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Written by Caroline Cox on Mar 19 , 2020

Instead of window displays, we’ve got e-commerce ads.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to determine the best e-commerce ad platforms for your brand
  • Display ads vs. PPC ads for e-commerce
  • What elements make up a successful e-commerce ad
  • Pro tips to give you an edge over competitors

Remember the mall? We barely do too. And let’s be honest: Depending on what you’re in the market for, perusing through physical aisles and racks to make a purchase isn’t the hyper-common process it once was.

These days, the bulk of shopping happens online. In 2019, reports showed that online shopping overtook a major part of retail for the first time ever — and it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

If you’re an e-commerce brand looking to stay in the game, online ads are a great way to do it. Search, social, and display ads allow you to target your audience, boost your clickthrough rate (CTR), increase sales, and more. For best practices, agency tips, and expert advice when it comes to e-commerce ad platforms, keep reading. 

hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

Before you go all in on one ad platform, you need a solid understanding of where your audience is already shopping. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Work with cohesive vendors

Working with vendors that can easily integrate with the other programs your company uses will be hugely beneficial, especially as your e-commerce business grows. When you’re launching digital ads, it’ll be a more streamlined process when you’re using hosting options (like Shopify or Nexcess) that integrate well with search engines and social media platforms.

For example, if your e-commerce biz doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool or has a custom site, you may have to jump through a few more hoops to make sure everything is synced and reporting properly when it comes to your ads. 

If you’re just starting out on the paid ads route, you can set yourself up for success by integrating with a CRM, keeping your site simple and easy to navigate, and making sure you can easily integrate with search engines and social platforms where you’d potentially want to show your ads.

2. Understand the pros and cons of paid search vs. display ads for e-commerce

Once you’ve decided to invest in digital ads, the next step is deciding which ad type to leverage. E-commerce brands can certainly find success with paid search or pay-per-click (PPC), particularly through dynamic search ads. Simply put by Google, these ad types “are the easiest way to find customers searching on Google for precisely what you offer.”

Dynamic search ads use content and keywords from your e-commerce site to help better target your ads to the right people (all the more reason to have a strong e-commerce SEO strategy). Simply add a thought-out description, and let the search engine take care of the rest, from the headlines to the landing pages. 

Hawksem: E-commerce ad platforms

An example of a paid search e-commerce ad from Herbal Dynamics Beauty

If you want to opt for display ads, e-commerce brands can try their luck with dynamic remarketing (also called retargeting). These ads populate for people who have already visited one of your product pages vs. those who have clicked an ad. These ads are a good money-saving option — you don’t have to have any other forms of advertising for them to work. You can run these on platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon.

Pro tip: How frequently you want your remarketing ad to resurface for each person is up to you. With Google, you can set a frequency cap, but with Facebook, you can’t. Depending on your offering, your ad may need to show up four or 10 times to be successful. Test out a frequency, then access the data to see how well your ads are performing and determine if you need to modify from there.

3. Determine where your audience is already shopping

Before you go all in on e-commerce ad platforms, you’ll want to have a solid understanding of where your audience is already shopping. After all, you want to meet your customer where they already are — the easier you make it for them to purchase your product or service, the higher ROI you’re likely to see.

PPC ads on Google and remarketing ads on Facebook are great places for an e-commerce brand to start. If more of your buyers are on Amazon or even Instagram, then those could be good options as well. Just make sure you’re not competing against yourself. For example, running Amazon ads may cause you to outrank your own Google Shopping items, and you don’t want that. 

hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

Social ads are a great place to start when you’re working with a limited budget but want a decent-size reach. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Keep in mind what makes up a successful e-commerce ad

When it comes to what e-commerce ads resonate best, feel free to be your own test subject! Search for a common item, like “blue t-shirt,” on Google or Amazon, then check out the results. Which images and ad copy blurbs stand out most to you?

The elements of a successful e-commerce ad will vary by product, industry, and audience, of course. But there are few good rules of thumb that are likely to benefit brands across categories. Clear, high-quality images without cluttered backgrounds are a good place to start. You also want to be sure your products are easy to view on smartphones. Business Insider predicts that mobile shopping (aka m-commerce) will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, this year. 

Hawksem: E-commerce ad platforms

An example of a paid social ad from Intel on Twitter

Social ads are a particularly great option when you’re working with a limited budget but want a decent-size reach. For these e-commerce ad platforms, think about how you can make your ad seamlessly fit in with organic posts on that specific platform. Depending on which site your ad will appear on, consider elements like GIFs or videos, hashtags, platform-relavant verbiage (like “retweet” on Twitter, for example). Just make sure you’re still being authentic and try to your brand — a joke that falls flat is worse than no joke at all!

Pro tip: Got a brick-and-mortar location? Make sure your Google My Business (GMB) page is set up correctly with tags in place and the most up-to-date info. If people can’t easily find your physical space (or if your page looks low-quality because Google auto-populated it), they may opt to go elsewhere instead. 

5. Don’t forget about seller ratings

Especially for highly competitive markets, having seller ratings on your ads can be a game-changer for your CTR. As we’ve mentioned, peer recommendations, research, and product reviews are some of the most influential factors that affect purchasing decisions. If you’ve ever compared an item with 3 out of 5 stars to one with 5 out of 5, then gone with the latter, you know what we mean.

As with any ad, think about what sets you apart from your competitors. Something like free shipping may not be as appealing if most of the brands similar to yours are offering that as well. Don’t be afraid to get creative — is your product the softest, fastest, the first of its kind, or something else? Use that angle in your copy to help the item shine. 

6. Perform tests to see what appeals most to your audience

Predicting is one thing — analyzing the data is, of course, another. Once you begin launching e-commerce ads, keep in mind that continued testing will be one of the most effective ways to understand your target audience and what resonates with them. 

Do they prefer free two-day shipping or a coupon code? Do they click more on white backgrounds or real-life images? Consistent testing and measuring will help you answer these questions.

hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

With so much shopping taking place online these days, having ads for your e-commerce brand just makes sense. (Image via Unsplash)

Pro tip: Before beginning, determine the goals of your paid ad strategy. Especially if you’re working with an agency, it’s crucial that everyone is aligned on budget, KPIs, and what success looks like. Even if you’re just starting out with e-commerce ads, you can still look at your spend and product costs to determine what numbers would mean a campaign was successful.

The takeaway

With so much shopping taking place online these days — for everything from necessities to luxury goods — having ads for your e-commerce brand just makes sense. It’s a great way to expand your reach, boost your sales, and beat out your competition.

By following best practices — like having goals in mind, determining where your audience likes to shop, and making sure you’re putting your business’s best face forward online — you can leverage e-commerce ad platforms and be on the right path to getting the ROI you seek.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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