Digital advertising woman on mobile device
Out of the Blue Blog

What is Digital Advertising?

Digital advertising is the proliferation of advertisements and digital messages to online audiences via mobile apps, email marketing, social media, and search engines.

Anytime you pay to showcase your brand online, it’s a form of digital advertising. And this practice is growing in popularity by the day…

As of 2020, 68% of digital marketers said that paid advertising was “very important” or “extremely important” to their overall marketing strategy. With more people consuming online content over traditional means each day, there’s a ton of upside for digital advertisers.

Whether you are a small or large business, digital advertising can have huge implications for growing your brand.

You can use digital ads to test out a newly published web page, or drive traffic to a social media campaign. You can also integrate digital ads with your other marketing efforts, like content marketing or SEO.

Digital advertising is versatile, effective, and probably less expensive than you thought. You can start promoting your business quickly and track the progress of every campaign in real-time.

Digital Advertising Formats

Traditional advertising formats were very limited. Brands could only choose among a few types of ads either on TV, radio or in their local community (think bus benches).

Digital ads give brands control over their message. They can decide where they want to post the ads, what size audience they want to target, and what specific ad content they want to use.

Several popular digital advertising formats have emerged, and they have given businesses many flexible options.


Search engine marketing was one of the original online advertising methods used to increase brand visibility in search engine results.

In SEM campaigns, ads are placed on search engine results pages and advertisers are only paid when a person visits their website. It’s a highly efficient way for advertisers to spend their ad dollars.

SEM advertising and marketing

Every new campaign targets a specific set of keywords based on what prospective searchers will type into the search engine.

So let’s say you’re launching a Google Ads campaign to sell your latest batch of handbags. You’ll want to target keywords related to “handbags,” “women’s handbags,” “small handbags,” or other terms that your target customer is likely to type in.

Once you launch your new ads, you will start getting impressions when users search for those specific terms. PPC, or pay per click, is the concept of paying for each click you receive on your ad.

Whenever someone searches “small handbags” and clicks on your ad, you get charged.

This is why it’s so important to have a compelling landing page. You want your customers to go directly from your ad into a conversion-friendly situation. That means designing a landing page that is user-friendly and includes effective call to action options.

Your landing page should be an extension of your ad. If your ad is like a teaser to prospective customers, your landing page should provide users the additional info they need to make a purchasing decision.

SEM campaigns are easy to measure and monitor. You can connect Google Ads to your Google Analytics account to receive all the information in one place.

Display Ads

Display advertising includes ads that are shown on third-party websites or apps. These can incorporate video, images, and text features.

There are many types of display ads, but the most commonly used type is the banner ad. Banners are typically rectangular or square ads that appear as a user scrolls through a different publisher’s website.

Digital advertising man looking at his phone

Display ads are usually charged on a cost per impression basis, or CPM. This means that you have to pay each time a user sees your ad. It can be a smart way to expand your branding, especially if your banner ads are showing up on websites that are closely related to your business.

The downside of display ads is that they are less likely to convert than other ad types. This is because users aren’t actively looking for your ad when they see it. The ad image and copy have to be compelling enough to convince people to click away from the website.

Despite a relatively small amount of people clicking on display ads (click through rates for banner ads specifically are around 0.1%), these ads can help you reach the largest segment in your target market.

Here are some tips for succeeding with display advertising.

Smooth, Uninvasive Content

Not everyone will want to see your ads. Make sure that your ads are avoidable by eliminating autoplay video ads, invasive pop-ups, or other ads that viewers can’t scroll away from and remove from their page viewing experience.

Quiet Designs Speak Volumes

Keep your display ads fairly simple, meaning don’t use clashing colors and don’t try to squeeze in too much text into a small space.

When in doubt, use no more than 2-3 colors across the entire ad. This will prevent you from distracting your audience, increasing their chances of clicking through.

Focus on CTA

Ultimately, your ads are only as strong as your call to actions (CTAs). Make your message benefit-focused, convincing users that they will improve their lives by using your product or service.

A great alternative to display advertising is native advertising, but more on that in a bit.

Robust Landing Pages

Getting people to click on your ad is half the battle. The second part of the display ad process is getting people to convert on your landing pages.

digital ads girl shopping online

Your landing pages should have one purpose, or message that you want to convey. This message should be inline with the expectations of your display ad.

Landing pages should be clean, without a distracting navigation bar. Social proof should be included as well, showing users that your products or services have made a difference to others.

Keep your content short and sweet, including lead forms. Don’t ask for excessive or unnecessary information from users, as they will be far less likely to sign up.

Social Media

Social media advertising has blown up in recent years. With so many popular platforms that are generating billions of visits per month, there is a new audience waiting to be unearthed using social advertising.

Social media ads are great for new brands as well. You can set up a new Facebook or Instagram business profile, post an ad, and start generating traffic to your page in minutes.

Since Facebook is the most popular social media advertising platform, let’s go over the three main campaign objectives you’ll need to learn. These three will actually carry over to other platforms pretty smoothly as well.


Awareness campaigns are ideal for new brands who don’t have a huge following yet. These ads tend not to be overly promotional. Instead, they should feel organic and engaging.

Make these ads full of benefits, especially regarding “sign up” bonuses and other perks you can offer new customers. Show off your brand’s personality and convince people to give you a like or follow.


This is the next step down the sales funnel. Consideration ads are intended to send qualified traffic to your brand’s website, increase app installs or video views, generate leads, and get more people to engage with your brand across social platforms.

Oftentimes, consideration is a part of remarketing (more on that in a bit). It’s a critical step towards deciphering whether your audience’s intent is for real or not, and ultimately getting them through to the bottom of your funnel.


Every Facebook conversion ad has the goal of customers making a decisive move: could be page visits, video views, store visits, or sales. These website conversion ads encourage users to take a definitive action.

Conversion ads work off of data sent via the Facebook pixel. This pixel should be placed on the correct page of your website where the conversion happens.

Native Advertising/Sponsored Content

Native advertising became a popular digital advertising trend in the early 2010’s with paid media ad networks like Outbrain and Taboola, but it is still used today.

Native ads are intended to blend in with the website that they appear on, giving users a seamless browsing experience. You will see native ads at the bottom of any news or large blog website with a line of text over them that reads “Sponsored Ads” or “Promoted Stories,” or “Recommended For You.”

digital mobile advertising

These also appear when scrolling through a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed. Although they look like normal posts, they feature the word “Sponsored” underneath the name of the page.

What is the key to success with native ads? Play to your platform’s strengths. If you are posting a native ad on Instagram, make sure it is visually noteworthy (since Instagram is all about images). If you are posting a native ad on a Facebook feed, make sure to use an image, ad text, and call to action that makes people want to “like” your post and visit your profile page.

Native advertising continues to evolve, and it’s clear that mobile advertising is leading the charge. With more than half of all internet users on mobile devices, it’s become hugely important to produce ad creatives that are mobile-friendly. Keeping your images, videos, and call to actions condensed and properly sized will ensure their success across platforms and devices.


Without further adieu, let’s introduce the gold mine of digital advertising: remarketing.

Remarketing is when you target users with an ad after they have already interacted with your brand. For example, someone visits your website but chooses not to buy anything. Then when they visit a different website they are hit with one of your brand’s banner ads.

Think of it like a gentle nudge reminding users to go back and buy your product.

The advantage is that you are marketing to people who are aware of your brand and have shown interest in your products, rather than advertising to a cold audience.

What is a Remarketing List?

The effectiveness of remarketing comes from your list of users who you’ve interacted with. In order to acquire this list, you must first place a remarketing tag on the webpages you want to track. These tags are little pixels that enable websites to use cookies (you’ve surely been asked to “accept cookies” many times in your web browsing life).

These cookies allow publishers to identify users, not directly but through an anonymous ID. The publisher can then save these IDs into the appropriate and relevant remarketing list.

Why Should I Use Remarketing Ads?

The obvious reason to incorporate remarketing ads into your digital advertising strategy is for targeting users who have shown some level of interest in your brand.

But remarketing is also a good idea from a brand awareness standpoint. Even if users don’t wind up purchasing your products after being targeted a second time, the thought of your brand is still percolating in their brains. It’s common for users to only sign-up for a newsletter or follow your social media page initially, but then eventually make a purchase.

Remarketing is highly popular in the e-commerce world, where brands can serve ads to different users based exclusively on the specific products or services they viewed on their website. This allows for better personalization and more defined customer segmentation.

In digital advertising, every ad should have a purpose, and this is especially true in remarketing. The most effective remarketing campaigns are those that utilize extremely segmented lists based on the exact interactions taken by each prospective user.

Measuring Digital Advertising Efforts

A successful digital advertising campaign isn’t a set it and forget it proposition. Each campaign requires constant A/B testing and tweaking to ensure you’re getting the optimal return on investment (ROI).

analyzing digital marketing reports

Here are some of the primary barometers we use to measure our digital advertising efforts.

Reach & Impressions

How many people did we reach and how many of them saw our ad (how often was the ad displayed)? These two metrics are important when trying to determine your target audience. At first you will want to target a wider pool of users, but as you start to see who is engaging with your ad and who is not, you will narrow the targeting accordingly.

Different ad platforms will afford you different options regarding audience reach. Facebook has always been one of the best when it comes to narrowing down your audience based on factors like personal interests, location, education, and income. They also provide a rough numerical estimate of the amount of people who will see your ad given the targeting parameters you set.

It helps to know your target audience before setting the desired reach of your ad, but sometimes you just have to test things out.

Click-Through Rates

Click-Through Rates (CTR) are the amount of people who saw your ad and clicked on it. Many ad platforms will charge you for each of these clicks, which is called pay per click (PPC).

CTR is one of the most important ad metrics because it shows you how effective your ads are. If click through rates are low, it’s time to test a different ad copy or image. A/B testing is always a smart way to launch a digital ads campaign so you can compare and contrast until you find the best converting ad.

What is considered a good click through rate? This can vary pretty drastically. The typical Google Ads CTR hovers between 2% for search and 0.3% for display ads, but again, this can vary big time. It’s important to perform competitive research to see what a successful CTR looks like in your niche.

High click through rates aren’t always a good thing. If you are getting a lot of clicks for a keyword that has little to do with your business, it could result in thousands of ad dollars wasted.


Conversions are a broad term, but most people think of them as the “goal” you get your customers to reach.

These could include a number of objectives depending on your business type. A local service business could consider phone calls a conversion, while an eBook publisher may consider an eBook download as their top conversion.

Regardless of your conversion type, you are always trying to maximize ROI. You want the cost per conversion to be less than your ad spend, which means that you are making money on a campaign.

If your conversion costs get too high, you are spending too much money on ads and it’s time to re-evaluate the campaign.

Cost Per Acquisition

Cost per acquisition is synonymous with cost per conversion as mentioned above. It’s important to note that CPA is an overarching business metric that goes beyond digital advertising. It can tie into any type of marketing effort, including SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing.

A good way to track your CPA is by utilizing UTM parameters. These are URL extensions that should be added to any links within your ad, allowing you to easily see ad traffic and create segments using Google Analytics.

Return on Investment

ROI is the crown jewel of digital ads metrics. Are you making money? Are your campaigns profitable? This is your return on investment.

Understand the ROI of each individual ad within a campaign. This granular analysis will help you determine which ads are bringing in money and which are losing you money.

ROI is calculated by dividing your investment’s net profit or loss by the costs involved, then expressing it as a percentage.

Challenges of Digital Advertising

Although digital advertising is a great alternative to traditional marketing efforts, it’s not without its challenges.

Since digital ad campaigns can be shown to users at all hours of the day, they require constant monitoring and analysis. Once you’ve turned a campaign on, it’s on. There are no breaks.

Here are some other challenges that face digital advertisers.

Ad Blockers

People are getting smart about digital advertising, and many choose to install ad blockers that prevent certain ads from showing up.

digital ad blockers

This has made display advertising a challenge, as many ad blocking software tools can identify banner ads on a webpage and remove them from the user’s view. When this occurs, neither the website nor the advertiser receives ad revenue.

On the bright side for advertisers, fewer people were using ad blockers in 2020 versus four years prior.

Ad Bidding/Increased Ad Costs

With more companies turning to digital advertising each day, the competition is fierce. Many niches have too many advertisers competing for a finite amount of real estate. As a result, ad costs go up and it becomes more difficult to bid affordably.

In some ways this is a good thing. It weeds out the brands who have little or no strategy in favor of those who take a more calculated approach.

Privacy Concerns/Regulations

Cybersecurity is a growing concern among everyone, advertisers and users alike. Many consumers are wary of sharing any personal information with brands they aren’t 100% sure about, which makes it difficult for newer brands to get a foothold.

Privacy laws are also becoming more ubiquitous, meaning that brands are more restricted as far as what types of information they can ask from users. These laws are changing all the time and it can be hard to stay on top of things.

Platform Policy Changes

The ad platforms themselves are constantly changing too. Facebook might be the most notable as far as changing their policies based on current events and the political climate.

Increased Competition/Market Saturation

The rush to digital advertising has been notable. 68% of marketers now say that paid advertising is “very important” or “extremely important” to their marketing efforts.

Just about every niche is becoming increasingly saturated, making it clear that the only ones who will succeed are those with a plan. Proven digital advertising companies who can strategize circles around the competition.

Popular and Emerging Trends

Digital advertising is evolving, and there are some interesting trends taking root.

Native Advertising

The big reason why native advertising is becoming increasingly popular is the problem of ad blindness.

Users are so sick of seeing ads at every turn, advertisers have realized it’s better to show ads that don’t look like real ads. This is native advertising in a nutshell.

The Future of Video Ads

Video marketing is everywhere. With the rise of TikTok and the continual dominance of YouTube, it’s safe to say video is here to stay.

It’s likely that we will soon live in a world where video ads are the primary form of digital advertising.

Embracing Micro-Moments

Micro-moments happen when users turn to their devices to find an answer or solution to something. These could be queries like “what is the capital of Italy” (that would be Rome by the way) or “how far away is the grocery store?

It’s the goal of advertisers to meet customers in these moments of need and ensure that their brand is providing the most comprehensive, thorough solution.

Mobile Ads

The majority of online users are accessing content on their mobile devices. It’s important that we tailor our advertising to meet them there.

This includes banner advertising on mobile, full-screen or interstitial mobile advertising, and native app-based advertising, among many other ad types.

Digital Advertising vs Traditional Advertising

Digital advertising and traditional advertising are both mediums of paid marketing messaging. While traditional advertising uses offline means like magazines, newspapers, billboards, or radio/TV commercials, digital advertising uses online means like social media, search engine marketing, and display advertising.

With each passing year, it’s becoming clear that digital advertising is the primary way of paid marketing moving forward. It’s low cost of entry, wide audience reach, and quick ability to analyze results make it a robust platform with endless possibilities.

Programmatic Ads

Nothing speaks to the future quite like programmatic ads. These ads are served based on algorithmic insights that trigger automated technology to perform media buying. In other words, it’s a way to automatically bid on and post ads.

Real-time bidding (RTB) is one of the most common forms of programmatic advertising. RTB uses inventory prices that are decided through an auction process in real-time. This can be a lucrative way to reach a larger audience. It’s typically more cost-effective too.

Programmatic ads are just another useful tactic in your digital advertising toolkit.

Are you ready to launch a new digital advertising campaign? Learn how you can position your brand for success by consulting Ohio’s most experienced digital advertising agency.

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