2019 Digital Marketing Platforms Guide
Each digital ad platform has its own set of typical users, bidding processes, and data. A smart digital marketing strategy employs consistent multi-channel campaigns on the platforms customers are most likely to find them. This guide includes a list of the major platforms and why they may be useful for your business. It isn’t exhaustive, and many niche industries utilize niche platforms. Research your customers, and go where they go. Each of the platforms discussed here deserve their own strategy articles, but this guide reviews how and why each platform would be used in an overall marketing strategy.
No matter what platforms your team uses, you’ll likely use either keywords or demographic data (or a combination of both) in addition to location targeting to help you reach your audiences. The combinations are endless and allow both large and small businesses to get results from their ad spend. You should choose your platforms based on where you expect your customers to be, and how you want them to find you. Take a look at the 2019 Digital Marketing Strategy Guide for more on how do determine where and how to advertise. Ultimately you should follow the data, and work with more audience- or keyword-heavy strategies on platforms based on where your team finds the most success.
Attributing sales to your marketing platforms is one of the most important things you can do for your marketing. You can increase your sales or conversions without setting up tracking, but you’ll be missing out on vital data about your customers and funnels. Traffic is coming in to your website and on your channels every day, and the data about it can point you towards your most valuable platform, your most engaged customers, and your highest-performing funnel.
Most advertising platforms provide methods of capturing traffic, measuring results, and building audiences through a combination of tracking code and native features. To get the most out of each platform, you should install tracking codes and ensure they work properly as quickly as possible. Thankfully, most tracking code snippets set-and-forget and can be easily installed through integrations with common apps like WordPress and Shopify. Google’s Tag Assistant and Facebook’s Pixel Helper are handy tools to help you keep an eye on your tracking codes.
The whale of all digital advertising — Google Ads accounted for 38% of all digital ad spend in 2018. On top of search, advertisers are capitalizing on the Display Network, Gmail, and YouTube, and Google runs it all. But it’s not perfect for everyone — the Search Network gets an average CTR over 3%, while the Display Network gets less than 0.5%. Google Search ads work exceptionally well if you have a niche product or service offering with niche keywords.
Google Ads (and SEM in general) is incredibly useful for inbound leads — especially B2B or major service-based business. Instead of chasing customers down, these customers come to you, usually by searching a keyword that you’ve bid on. They’re already looking for a solution to their problem, and you can show up at the top of the search page. It’s a great spot to be in, but you’re still competing for attention and search engine results pages (SERPs) aren’t immune to ad blindness, so keep testing and tracking your results.
Google is obviously heavily keyword-based. If your main strategy is paid SEM, get ready to build and rebuild lists of keywords based on audience research, competitor research, and campaign data. Location-based keywords are highly valuable for local and regional businesses. Use tools like SEMrush or SpyFu to check in on yourself and your competitors. Google search your own industry keywords and make a note of what you find. Once your list is ready, you can fine-tune your content and audience building.
Google Search Network Ads are set up with a headline, text, and a link. There are a lot of other placements and ad types (Shopping, Display Network, etc.) that may require a creative as well. You set budgets for particular keywords or keyword phrases that you want potential customers to find you with and let Google do the rest. You’ll get data back on things like impressions and clicks within your audiences. There are also tracking tools for retargeting — a small code snippet for your website lets Google track and retarget your visitorsbased on their behavior. Use audiences and affinity audiences to build highly targeted campaigns for interested users. When you’re ready to start working with different settings and campaigns, use Google’s documentation for the most detail.
The second major player in the duopoly, the Facebook Ads platform is used by 72% of marketers, and 67% are planning on increasing their use within the next year. Even with all of the negative press the company has been getting over privacy and election concerns, it remains one of the largest digital ad platforms on Earth, and advertisers are spending billions. 75% of all the men and 83% of all the women on the internet use Facebook, including people of all ages (over 13, of course), so the likelihood that your customers are there too is very high.
The setup on Facebook Ads is relatively easy. You can even do almost everything straight from the Promote section on your Page, but there’s significantly more control through the Business Manager. There are plenty of campaign objectives to choose from and a lot of flexibility for your ads, which make for great creative and testing strategies. Most ads on Facebook consist of a creative, ad copy, a button, and a link, although some ad formats, like carousels, require a bit more. There are also tools like lead forms that can be filled out directly from the ad, minimizing the steps between interest grab and conversion. Targeting is location- and audience-based, and the Facebook Pixel can be used similarly to Google’s retargeting tools to track and build audiences. The best place to get information about features and tools is straight from the horse’s mouth.
Facebook’s Ads Manager is full of data from your campaigns and it differs based on your campaign objectives and tracking tools. The number of metrics available through Facebook Ads is daunting, but it gives you a deep view of your audience’s’ response to your ads. Use the breakdown tools to see how your ads are performing across various audiences.
Advertising professionals are expecting Amazon Ads to take the #3 spot in digital ad spend in 2019. Users are increasingly starting their product search directly on Amazon instead of Google, making Amazon’s search results the perfect new spot to boost retail products — US advertisers spent $4.61 billion on them in 2018. Amazon’s advertising platform lets advertisers build Amazon Stores and bid on keywords for Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands placements. The Amazon DSP can also be used for display and video ads placed across Amazon-owned websites and apps. Most of the information about the platform can be found in their FAQ.
The best part of Amazon’s analytics is that it’s incredibly easy to attribute sales to particular ads because they’re being advertised and sold on the same platform. The flip side of this is that their current audience targeting is lackluster. There are audience building features available, but they aren’t as easily implemented as Facebook’s or Google’s.
Instagram Ads can be run from your Facebook Business Manager by selecting Instagram as a placement for your ads, or you can run them directly from Instagram. Since 52% of Instagram’s US users are between 18 and 29, this is a great platform to use if you’re trying to reach younger audiences that may have left Facebook. It’s image and video based platform means visual content is the main thing your audiences are interacting with, so your creatives are key. Familiarity on social media is also a huge driver of purchases — 72% of users say they’ve purchased something they’d seen before on Instagram.
If you’re just getting started with Instagram Ads, you’ll need a page, a creative, good copy, and a link. You can get a bit more creative with things like carousels, but ad formats are relatively limited due to the style of the app. Ads on Instagram have the benefit of looking a lot like regular posts, and native-looking advertising can help prevent ad blindness. Overall Instagram is a great way to reach younger audiences based on audience and location targeting — more details about the platform and its features are on Facebook.
Email is unique in that it can be equally useful for potential and existing customers in B2C and B2B businesses and everyone uses it. Its versatility and consistency are its major selling points. It’s also pretty easy to get someone to give you their email when you’re proposing value — it’s low-risk and non-committal. Newsletters, blog updates, and product displays sent to interested audience members build expertise and trust, and 80% of retailers use it for customer acquisition and retention. Follow-ups and relationship-building on leads are a necessity to close. Account and software updates keep users informed and comfortable with your products. All of these things can be accomplished with email.
The first step with email marketing is getting and building a list, then segmenting it into users based on their behavior. Buying emails can work but the list will always be lower quality than an organically built list. This means lower open rates and click rates and a higher chance of spam reports. A high quality list will pay off big time in B2B — 59% of B2B marketers say email is the most effective tool for revenue generation. Common apps like Mailchimpand HubSpot have tools that make collecting and sending emails a breeze. Unfortunately there’s only so much data that can come from emails, but there’s still plenty of room to test subject lines, email copy, and designs against open and click rates.
SEO isn’t much of a “platform” per se (although you could just call it Google), but it’s usually a major part of a successful ongoing marketing strategy. In industries like retail you’re likely better of using Google Shopping or Amazon Ads, but it’s still important for customers and potential customers to be able to find your company (and not someone else’s) when they search specifically for you or your specific niche. In B2B it’s even more important — 61% of marketers say SEO is their top inbound marketing priority.
Keyword research is especially important here. Your keywords need to be short, sweet, and relevant. These are words that need to be in your header tags, titles, meta, and copy. Your company name, your product or service offering, and industry keywords are a good place to start. If you’re running a local business, location-based keywords are a necessity. Ensure your Google My Business is up to date. Google Analytics and Search Console are must-use tools, and keyword and competitor research are great if you want to step it up a bit.
Larger budgets call for better marketing, and you can spend a lot on SEO. Experts think there are around 200 ranking factors that Google uses, including your domain’s security, inbound links, site architecture, and authority. Keeping up with the latest ranking factors and maintaining an optimal website gets harder as your site and company grow. Your competitors are also trying to rank for the same keywords, so you’ll need to try to rank higher than them if you think enough customers are searching for your products or services to outweigh the costs.
There are a few other platforms that deserve an honorable mention. Depending on your industry and audience, some smaller platforms can be highly valuable resources for driving traffic or sales, and CPCs can be lower. They’re less one-size-fits-all, so spend lightly until you see real results.
The B2B marketer’s bread and butter — 94% of them use LinkedIn to distribute content, and 80% of B2B leads from social come from LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives you a unique look at users’ professional lives — where a potential customer works and what position they hold are valuable tidbits of information that can be used to build lead lists and run ads (Facebook has features for this as well, but job information isn’t as readily available). LinkedIn Ads are mostly audience-based with targeting based on work experience and position, and you can advertise through boosted content, InMail, text and display ads. The most up-to-date resource on the LinkedIn Ads platform is the Success Hub.
This could arguably be put under Google since it’s run under Google Ads, but video deserves its own discussion. Videos are more entertaining, more informational, and overall enjoyable than images. They’re likely to convert better, and more metrics can come from a 10 second video than an image or static post (e.g. seconds watched, percentage viewed).
As for YouTube itself, US advertisers spent nearly $4 billion in YouTube ads in 2018, and 62% of marketers plan on increasing their YouTube Ads spendingin the next 12 months. It’s a great platform for the both young and niche audiences. You need a YouTube channel and a video to get started advertising, and you can target based on location and audience demographics and interests. There are a few different formats to choose from, and your ads will appear on YouTube, YouTube-owned videos on other sites, or apps and sites within the Display Network. More information about YouTube Ads can be found in their FAQ.
While growing in popularity, Twitter Ads are still only useful if that’s where your audience is. Twitter is the second largest social platform for business professionals, and advertisers are warming up to it, with 25% of marketers saying they’ve run video ads on Twitter. The good news is that the platform creates meaningful engagement — in Q3 2017 Twitter reported a 99% increase in year-over-year engagements. The platform’s native flexibility allows for a few different ad styles — you can promote your account, tweets, or even hashtags to create awareness and drive trends, and users can still interact with Promoted Tweets like normal tweets. Conversion tracking is available directly through the platform through an installed code snippet, and advanced targeting with Tailored Audiences is available for audience building based on website or app visits or built lists. Their Ads Overview has the most information about running Twitter Ads.
Pinterest is a powerhouse of DIY and design inspiration, and 93% of active users use Pinterest to plan for purchases. Sponsored Pins fit right into users’ typical feeds, so native advertising is a bonus, but options are limited. Similarly to Twitter, your Promoted Pins can also be re-pinned and shared among friends, so it mixes the best of both organic and paid advertising. This is a great spot to advertise if you’re marketing to millennials, in a creative niche or B2C — Pinners spend 29% more on retail than non-Pinners.
Targeting is based on basic demographics, keywords, and interests, and custom and actalike audience features allow you to target based on your lists, engagement, and website visitors. Pinterest Analytics can provide extra data on performance and sales if you install the Pinterest Tag on your website. Go through Pinterest’s Ads documentation pages to learn more.
Quora Ads and Capterra Ads
Quora and Capterra are both platforms people use when they’re looking for deeper answers or solutions, making them an excellent start to an inbound funnel. Quora has 200 million unique monthly users searching for well-known and recommended solutions, and Capterra has over 5 million businesspeople looking for software solutions. Based on the nature of these sites, ads and boosted content on the platforms get the benefit of rubbing shoulders with other trusted, credible content, and look more credible themselves. Capterra is strictly for B2B marketing (and the costs reflect that), but Quora can be used in both B2B and B2C strategies.
While there’s no question Google makes up most of the search traffic online, Bing can still be a valuable ad platform. 72% of Bing’s users are over 35 years old, which makes it a platform worth exploring if most of your customers are older than that. In addition, nearly 38% of Bing’s users have a yearly household income of over $100,000. Again, the smaller platforms perform better in smaller niches, and you should use the typical user demographics to your advantage. Ads are very similar to Google’s in that they consist of a headline, ad copy, and a link, and they appear on search engine results pages. There are a few other formats for products or ads within the Microsoft Audience Network, but many of Bing Ads’ features are limited in availability to users in the US and some European countries. Bing Ads Help is the most valuable resource for setting up and running ads.
Social media drives a massive number of interactions between businesses and their current or future customers, and those interactions lead to valuable customer relationships. With most social platforms creating a platform for native or near-native advertising, many companies witt cash to spend use paid social on the platforms their customers use. Unlike organic social, paid social guarantees you’ll get eyes on your content.
Organic social is still a necessity in 2019, but likely won’t provide a large enough return to spend a lot of time or money on until your company is large enough to be managing lots of customer conversations via social. You ultimately get what you pay for, which is next to nothing if you have a small organic social team (or no organic social team at all). It’s sliding down in popularity compared to paid social, with some platforms deciding to update feed algorithms in favor of people, not companies — 52% of marketers reported a decrease in organic Facebook traffic in 2018.
Every business needs a minimum of a website and one social page — they help potential customers find, interact with, and come to trust your business, and keep existing customers informed and comfortable. Engaged customers are happy customers, and social media is a unique direct connection between them and your business. However, an old, outdated social channel looks worse than no channel at all, so if you’re going to go for it, commit and be consistent. Even just one post per month or week is enough, and you can spend as little as 5 minutes on a quick post. If content is a heavy part of your strategy, more social channels = more traffic to your content. More developed brands with a solid presence or following can get into developing customer support through social channels, where it’s easy to start conversations.
The popularity of social media influencers is skyrocketing, with around 50% of marketers planning on increasing their budgets for them. You don’t necessarily have to cough up the big bucks for them though — smaller niche influencers can pay off, gathering more targeted attention for a lower price. See someone with a large following on social, or someone pushing a competitor’s product? Ask them if they’ll accept payment to promote your product or brand. On a larger scale, set up an affiliate program and let people sign up, sell, and get a cut of your sales. 71% of marketers think ongoing brand ambassadorship is the most effective use for influencer marketing. People love to buy recommended items, especially from larger, recognizable faces, so marketers are using them to drive overall awareness and sales.
Getting the right eyes on your content is at the heart of marketing. Dollars spent in the wrong place are easily burned, but every ad platform is useful for somebody. Get creative, think about where your customers are, and don’t be afraid to throw a little money at a new platform every once in a while. If you do your research and follow the data, you’re on the path of continuous improvement for your marketing strategy.
Olivia Mischianti is a digital marketing consultant and the owner of Lookout Web Studio, located in Virginia. Her background is in business technology, data, and strategy, and she specializes in marketing strategy. Connect with her on LinkedIn.