Online advertising – an overview for e-commerce

A photo of a laptop on a desk with online advertising written over it

When developing your digital marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to use a framework that covers all the bases. One important aspect of this framework, especially in the start-up phase of your business, is online advertising. In this post we discuss the definition and benefits of online advertising, as well as introduce the BIG FOUR online advertising options for e-commerce.

What is online advertising?

The definition on Wikipedia explains: “It is a form of marketing and advertising which uses the internet to deliver promotional marketing messages to consumers”.

Online advertising is also known by several other names:

  • Paid advertising
  • Online marketing
  • Pay-per-click (PPC)
  • Paid channel marketing
  • Internet advertising
  • Web advertising

Whatever term you choose to use, online advertising is one of the most effective ways for businesses to expand their reach and find new customers.

The main types of online advertising

If you’ve read our other blogs, you’ll know there are essentially two ways to attract visitors to your site: organic (or “free”) traffic and paid for traffic, of which a large part is online advertising.

Within online advertising there are several options available, each of which is used in different circumstances, and across different platforms, to drive traffic to your e-commerce site. Although there are others, this high-level overview shows the main types of online advertising:


A note on Pay-per-Click (PPC) advertising: Sometimes the industry refers to PPC as a type of ad, but rather it is a method of payment (you are charged when a visitor clicks on your ad). This option is available on many platforms, like Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.

“Paid for” options to drive traffic to your store

Online advertising collectively describes the channels or methods you can pay for to attract traffic to your site. Below we highlight 5 areas or ‘channels’ where you can make use of online ads to attract visitors.

1. Search engine marketing (SEM)

Search engine marketing is the practice of raising awareness of a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages. You pay a provider like Google Adwords (which dominates this channel) to show your ad. Then when a user types their query into a search engine, relevant paid ads appear next to the normal organic search results. These organic results are generated by SEO (search engine optimisation), which works in a similar query-based way, but is not paid for. The main types of SEM are text ads, as shown in the picture below, product listing ads and shopping ads. Jerry Banfield does a good job of explaining how best to use Google Adwords.


2. Social channels

Social media advertising comprises the ads served to users on social media platforms. Because social networks have access to user information, they display highly relevant advertisements (i.e. based on specific interests, behavioural interactions and other custom targeting). You can advertise on:

  • Social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+,
  • Photo-sharing websites like Instagram, Snapchat or Pinterest
  • Video-sharing websites like Youtube, Facebook live, Periscope or Vimeo
  • Microblogging sites like Twitter or Tumblr

Follow these social media gurus to learn more about how to post and advertise on social channels.

3. Price comparison websites

On PriceCheck, you have the option to (a) list your products, in which case you pay a fee when someone clicks on any of them, or (b) pay upfront to place an ad on the site. At BidorBuy you pay a commission when your listed product is sold.

Talk to us if you want to integrate your e-commerce site to these and/or other price comparison websites.


4. Affiliate marketing

Affiliates are other individuals or businesses who recommend your products, and usually receive a commission for doing so. Learn all about it from Pat Flynn in his blogs, 3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained – and The One I Profit From and 8 Principles for Effective Affiliate Marketing on a Blog.

5. Mobile marketing

The mobile market is on a huge upward trend and it offers several different types of paid advertising, from bulk SMSes or MMSes, to mobile search and proximity marketing. This last is location-based and users with the necessary technology need to give permission to receive the ads. To make full use of mobile marketing, read Neil Patel’s blog on 14 Mobile Marketing Tips that Drives Leads and Sales.

Introducing the Big Four online advertising options

Experts like Ezra Firestone from DigitalMarketer suggest that of all the options out there, the BIG FOUR are the ones to focus on for e-commerce owners. Each of these uses query-based or contextual targeting, or both:


  • Google (contextual and query-based) – this includes YouTube, plus Google Adwords, Search, Shopping and Display Network amongst others
  • Facebook (contextual)
  • Instagram (contextual) – this is owned by Facebook
  • Pinterest (contextual and query-based)

Even though the Big Four tend to be the most effective, you still need to make sure the options you choose meet the specific needs and online behaviours of your audience. There may be other platforms that work better for you, for example, Snapchat is widely used by Generation X and Millennials.

The bottom line….

Driving traffic to your site through online advertising takes time and effort – and usually trial and error too. If you don’t get it right first time, don’t despair. Learn as much as you can about the process from blogs like this one, then fine-tune your ads until they’re really working for you. Before you know it, you’ll not only be attracting new visitors, but converting them into paying customers too.

What is it about an online ad that compels you personally to interact with it?

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