HomeBlogThe Top 4 Online Advertising Channels: 12 Tips to Use Them Right

The Top 4 Online Advertising Channels: 12 Tips to Use Them Right

Author: Navah Hopkins
Last Updated: May 31, 2023 | Paid Search Marketing

All ad networks represent potential value for brands. Where they can fall short is if they are asked to do a job they’re not predisposed to do or behave the way other ad networks behave. Understanding the rules of engagement for each ad network can help you to assign them the right jobs, and more importantly, achieve the highest ROI.

ad channel roles

This post is just going to focus on the four main ad channels:

  1. Paid search: The Salesman
  2. Display: The Audience Builder
  3. Video: The Need Educator
  4. Paid social: The Impulse Enabler

While each ad channel can do some of the others’ jobs, they are best suited to their core function. Let’s take a look at each one and its core role, along with my top tips for getting the most out of each one.

Paid search: The Salesman

Paid search (usually Google Ads) is the default advertising channel for many brands. These are the ads served on the SERP (search engine results page). Google Search sees 5.6 billion searches per day, so it’s understandable brands want access to that visibility. Here are my top tips for using paid search right.

Have a specific target in mind

The nature of search means the person already knows what they need. They might be researching to decide which vendor makes the most sense, but for the most part, the product or service has already lodged itself in the user’s mind.search ad example

As such, paid search works best when you have a specific target market in mind for your products/services. You understand what those products and services are worth so you can set realistic goals for average cost per click (CPC), cost per acquisition (CPA), and return on ad spend (ROAS).

Choose the right keyword concepts

Since paid search revolves around bidding on keyword concepts, you’ll need to get into the mind of how your best customers search. Bidding on both “attorney” and “lawyer” will cause you to bid against yourself, and each has its own unique auction price. By choosing the best keyword concept for your target market, you’ll ensure you’re able to speak to your prospect in the way they want to be spoken to.

free keyword tool results for attorney keywords

Divide your headlines into hooks and CTAs

Ads need to speak to user needs while also being more than keyword formulaic templates. A good way to think about paid search ads is dividing your headline ones into “hooks”and your headline twos into calls to action (CTAs). Descriptions should include additional information the user might value knowing, but shouldn’t be mission-critical to getting their attention. Most users only read the headlines of ads.

responsive search ad headlines - template

Get our responsive search ad template here.

By harnessing the right keywords to target the right audience, search ads are powerful closers. You can use native audiences (in-market, affinity, etc.) or build their own through first-party data or using custom intent.

Display: The Audience Builder

Display campaigns are far more valuable than “just remarketing” channels. They allow you to communicate with high-impact imagery as well as begin to build a curated audience for your other campaigns.

Display ads can be charged by CPM (cost per thousand users), CPC (cost per click), or CPA (cost per acquisition). Here are some tips for getting the most out of your display ads

Conduct placement audits

The key to activating display’s full value is placement audits. Some placements will hold more value than others (and in turn have higher auction prices). It’s up to you to unpack whether a placement is worth the premium or not.

While most mobile app placements will be a waste (fat fingering an ad in the middle of a game is the worst kind of wasted spend), some can be useful. Make sure auditing placements is grounded in KPIs and strategic value.

display ad placement examples

Image source

Use them to prequalify your leads

If you find that your lead quality has been poor, display ads can be a powerful tool to reach your prospects while they’re researching their needs. You can help them understand if they’re thinking about value/quality the right way, or whether they should even be considering your product/service at all.

Be creative with your creative

Display ad creative is far more important than it used to be. Users have gotten accustomed to beautiful creative, regardless of whether it’s sponsored. One of the ways Google and Microsoft lighten the load is with their Shutterstock integration. Whether you use Shutterstock or your own creative, you’ll be able to get much more reach (and engagement) out of responsive display ads.

display ad examples on a hobby website

Both display ad examples on this page have built-in buttons to signal the user to click. However, the World of Warcraft ad has better synergy with the topic of the page. While the Shopify Plus ad makes sense to serve to me (I’m an ideal target), interrupting my hobby time requires more creativity than a straightforward ad.

Video: The Need Educator

All ad networks have embraced video ads as a major creative type, and for good reason. Video ad content can inspire need through creative storytelling, alert a prospect on their eligibility to interact with products/services, and build positive sentiment toward a brand. Here are some key tips for creating video ad campaigns.

Prioritize the first 5 seconds

The best video ads understand users likely won’t see past the first five seconds. While some lean into the six-second bumper ad format (equal part art and science), others attempt to persuade the user to stick around for the full ad.

Pragmatically, advertisers should focus on getting the following information out in the first five seconds:

Focus on your personas

Video ads require strategic thinking on target personas. If you will be using real people, you need to make sure they match the target demographic you’re serving to. Using graphics can be a way around this—however, you need to make sure you maintain brand voice (i.e., if your brand isn’t cheeky in other content, you can’t suddenly have a cheeky cartoon ad).

skippable youtube ad example

Set a frequency cap

Aside from creative, it’s important to remember video ads interrupt content a user actively chose to engage in. If you serve the same ad (or ads in the same series) to people too frequently, they will eventually tune you out or develop bad brand sentiment. Be sure you set a frequency cap for daily/weekly views. A good place to start is five views per week and adjust from there.

frequency cap setting

Paid social: The Impulse Enabler

Paid social refers to ads on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.

Regularly refresh your creative

Your social ads require the biggest shift in strategy and creative from search. They revolve around new entities instead of old data, so you ened to refresh campaigns/ad sets/ads to help the algorithm continue to serve them optimally. There are plenty of tools for designing Facebook ads, like Canva.

facebook ad templates in canva

Be aware of privacy restrictions

Building a good social campaign requires the most work in unpacking personas. Understanding who your people are and how to inspire their desire is key to winning at paid social. While this used to be child’s play with all the native targeting, privacy innovations have forced social ad networks to limit targeting and reporting options. For help in this arena, check out our resources:

Use lookalike audiences

Using customer lists to seed lookalikes has always been a part of social campaigns, and remains a viable way to focus budgets toward ideal prospects.


Conventional wisdom holds that 1% lookalike is the best setting, however, in more niche industries, 8% has been starting to perform better. Test both schools of thought to find the best audiences for you.

This means that creative is even more crucial than before. Segmenting out which creative will speak to the user relies on visual queues and demographic matching.

facebook ad example

View the ad example here.

This Facebook video ad does a great job because it highlights various people using the product and also plays into the common obsession some people have with taking care of acne. There’s also a clear call to action (Shop Now) and a relatable headline.

What makes this ad a great case study in impulse enablement is how applicable it is to a wide group, while also solving a relatable problem.

Final tips & takeaways

Each of these paid media channels have a place in your marketing mix, and each has its own rules of engagement. Here are my two final takeaways for using these ad channels:

  • Each channel also has certain budget thresholds for success. If you don’t have the budget for one, you might be able to get comparable value by leveraging another.
  • The best way to unify their efforts is to use analytics as your main source of truth and collaborate on cross-channel messaging.

We can help you succeed on these ad channels. See our full range of digital marketing solutions to learn how.

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Meet The Author

Navah Hopkins

Navah Hopkins is a Top 25 PPC Expert and international speaker who has been in the digital marketing industry since 2008. She specializes in paid media strategy and helping brands build relationships with profitable partners and customers.

She’s a cofounding member of the Paid Search Association, a group dedicated to empowering the next generation of PPC practitioners, and she continues to give back by sharing lessons learned at conferences and local universities, and in blogs and webinars for SEJ, SEL, Semrush, and WordStream.


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