary niche ad-networks to complete your reach is part of that strategy too.

Example: Let’s say you are a startup selling a developer productivity tool, a large part of your audience are browsing a specific range of websites, some ad-networks are specialized in selling advertising for your audience, and these networks signed deals and partnerships with these publishers. The lead generation & brand positioning will generally have a bigger impact on these ad-networks than more generalist ones.

You should pay close attention to the metrics obtained, measure your ROI and ROAS then adjust accordingly your budget between the networks you’ve identified.  

Below you will find a list of ad-networks; Some of them are very relevant for early-stage businesses, whereas others are more suited for expanding your audience reach when your revenue and company grows.

Social media ad-networks:

Platform-based ad-networks:

  • Pinterest ads
    With 291 million monthly active users and 79,5% of them are female. Pinterest is a great niche ad-network, the majority of the users are actively looking for information and purchase inspiration. If you are an e-commerce or B2C type of business targeting a female demographic, advertising on Pinterest could become a great lead magnet.
  • Amazon ads
    Amazon ads is now the 3rd biggest digital ad platform in the US with more than 50% of all web shoppers searching for a product on amazon marketplace. It becomes one of the priority ad-networks to publish on if you are an e-commerce type of business.

Generalist ad-networks:

  • Google Display
    With over 2 million sites on the network and over 90% of people on the Internet reached, Google ad-network SHOULD be part of your advertising strategy. This self-served platform gives you one of the most complete set of tools to reach almost everyone but it can also be narrowed down to a specific audience demographic. No matter what type of business you are operating (B2B, B2C, E-commerce, …) you should advertise on Google ad-network.
  • AdLib
    A programmatic platform allowing you to reach your audience on the world's most popular sites & apps. AdLib built a solution that removes “traditional” Ad-agencies high entry fees and setup complexities, giving you access to premium platforms with no budget requirement & tied contracts.
  • BuySellAds
    With over 502 websites BuySellAds is specialized in niche audience websites, the marketplace categorizes every website available in their network,  the average monthly impressions and related CPM price per ad-formats. It could be an interesting ad-network if your target audience visits regularly these websites.
  • Carbon Ads
    Part of the BuySellAds group, Carbon Ads is specialized in developer and designer audience targeting, there are some big niche players in their network such as dribbble, Codepen, Jsfiddle, …
  • Maker ads
    Maker ads is an ethical ad-network specialized in freelancer, designer and developer audience targeting. The most interesting part is that any indie maker can publish an ad to their network for free, big companies have to pay in order to be able to publish their ads. Also all their metrics are public and their ad code is open-source.

What's next ?

Hopefully this article helped you in your ad-networks selection, you should be now ready for our upcoming article!

Modern online advertising requires you to have a battle plan this is why in the next part, we’re going to do a deep dive into the necessary steps on how to plan & define your advertising strategy.

How to plan and define your advertising strategy
Taking time to plan ahead will reduce the risk to make strategic mistakes. Walking into a room in the dark without a torch can be painful, just like when you step on a LEGO brick with your barefoot...