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Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 30 , 2021

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. 

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 June 2020, global retail e-commerce traffic hit a record 22 billion monthly visits, “with demand being exceptionally high for everyday items such as groceries, clothing, but also retail tech items,” according to Statista.

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 regularly shops. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Work with cohesive vendors

It’ll benefit you to work with vendors that can easily integrate with the other programs your company already uses, 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.

If your e-commerce biz doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like HubSpot or has a custom site, you may have to jump through a few hoops to make sure everything for your ads is synced and reporting properly. 

It’s also important to find a web hosting solution that makes mobile-first optimizations simple. It’s likely that most of your traffic will come from mobile, so mobile-first conversion rate optimization is key.

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 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 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. 

These ads use content and keywords from your 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. 

paid search herbal dynamics beauty

An example of paid search e-commerce ads from Herbal Dynamics Beauty on the SERP.

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. Just know that recent Apple iOS updates have made remarketing more challenging. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to reach new potential audiences via display.

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. Display ads don’t offer as much control over bidding as more traditional campaigns do, but they can be effective when paired with proper bidding strategies and as long as you’re using daily budgets.

Shopping ads can be a highly effective (and lucrative) channel for your e-commerce strategy with proper feed management. 

Pro tip: Google recently started serving shopping ads in organic search results, so if you’re already optimizing your ads and have a product feed set up through Google Merchant Center, you get additional opportunities to garner not only PPC traffic but even free traffic, too.

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 regularly shops. The easier you make it for them to purchase your product or service, the higher ROI you’re likely to see.

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

Knowing your audiences can guide you toward the right platforms. For example:

  • Bing could be more successful than Google with audiences 50 and older
  • Instagram is probably better than Facebook for audiences in their 20s and 30s
  • If they’re middle age, Facebook is likely better than Instagram
  • If your audience is mostly male, Reddit ads may be worth exploring

The Facebook algorithm works best the more time it has to optimize your ads with their audience pool. It typically needs about 50 conversions to “understand” who to best serve the ads to. 

And because it uses a 7-day attribution window, you can’t really get a full picture of ad performance until the 7-day window is up. Best practice: Facebook ads should run a minimum of 5 days, but 7 is optimal to properly understand how it performs.

The same can be said for certain types of Google ads. There are bidding strategies that won’t perform well if the campaigns aren’t driving a minimum of 50 conversions per month, so understanding the nuances of the bid strategies is important for success there as well.

person online shopping with credit card

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

4. Know what makes an e-commerce ad successful

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. 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. From there, be sure your products are easy to view on smartphones as mobile commerce or m-commerce continues to rise in popularity.

An example of a promoted tweet for monthly wine club Bright Cellars on Twitter.

An example of a promoted tweet for monthly wine club Bright Cellars 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 emoji, GIFs or videos, hashtags, and platform-relevant verbiage like “retweet” on Twitter. And, of course, don’t forget about that strong call to action (CTA).

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. 

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 (these ratings can be integrated with shopping ads), 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 keep ads optimized

Predicting is one thing — analyzing the data is, of course, another. Once you decide which e-commerce ad platforms you want to experiment with, keep in mind that continued A/B testing will be one of the most effective ways to understand your target audience and what resonates with them. 

Eliminate variables and change one thing at a time to properly measure. 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, look at your spend and product costs to determine what numbers would mean a campaign was successful.

7. Plan for seasonality

Of course, shopping seasons ebb and flow depending on things like holidays and the time of year. That’s why it’s important to plan budgets and ad spend according to the way your brand historically drives sales throughout the year. 

For example, an e-commerce brand probably shouldn’t plan on spending the same amount of money on ads during June that they might spend over Black Friday or Cyber Monday, unless there’s a reason they drive huge sales during that time. 

If there are other reasons certain seasons impact their sales (i.e. if you sell winter boots or swimsuits), it’s a good idea to allocate greater portions of your budget to support greater sales during those impactful times of the year. During the slow months, pull back a bit to support your annual return on ad spend (ROAS) and overall profitability.

The takeaway

With so much shopping taking place online these days, 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.

This post has been updated and was originally published in March 2020.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 28 , 2021

Digital marketing can get you in front of potential customers — the right strategy can get them to convert.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search results affect customer acquisition
  • Organic ways to acquire new leads
  • Effective paid marketing strategies
  • How to set your website up for optimal acquisition

Marketing pros who aren’t new to the game likely know all about the customer journey. It comprises the stages we base our content, campaigns, and plans on: awareness, consideration, and decision. (With delight as the bonus step.) And the customer journey is a crucial element when it comes to acquisition.

Customer acquisition is the process of converting a generated lead into a customer. It’s basically the whole funnel (or journey) combined. At the end of the day, marketing is about attracting new customers, and keeping customer acquisition top of mind is how marketers can make that happen.

While there’s no one way to pinpoint and acquire qualified leads that are sure to become customers, there are a handful of digital marketing strategies you can implement with customer acquisition in mind. Here, we’ve mapped out six of our favorites.

line of people outside from aerial view

Companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Paid search

Also known as pay per click (PPC), paid search is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies when it comes to customer acquisition. That’s because it allows companies to target their specific audience with the right keywords at the right time.

Paid search ads appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) on sites like Google and Bing. If someone’s searching for “women’s black cycling shoes,” for example, and you’re an e-commerce brand selling cycling products (including women’s black cycling shoes), you want your targeted ad to be the one they see. The same goes for brands selling other products and services.

The companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad, though. Rather, it’s crucial to pair eye-catching, appealing ad copy with an optimized landing page that boasts consistent verbiage, clean design, and a clear call to action (CTA).

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Along with a paid search strategy, having a solid SEO strategy helps search engines more easily recognize your website. This helps improve your rankings and, ideally, grow your reach for better customer acquisition.

Proper SEO on your site means having elements including:

  • Unique title tags on your pages
  • High-quality content 
  • Internal links and external links (to authoritative sites)
  • A sitemap
  • Meta descriptions
  • Images with alt tags

Ensuring your site is optimized for search engines won’t guarantee that you’ll get in the first position (or even on the first page) of the SERPs. The search algorithm that determines the best content for each search query is constantly changing, and the details about how search engines determine the best content to show searchers isn’t always clear.

However, by keeping your site up to date, easy to navigate, and educational for prospects and clients, you can position your brand as a thought leader and your site as a valuable source of information.

3. Social media

When it comes to social media, you’ve got the option to leverage both organic and paid avenues. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that each path can be leveraged in the same way or achieve the same results.

Let’s start with organic social media. The practice of regularly creating social media posts can help spread the word about new business offerings or updates, increase your exposure, and even help you go viral (in a good way, ideally).

While organic social posts likely won’t directly result in customer acquisition, they can aid in brand awareness, content sharing, and allow you to highlight the fun side of your brand.

Paid social, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool if wielded properly. When choosing which platforms to advertise on, you should first consider your target audience and the platforms they use most.

From there, you can take advantage of the audience targeting tools most of these platforms have in place to get your content delivered straight to those who need to see it most. 

group of millennials on their laptops laughing

When done right, remarketing one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Remarketing

As we’ve touched on before, remarketing can benefit your business in numerous ways. Not only does it keep you top of mind when someone takes an action like visiting your site, or requesting a consultation or demo, but it allows you to hyper-focus your ads and ups your chances of turning a lead into a conversion.

Remarketing (also called retargeting) works by leveraging display ads to connect your business with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. When done right, it’s one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. 

Of course, the most successful retargeting campaigns aren’t one size fits all. A brand-new site visitor shouldn’t be remarketed the same way as a returning visitor. 

Data transparency changes and the eventual demise of third-party cookies are going to force some changes in digital marketing, particularly for remarketing ads. But there’s no need to panic: Marketers have adapted to massive changes for decades. And while more solutions will become apparent as the process unfolds, focusing on attracting new prospects is one way to keep your lead pipeline flowing.

Looking for more ways to increase your customer acquisition? Let’s talk.

5. Content marketing

When people hear the phrase “content marketing,” they may automatically think of blogs. And while blogging is a great medium for businesses when it comes to customer acquisition, content can encompass much more.

Examples of valuable content include:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos and webinars
  • Guides and e-books
  • Infographics
  • Checklists
  • Downloadable templates
  • Product descriptions
  • Case studies

No matter the content you create, you want to make sure it’s accurate, helpful, and targeted. The more deliverables you create, the more industry topics you can cover, and the more likely you are to be found in organic search results by those seeking what you have to offer.

Pro tip: You can take things a step further by partnering with another brand (with a similar audience but not a competitor) on something like an infographic, webinar, or guest blog. This expands your reach, helps build your professional network, and boosts your brand’s credibility.

two people meeting at a coffeeshop

Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Email newsletters

Email newsletters can be a powerful acquisition channel if you follow a few key strategies. As Campaign Monitor reports, you’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than from a tweet. 

The most successful newsletters:

  • Include one main CTA
  • Offer a tactical takeaway (like a pro tip, discount, or statistic)
  • Feature an attention-grabbing subject line
  • Have an easy-to-read template
  • Are optimized for mobile

When you’re looking to build your non-client subscriber list, get creative! You can add exit-intent pop-ups to your site, or include a subscription box in your site’s footer. Offline, you can give people the option to sign up if your brand is posted up in a booth at an industry conference or networking event — a particularly effective strategy if it’s part of a giveaway or contest.

Pro tip: Let your readers help you spread the word! Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. Due to the psychology of social proof, peer-recommended content is more likely to be trusted.

The takeaway

Customers are the bread and butter of any business, and digital marketing is one of the most direct ways to connect with your desired prospects.

By knowing your audience, meeting them where they are, and analyzing the data behind your campaigns, you’ll have the tools you need to not only attract more customers, but keep them loyal and happy as well.

This post has been updated and was originally published in December 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 8 , 2021

From the various ad types to costs, the latest tips, and more, here’s the 411 on creating YouTube ads in 2021.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of YouTube ad types
  • Average costs for YouTube ads
  • Expert tips for successful YouTube advertising
  • The latest video ad tools worth exploring

From the first “Evolution of Dance” viral video to vloggers-turned-bonafide celebrities, few websites have seen as much rousing success as YouTube. 

So it’s no surprise that YouTube is a fertile ground for advertising. With 81% of adults in the U.S. using the platform — up 8% from 2019 — and more than 2 billion unique monthly viewers, it’s likely where members of your target audience can be found.

Not only that, but YouTube saw the most significant growth of any social media app among American users during the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center.

YouTube ads are an excellent way to reach out to potential clients. After all, when it comes to social media marketing, YouTube is the only online platform that matches Facebook’s reach. Here’s how to make it work for you.

HawkSEM: youtube ads blog

YouTube Ads don’t require a minimum spend. That means you can start as low as you wish and then tweak the budget according to the campaign’s results. (Image via Unsplash)

Types of YouTube Ads  

In 2021, there are six types of YouTube ads to choose from. The type you choose will depend on factors like your niche, budget, and marketing goals.

  • Discovery (display) ads: These appear among organic results and suggestions on the YouTube search page, homepage, and suggestions list with a thumbnail image and a bit of text. YouTube’s TrueView ads only count a view after it’s been watched for at least ten seconds.  
  • Overlay ads: This banner ad appears in the lower part of the video. The ad can contain text or images. It’s clickable and available only to desktop viewers. A user has a choice to close the ad at any time.
  • In-stream skippable ads: This ad appears in the beginning, middle, or end of the video. It runs for several seconds before giving the viewer a choice to close it. These ads can appear on all devices, including TVs and game consoles.
  • In-stream nonskippable ads: These ads appear the same way as their skippable partners, but they don’t allow skipping. The maximum running time for these ads is 15 seconds.
  • Bumpers: Bumpers are non-skippable ads that appear while the video is running. They can’t be longer than six seconds.
  • Sponsored cards: These clickable ads are similar to overlay ads. They offer content relevant to the video the user is watching (such as products shown in the video). The teaser appears on the right side of the video for a few seconds and then turns into a card icon.

The cost of YouTube advertising in 2021

The cost of YouTube advertising depends on the type of ads you use.

  • In-stream ads, sponsored cards, and overlay ads: These ads are between $0.10 and $0.30 per engagement (view or click). Skippable ads are generally less expensive than non-skippable ads.
  • Discovery ads: These cost about $0.30 per click.
  • Bumper ads: These ads are charged by CPM (you pay each time the ad gets 1,000 impressions) — between $1 and $4 per 1,000.

Overall, the average cost of YouTube ads in 2021 is $200 per 1,000 views. It can range from between $0.05 and $0.30 per view, which is about $50 to $300 per 1,000. Remember, you only pay per view if the user watches the video for 30 seconds. (If the ad is shorter, they have to watch the entire video.)

YouTube Ads don’t require a minimum spend. That means you can start as low as you wish and then tweak the budget according to the campaign’s results. Many companies start with a $10 daily budget and go from there.

Pro tip: As of June 2021, YouTube has started showing ads on non-monetized videos. This means that if you’re not part of the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), YouTube still reserves the right to run ads on your videos, as Search Engine Land reports. 

Now, let’s dive into some tried-and-true tips for successful YouTube advertising in 2021.

Explore masthead ads

Masthead ads can be a costly ad format, but they’re also known to be effective. They can produce a massive audience reach and achieve a huge boost in brand awareness. These ads appear in the YouTube home feed across all devices. They autoplay on mute for 30 seconds or longer.

The payment for these ads is based on cost-per-day or cost-per-impression. You can only take advantage of mastheads after making a reservation through a Google sales rep. They’ll give you an estimate during a consultation.

Overall, masthead ads provide the highest reach in the shortest period.

Pro tip: As of July 2021, YouTube masthead ads are no longer available for advertisers of prescription drugs, alcohol, gambling, and political content.    

HawkSEM blog: YouTube ads

To make in-stream ads appealing to your target audience, focus on attention-grabbing, hyper-targeted content. (Image via Unsplash)

Invest in remarketing

YouTube offers powerful remarketing campaign options. This can be a beneficial ad option since people who have viewed your videos, ads, or channel in the past have a higher conversion potential than brand-new leads. After linking your YouTube channel to your Google Ads account, you can create such remarketing lists as:

  • Viewed videos or ad from a channel
  • Directly viewed a particular video or ad
  • Visited a channel page
  • Liked, added, or shared a video from a channel

You can’t, however, create remarketing lists from views of the bumper and non-skippable ads.

You can also connect your website and YouTube advertising efforts. If someone visits your website and views a certain product, the remarketing feature can advertise the product the next time the visitor watches a YouTube video.

Pro tip: Looking to start a successful YouTube channel for your business? Check out this helpful guide from Shopify.

Optimize your in-stream ads

Sure, in-stream ads are a bit more intrusive to the video viewer, but it’s also true that they often bring about impressive results.

These ads have lower conversion rates than other formats but have been shown to aid tremendously in brand awareness. To make in-stream ads appealing to your target audience, focus on attention-grabbing, hyper-targeted content.

Pro tip: The first five seconds are the most important part of the in-stream ad, so prioritize grabbing the viewer’s attention during that time.

You can ensure your in-stream ad is as effective as possible by: 

  • Showing some motion in the first three seconds of the video to hook the audience’s attention
  • Creating curiosity by asking a question but leaving the answer on the other side of the five-second gap
  • Showing your brand name and logo in the first five seconds so that, even if the viewer skips the ad, you achieve brand exposure
  • Keeping ads shorter than 45 seconds
  • Using soft CTAs to lead potential clients to other videos or channels

For more paid social tips, check out our articles on best practices on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Use the YouTube Video Builder

In 2020, YouTube launched the beta version of its Video Builder. This tool lets you animate static content like text, logos, and images with music and transitions to create six to 15-second videos for further use as YouTube ads.

This is an excellent opportunity for companies with a low marketing budget to create an impressive multimedia experience for target audiences. Established brands can also use this tool for testing new content.

The Video Builder can help freshen up your existing assets to keep the target audience’s interest piqued without substantial expenses.

Embrace the person-to-person connection

A recent HubSpot article warned businesses not to forget the human element when it comes to YouTube marketing. Often, we’ve seen brands too focused on themselves and what they’re selling and not enough on helping their audience. 

After all, people don’t engage with brands to help the brands. They engage because of the ways the brand can help them. Always put that value front and center for your audience.

Additionally, it’s important that your message doesn’t feel cold and robotic. If your content feels like an interaction with a digital assistant, people won’t as easily connect or engage with it. 

Remind your audience that there are human beings behind your brand. One great way to do this is by responding to comments and engaging with the people who interact with your content, on YouTube and elsewhere.

The takeaway

YouTube is a highly engaging platform that opens up numerous possibilities for companies across all industries. In fact, 54% of YouTube users visit the platform daily and 36% do so several times per day. 

By looking into all the ad types on offer, determining what might catch your target audience’s attention, and ensuring the content is top notch, you can build a successful YouTube ads campaign, even without a huge budget. 

This post has been updated and was originally published in July 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 17 , 2021

From invite-only apps to Instagram shopping, these are the social media trends taking 2021 by storm.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What new and time-tested social platforms have to offer marketers
  • How social media content is evolving
  • Why in-app shopping is a massive trend
  • How to take advantage of the latest social media trends

Few things make me feel more ancient than having to Google a meme or social media trend because I simply don’t “get it.” (Does this make me cheugy? Are we still saying “cheugy?” Did we ever?)

Such is the nature of social media trends, which crop up and fizzle out like dying stars seemingly every day. 

With social media apps as popular as ever, social media marketing (SMM) is a must-have tool in every marketer’s bag of tricks. Staying up to date with top social media trends can help companies maintain a competitive edge.

The world of social media is changing faster than you can say “Clubhouse.” Thankfully, the approach to social media marketing stays mostly the same. Let’s take a closer look at the top social media trends in 2021 and how they can affect your paid social campaigns. 

person online shopping via smartphone

Today, social commerce is becoming more central on TikTok than it is on Facebook and Instagram. (Image via Rawpixel)

1. Live feeds let you connect with your audience in new ways

Amid all the rollercoaster pivots of 2020, virtual events became the norm. But not everyone opted to hop on Zoom to host their digital gatherings. Rather, many leveraged live social media instead.

Livestreaming on platforms like Facebook and Instagram allows viewers to interact with the video host in real-time. Attendees can often submit reactions (such as a heart emoji). They can also add comments or questions that can be answered live. In 2021, we’re still seeing this type of social media content regularly used by influencers, brands, and notable people.

Pro tip: Launching a new product or service? Go live on one of your social platforms (ideally the one with the most followers). You can tease the new offering and answer any questions viewers have about it.

2. Clubhouse is popularizing a new social media format

Even as the lockdown orders are being lifted, the buzz around Clubhouse is getting louder and louder. While this audio-only social media app is still in its beta-version, creators keep promising a public launch in the very near future.

In the mean-time, the invite-only structure has decidedly spiked curiosity among social media users of all ages. The app features chat rooms that can accommodate thousands of people and serve as a type of virtual conference or gathering.

Today, marketing on Clubhouse boils down to raising brand awareness and working with influencers. In the future, as the platform goes public, marketers may want to focus on creating high-quality audio content to appeal to their ideal customers.  

3. Social media platforms are turning into shopping channels

In the past few years, the omnichannel marketing approach had led to social media platforms doubling as shopping channels. Customers no longer need to click a button to get to the e-commerce website and make a purchase. These days, they can buy straight from the app.

While Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have been offering shopping features for a while, the rest of the popular platforms are contemplating the same approach in the future. Since social media reportedly influences 71% of buying decisions, platforms making shopping more convenient just makes sense.

For example, TikTok recently partnered with Shopify. This collaboration allows Shopify merchants to create their paid social campaigns directly from their Shopify dashboard.

Today, social commerce is becoming more central on TikTok than it is on Facebook and Instagram. So it’s a good idea to focus on mastering the short-video format in 2021, particularly for those with a younger demographic in the e-commerce space.

pins on a map

Marketers are going further by adding tags of popular locations to their posts in order to garner readers’ attention. (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Purpose-driven campaigns are here to stay

The public health emergency related to COVID-19 became the message behind many purpose-driven campaigns on social media. According to a Twitter survey, 74% of respondents expect brands to demonstrate acts of kindness.

Since audiences want brands to take meaningful action and show thought leadership on sensitive issues, the approach to marketing should also change. When in doubt, marketing with empathy can get you far while also helping you build brand trust.

Many social media apps make aligning yourself with causes a breeze. For example, you can set up a fundraiser in just a few quick steps on Facebook or Instagram Stories.

5. Geo-targeting can help steal market share

Social media platforms are making it easier for marketers to target local audiences. As such, brands are taking advantage of geo-targeting to reach people based on their location.

Since social media profiles often contain precise information about the person’s location, local targeting is quite effective. By adding a certain location to social media content, you automatically draw the local audience in and provide a more eye-catching, personalized message.

6. Micro-influencers are gaining traction

Micro-influencers (those with 10,000 or fewer followers) tend to generate higher engagement than macro-influencers do. They also often cost less while providing access to smaller segments of your target audience. 

Along with friends and family, most people trust the opinions of influencers they follow. And they also appreciate the transparency of knowing when an influencer is posting an ad vs. when a paid partnership isn’t clearly stated.

In 2021, many brands are discovering the effectiveness of these partnerships on social media to grow their audiences and foster brand loyalty. Micro-influencers are becoming more effective since they are more accessible to both the audience and the marketer.

The takeaway

As consumers continue to spend a significant part of their days on social media, platforms are catering to their demands through new features, convenient tools, and more ways to post. 

By taking advantage of the newest developments, technologies, and trends, it’s possible to stay ahead of the competition without hurting your budget.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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From tweets to TikTok, here’s how to pick the right paid social platform for your business.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of the main paid social platforms
  • Pro tips for paid social success
  • How these platforms compare to one another
  • Which industries see the most success on certain platforms

The aim of social media is to help us connect with people — and the world — around us. That could mean following an influencer whose style you envy, a travel writer who always finds a city’s best hidden gems, or a vlogger with killer recipes. 

So, when your company is looking into ads on a paid social platform, it’s helpful to keep in mind why people are on them in the first place. It’s all part of understanding your target audience, their goals, and how you can meet them where they already are. 

smartphone with social media platform apps

When it comes to members, you just can’t beat Facebook — the platform boasts 2.85 billion monthly users worldwide. (Image via Unsplash)

Once you explore your audience and assess your resources (like images, videos, or brand even ambassadors), it can be a challenge to know where to begin. But don’t fear! Let’s dig into all the main paid social platforms and how you can make them work for your business.

LinkedIn

If other platforms are like happy hour, LinkedIn is the networking event. Sure, you can be quippy and share fun thoughts or links, but at the end of the day, it’s all about professionals. By its own estimations, LinkedIn has a whopping 756 million members in 200 countries and regions across the globe. 

According to Sprout Social, 65% of B2B companies have used LinkedIn paid ads to acquire new customers, and the platform is reportedly 277% more effective than Facebook in generating leads. 

Because of its business-centric purpose, LinkedIn can be a great paid social platform for ads relating to software, services, and anything else that could be used in a professional setting or to improve workday processes.

Other industries that tend to do well with LinkedIn paid social ads include:

  • High-end retail
  • Wine and spirits
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Professional businesses (such as performing arts, banking, pharma, and international affairs)

While LinkedIn has a lot of opportunity, LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager has a few minimum requirements that can be costly for small businesses to leverage. They also have limited targeting, as well as more expensive CPC and conversions compared to other platforms. 

Pro tip: Since users view LinkedIn as a professional place, it’s a good idea to have your ads follow suit — and don’t forget to maintain the correct ad specs!

Facebook

When it comes to members, you just can’t beat Facebook. That’s because the social media platform boasts 2.85 billion monthly users worldwide.

But while that number is impressive, it’s worth noting that younger generations aren’t as active as older ones, and visibility for both organic and paid posts can be hard to come by. (For example, a Facebook page with more than 1 million likes only averages an organic engagement rate of less than 2.5%.)

Regardless of the drawbacks, marketers love Facebook because it’s affordable and generally results in high engagement. When it comes to paid social ads on Facebook, retail really shines. Think: items like clothes, accessories, beauty products, and the like. The visual format ad options make it easy to showcase your products and grab people’s attention.

Industries that tend to find success with Facebook (in terms of engagement and sharing) include:

  • Automotive
  • E-commerce 
  • Travel
  • Non-profit organizations

Industries like software may do as well as the above when it comes to Facebook ads. However, if the audience isn’t right and the industry isn’t a fit, ads can really flop.

Pro tip: Facebook’s updated Ads Manager lets you duplicate ads and campaigns, edit any settings, view your metrics, customize your graphs, and more.

girl by pool looking at social media

Because of the visual nature of Instagram ads, any photos, videos, or graphics used should be high-quality and high-resolution. (Image via Unsplash)

Instagram

Instagram is owned by Facebook. Because of this, there are plenty of similarities between the two platforms in terms of ad offerings. Additionally, the industries that tend to do well on Facebook also perform rather well on Instagram.

While the platforms fall under the same umbrella, they’re also different in many ways. Though Instagram trails a bit behind Facebook in terms of members, its visibility and cultural relevance is significant.

After all, Instagram is basically the reason why “influencers” exist in the way they do today. And studies show ad recall from sponsored ads on Instagram is often much higher than the typical norms for online advertising.

Instagram ads also see decent engagement rates compared to other platforms. This is likely due to the visual nature of the app, and how seamlessly ads show up in Instagram Stories (temporary posts users create) and regular feeds. It could also be because the majority of Instagram users are part of younger, tech-savvy generations. 

You can manage your Instagram ads inside Facebook’s Ads Manager. This allows you to create Facebook and Instagram ads simultaneously, complete with a robust variety of targeting options to leverage.

Because of the visual nature of Instagram ads, any photos, videos, or graphics used should be high-quality and high-resolution (nothing fuzzy or grainy). And while the maximum caption length is 2,200 characters, experts say 125 characters is ideal.

Pro tip: For e-commerce brands, Instagram’s shopping capabilities allow you to add multiple hyperlinks to an ad, leverage in-app checkout, and complete sales within the app. They also recently added a dedicated “Shop” section to the home screen and launched Instagram Live Shopping. 

Twitter

Twitter has around 192 million daily active users, according to Hootsuite. That’s a lot of potential for advertisers. Not only that, but Twitter itself also reports that people spend 26% more time viewing ads on Twitter than on other leading platforms.

Similar to Instagram, Twitter ads fit subtly into members’ existing feeds and are relatively cost-effective. This platform is all about getting visibility, engagement, and spreading the word to grow awareness about your brand. Conversions can be a bit trickier here, though you can try generating quick leads with Twitter Cards or Trend Takeovers.

The platform describes promoted Trend Takeovers as “a 24-hour high-impact takeover of the Trends list on Twitter,” ideally to launch something new or weigh in on a trend. 

According to Social Media Today, industries that perform best on Twitter include:

  • Music
  • Entertainment
  • Games
  • Aerospace
  • Retail & e-commerce

Pro tip: Twitter users can “like,” respond to, and share your paid ad tweets in the same way they interact with organic ones, thus boosting your reach without costing you more. This is why it’s crucial to make your ad stand out — so you can go viral for all the right reasons.

man looking at youtube on tablet

Along with TrueView ads, YouTube offers non-skippable video ads and bumper ads. (Image via Unplash)

YouTube

Owned by Google, YouTube lets you create video or image ads that play before and interstitially between videos on the platform. Much like Instagram, it’s huge with younger generations: 77% of 15 to 35 year-olds in the U.S. use the platform.

Don’t have a video to promote? No problem. YouTube’s creative directory network connects you with pros who can help you with everything from motion graphics to voiceover, animation, and more. As far as payment for skippable ads, “YouTube charges you whenever a viewer clicks on your CTA, watches for at least 30 seconds, or views your ad all the way through (if it’s shorter than 30 seconds),” according to Mailchimp.

Along with TrueView in-stream ads (which “run on videos served on YouTube or on a collection of sites and apps in the Google Display Network,” as Google explains), the platform offers non-skippable video ads and bumper ads. Non-skippable ads are ads that appear before a video, and mid-roll ads appear at the midpoint of videos that are at least 10 minutes long. Bumper ads, on the other hand, are 6 seconds max and are paid for on a CPM basis.

Want more insight into paid social success secrets? You’re in the right place. 

Pinterest, TikTok, and other platforms

While the platforms above are arguably the most popular paid social platforms, there are other players in the space that offer their own unique benefits. Apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Pinterest all have ad options. While their reach may not be as wide as the Big Four, depending on your industry and target audience, they could still be worth your time and budget. 

TikTok is the fastest-growing platform in terms of popularity, particularly with Gen Z. It offers interactive ads in more than 20 global markets. Snapchat lets you target your ads based on users’ interests, behaviors, location, and more. 

Pinterest gives you the option to choose to pay for either engagement or visits to your site, and pins often have a longer lifespan than a lot of other paid social ads. As Search Engine Land reports, “for visually-driven businesses, such as wedding gown shops, food blogs, visitors’ bureaus, and clothing and accessories, the visual search engine is a way to get your products and ideas out there to an audience that is likely to click through to your site.”

girl standing and looking at phone

How you measure paid social success will depend on your goals, whether that’s purchases, engagement, followers, or CTR. (Image via Unsplash)

Leveraging multiple platforms

Because each paid social platform has its own unique benefits and users, you may want to experiment with multiple platforms at once. Of course, it’s good to have variety, and testing out a few platforms can help you determine which ones have better ROI for your company. 

Just make sure you go into any testing with a game plan for the KPIs you’ll be monitoring, and how long you want to experiment before revisiting your strategy. 

The takeaway

How you measure paid social success will depend on your goals, whether that’s purchases, engagement, followers, click-through rate (CTR), or something more.

If you’re looking for ad options that are affordable, visual-forward, and have the potential to reach far and wide, finding the right paid social platform may be just the solution you need.

This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.

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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Want to get more likes, comments and follows? When it comes to your social media, keep SEO tactics in mind. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How SEO translates to better social media profiles
  • Expert tips for optimizing your brand’s social media
  • How keywords play a part in organic social posts
  • Why analyzing your social content is key

As social media becomes more sophisticated (and popular), new features are added to help improve discoverability. For brands and organizations, these add-ons are particularly beneficial.

Whether you post a few times a month or multiple times a day, you want your social profiles to serve as a way to spread the word about your brand, grow your reach, and connect with your target audience. Employing a few common search engine optimization (SEO) principles can help you do just that.

Read on for a few social media SEO principles worth applying to your accounts to grow your reach and improve engagement.

1. Keep keywords in mind

While reports show that social media rarely impacts brand visibility in search engines directly, it’s still a good idea to leverage keywords when you can. Adding certain keywords to your posts can be a game changer when it comes to your discoverability on these platforms.

Instagram recently added their own keyword search tool which, according to Social Media Today, allows you to search posts that use certain words or phrases even if they’re not hashtagged. You can do this through Twitter’s search function as well.

girl outside smiling at phone

There are no end-all be-all rules for how often you should post on each platform. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Make sure all profiles are consistent

If possible, it’s a good idea to have the exact same handle across all of your profiles. This makes your brand look professional and makes it easy for people to find you. If your business name is a common term or the handle is already taken, you can consider adding your business type or city to the end (like @HawkSEMagency or @HawkSEMLosAngeles). 

From there, try to have your profiles follow a similar look and feel, ideally one that also matches your website. Any logos, URLs, addresses, and contact info should be consistent and up to date as well. 

3. Create a social content plan

Don’t have a full-time social media manager? Fear not! You don’t have to build out a super intense social media plan. However, it’s a good idea to at least create a high-level outline for how you plan to post on a regular basis, whether that’s daily, weekly, or a different frequency. As mentioned above, consistency is key.

This can be especially helpful if you’re running multiple social media accounts, as most brands do. There are no end-all be-all rules for how often you should post on each platform. It’ll likely depend on your industry, audience, and bandwidth. However, experts generally suggest posting the most frequently on Twitter (a few times a day, if you can swing it), followed by Facebook (one or two times a day), and then LinkedIn (once every day or two). 

Again, find what works best for you and your team, then keep an eye on engagement rates to see how your audience responds. The last thing you want is to overdo it by posting too much, which can lead to unfollows.

Need more help with your social media or SEO? Let’s make it happen.

4. Leverage tags on social posts when possible

Just like keywords and tagging your content help people and search engines alike understand what your posts are about before reading them, social media tags serve a similar purpose.

While you don’t want to go overboard on the hashtags, they’re a useful tool when people are searching for a certain topic or phrase on all the major social media platforms. When you add a hashtag, either to the post itself or in the comments, it becomes hyperlinked and searchable, which is an easy way to boost your post’s reach. 

5. Optimize your profiles

As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most important things you can do as a business on social media is to fully fill out your profile. The more information you provide, the more context your followers get about what you offer, and the more likely you’ll be found by the right people. 

Take advantage of options like the ability to add a brief bio, URL, and a cover photo. From there, you may be able to optimize further, depending on the platform. For example, Instagram gives users the option to add alt text to their posts. Not only is this a solid SEO tactic, but it makes your post more inclusive to those who are visually impaired. 

casual guy working on social media SEO on computer

Knowing how you’re tracking will help you reach your social media goals faster. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Analyze your social media performance

Don’t waste your time tweeting and hashtagging into the void. Just like with content and other SEO principles, the best way to make use of your profiles (and your social media manager’s time) is by analyzing your posts’ performance. 

Whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, take the time to visit the analytics section of your profiles. If you use a third-party posting service like HubSpot, you can see a certain amount of data, but you’ll get the clearest picture by going into each profile directly. From there, you can see how quickly you’re gaining followers, which posts are resonating most, and which platforms are seeing the most engagement.

This is a great opportunity to pivot your strategy. Do you need to pay more attention to your Facebook audience? Interact more in your Twitter replies? Boost a well-performing Instagram photo to get it even more exposure? Knowing how you’re tracking will help you reach your social media goals faster. 

The takeaway

SEO is an integral part of modern digital marketing programs. Social media, it could be argued, is integral as well. 

By being mindful of social media SEO best practices that can translate from your website to your profiles, you can continue to grow your reach, create better posts, keep up with industry trends, and stay ahead of the competition. 

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Don’t let competitors have an edge over you on social media — conduct a competitor analysis to stay in the game.

Here, you’ll find: 

  • Steps for conducting a competitor analysis for social media
  • Why it’s key to understand your competition’s social strategy 
  • How a competitor analysis can improve your own social results
  • Top tools when doing a competitor analysis for social media 

Social media is one of the most popular ways to engage with customers and effectively reach your target audience. In fact, HubSpot reports 90% of brands now use it to build awareness and grow their reach, among other things. 

But, just like in search engine results, there’s competition for eyeballs and attention on social media. That’s why understanding how your brand stacks up against the competition is important for developing your social strategy and making it work best for you. 

Conducting a competitive analysis for social media can be crucial for enhancing your social media performance. Besides better understanding your competition, a social media competitor analysis will put helpful information in your hands on how to improve your brand’s strategy. 

Don’t get left in the social media dust. Use these 7 steps to conduct a competitor analysis like a pro. 

competitor analysis for social media

Before you get too far in your social media analysis, identify the purpose of running one in the first place. (Image via Unsplash)

Why should I track my competitors on social media? 

There are many advantages to conducting a competitor analysis for social media, from gaining inspiration for content to identifying mistakes to avoid. Understanding how the competition engages with its target audience can also help you identify your unique value proposition and ways to grow your market share based on their weaknesses. 

Knowing what your competitors are doing on social media is essential for building an effective social strategy that stands out. Here’s how to conduct a competitor analysis for social media the right way. 

1. Determine your top competitors 

You probably already have a good idea about who your top competitors are. If not, it’s worth taking the time to identify your top five competing companies. 

To identify your competition, using Google to search for keywords your target customers use to find your business is a good place to start. Once you’ve made a list, you can put on your detective hat and dive a little deeper to determine how active each of them is on social media. Of course, you want to focus your efforts on brands that have a social strategy, so you can effectively compare. 

Pro tip: Visiting your competitors’ websites is usually a quick and easy way to find their social media profiles, as they often link to them in their site’s header or footer. 

2. Set your goals

Before you get too far in your social media analysis, identify the purpose of running one in the first place. Without knowing why you’re conducting an analysis, it will be difficult to measure and evaluate your results. 

You’ll find a lot of data when digging into your competitor’s social strategies, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for to ensure you’re not wasting time gathering irrelevant data. 

Some common goals of conducting a competitor analysis for social media are: 

  • Improving organic reach
  • Determining the best social platform for your brand
  • Increasing engagement or followers
  • Optimizing social ads

3. Pick the social networks to monitor

Most companies stick to the main social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They also may be more active on some than others. Look to see which social media platforms your competition leverages the most and why that might be.

Do they see the most engagement on Instagram or LinkedIn? The answer could indicate where your target audience is spending most of their social media scrolling time, which can help inform your own social strategy. 

4. Track key performance metrics

After identifying the social media platforms your competitors are most active on, you can work to gain a better understanding of how they engage with and grow their network. 

The following key metrics can help you examine and track their performance. 

  • Profile metrics: Note things like the number of followers, average weekly posts, and engagement 
  • Content metrics: Note the types of content shared, number of ads or boosted posts, and image to video post ratio
  • Brand metrics: Note the tone of voice, key issues most often addressed, and interaction from followers
  • Engagement metrics: Note the likes, comments, and shares of their content and the number of customers using their branded hashtags

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to look at the average engagement by post type (video, photo, text, link) to compare to your posts as well.

woman in hat looking at cell phone

Automating the tracking of competitors is the most effective way to get up-to-date data. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Determine the prime time for your social media audience

Ensuring your content is seen by followers at the best times of day and days of the week will help you work smarter vs. harder when it comes to social reach. While consistent posting is key to an effective social media strategy, it’s not enough to just post as you please. Rather, it’s helpful to know when the largest number of targeted users are online. 

Looking at each of your social platform’s analytics is a good starting point. From there, noting your competitor’s posting times and their engagement rating can help determine if adjusting your posting times will increase the chances of reaching more targeted consumers.

Need more help with your social media strategy? Let’s talk! 

6. Don’t forget about paid media

While it’s almost impossible to determine the exact amount your competition spends on paid media campaigns, you can try to determine if they’re paying for increased followers or post engagement. 

Plus, if you’re conducting a social media analysis without considering if they’re boosting or running ads, it could skew your results and have you setting unachievable organic goals. 

The tools in the next section can help you run an analysis or browse each social platform individually to look for any sponsored ads. Taking things a step further and conducting a full PPC competitor analysis will also give you more information on improving your paid reach. 

Pro tip: Facebook Ad Library is a helpful tool for checking if your competition is actively running ads on Facebook or Instagram. 

7. Find the proper tools to conduct a competitor analysis for social media

Automating the tracking of competitors is the most effective way to get up-to-date data. While you can conduct a competitor analysis for social media on your own, using the proper tools makes the process more efficient and allows for easy tracking of both your and your competitors’ results. 

Tools for running a competitive analysis and reports for improving your social strategy include: 

  • BuzzSumo
  • Brandwatch
  • Facebook Analytics
  • Facebook Ad Library
  • Sociality.io
  • Socialbakers
  • Sprout Social 

The takeaway

Comparing your social media presence and results to your competitors gives you insight into their social strategies and shows you the best ways to outrank them. 

With most of the data being public knowledge, conducting a competitor analysis for social media is easier than you might think. However, compiling the data is only the first step. 

Effectively analyzing the information and results requires using the top tools and understanding what it all means. From there, you can post more like-worthy posts, tweets, and Stories — and feel confident that you’re on the right track.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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One billion people reportedly use Instagram every month. There’s a good chance that includes your target audience.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of Instagram ad types
  • Best Instagram ad practices to follow
  • Mistakes to avoid making in these paid social ads
  • Instagram ad guidelines to know

There are plenty of reasons to dip your toe into paid social ads, if you haven’t already. Not only are they one of the more affordable digital ad types out there, but they’re a great way to meet your audience where they often already are: staring into their phones, of course.

The success of your paid social media marketing (SMM) campaign depends on factors like your ads themselves, your target audience, and how much you can invest in the process. 

Pro tip: Before diving into these #Insta marketing tips, make sure your company’s profile is an Instagram Business Account, not a personal page. A business profile offers insights into your audience, posts, and ads that help set your Instagram marketing efforts up for success. 

hawksem: instagram ads

These days, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.7 and $1. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Know the key Instagram ad types

Paid Instagram advertising goes well beyond static ads that appear in the user’s feed. To take full advantage of the opportunities, you need to know what’s available.

  • Story ads: Ads appearing organically in between a user’s Instagram Story posts
  • Photo ads: The standard ads appearing in the viewer’s feed
  • Video ads: Videos that start playing automatically in the user’s feed
  • Carousel ads: Ads consisting of several photos or videos for users to swipe through
  • Collection ads: Ads allowing the user to buy the product directly from the platform instead of being led to an external website
  • Shopping ads: Ads that take users to product description pages within the app
  • Paid partnerships: Appear as “paid partnership with (brand name and tag)” in an influencer’s post
  • Explore ads: Ads that appear when users click on a photo or video in the “Explore” section
  • IGTV ads: Appear inside IGTV videos

2. Set the right budget

These days, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.70 and $1, according to HubSpot. The cost, however, depends on several factors and may go up to several dollars per click. An auction bidding system determines when your ads are posted in the place you want them most. 

Similar to other ad platforms, you need to set the budget and submit a bid. During the auction, the app determines which ads are the most valuable and relevant for the users and selects a winning bid. It’s guided by factors such as:

  • The bid size
  • How likely the viewer is to take actions your bid is optimized for
  • The perceived quality and relevance of the ad

The cost of your bid can also depend on:

  • Demographics of your target audience — Especially if you’re targeting multiple demographics, it’s important to understand how each group is likely to engage with your ads, as it will vary. 
  • Timeframe of ad posting — When more users are on the social media platform, it will result in more competition (and higher bids) for ads to be shown to prospective customers. The CPC for ads can also fluctuate at different times of the year as brands readjust advertising strategies or with changing seasons. 
  • Type of ad and ad placements — With the varying types of Instagram ad types, it’s not surprising that your CPC is impacted by the type of placements you choose. 

According to a CMO survey, most companies spend about 13% of their marketing budget on SMM. And it’s expected to reach more than 21% in the next five years. Depending on how many social media channels you’re leveraging, you can determine how much you want to spend on Instagram ads.

3. Watch IGTV ads closely

IGTV is a standalone video platform within the Instagram app meant for posting longer videos. (Videos on the main feed are limited to two minutes, and those on Stories are limited to 15 seconds per card.)

While the monetization program for IGTV was released to a select number of video creators in June 2020, it’s expected to be a widely available option in the coming months. 

IGTV ads allow you to place your ad in the middle of an IGTV stream. Similar to Facebook Watch, the video needs to be longer than three minutes to feature an ad.

4. Always split-test your ads

It’s hard to pinpoint the perfect Instagram ad design from scratch. What may have worked for other SMM channels could fail on this particular platform. That’s why it’s best to test several ad designs simultaneously to see which one gets the most clicks.

You could test and adjust elements like:

  • CTA wording
  • Image placement
  • Video length
  • Colors
  • Text and element positioning

Just remember: Visuals on Instagram are everything. If you fail to create an appealing image, your ad could stay in the dark.

hawksem: instagram advertising

To make sure your ads look appealing, you need to learn the parameters. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Cater your ads to the platform

Most Instagram viewers aren’t looking for highly polished, professional-looking ads. When you “stick” the ad into a user’s feed, you want it to look as organic as possible while they’re scrolling. That’s why it’s a good idea to use real-life situations and backgrounds to promote your products.

The “hero” (buyer persona) in your ad should appear in a situation your target audience can relate to. Don’t worry about going out of your way to shoot an impeccable video if you don’t have the budget or bandwidth.

Rather, focus on making your ad look as close to what your buyers see in their daily feed as possible. Just make sure to keep the overall quality high (no pixelated or blurry imagery). 

6. Learn the proper Instagram ad specs

Each Instagram ad type comes with certain size requirements. To make sure your ads look as appealing as possible, you’ve got to learn the parameters.

Technical requirements for Instagram Feed ads

For images: 

  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Minimum aspect ratio: 400 x 500
  • Maximum aspect ratio: 191 x 100
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1%

For videos: 

  • Video length:  1 second to 2 minutes
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended resolution: 1,080 x 1,080 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% with a recommended ratio of 4:5

For Carousel:

  • Number of Carousel Cards: Minimum of 2 and maximum of 10
  • Maximum file size: video – 4GB, image – 30MB
  • Video length: 1 second to 60 minutes 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1%

For collection: 

  • Instant experience is required 
  • Maximum file size: image – 30MB, video – 4GB
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Minimum height: 500 pixels
  • Recommended ratios: 1.91:1 to 1:1

Technical requirements for Instagram Stories ads

For images: 

  • Maximum file size: 30MB
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 9:16)

For videos:

  • Length of video: 1 second to 2 minutes
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended resolution: 1,080 x 1,080 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 9:16)

For Carousel:

  • Number of Carousel Cards: 2 to 10
  • Maximum file size: video – 4GB, image – 30MB
  • Default video length: 1 second to 2 minutes 
  • Video length for a fixed number of cards: 1 to 15 seconds
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 1:1)

Technical requirements for Instagram Explore ads

When advertising in Instagram Explore, both your image and video ads will follow the same format as the Instagram Feed ads listed above. Instagram Explore ads are an excellent way to introduce your brand, products, or services to new users. 

Explore is a section that shows content across the social media platform related to a person’s interest. Therefore, having your ads show between the organic content in a person’s Explore section gives you the opportunity to connect with your target audience. 

If your image or video specs are wrong, the app will crop them according to its needs. This could inadvertently turn your perfectly-designed ad into something confusing, sloppy, and ineffective. Instead, try to maximize the usage of the available space as much as you can and make use of every pixel allowed by the app.

Pro tip: Instagram’s design recommendations include using a .jpg or .png file, uploading the highest resolution image available, and keeping in mind that only two rows of text will automatically display.

7. Take full advantage of user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) has been shown to be a highly efficient Instagram marketing tool. In fact, about 90% of consumers say they trust UGC more than traditional advertising.

When your customers take photos and videos of themselves using or recommending your product, this piece of content can turn into a priceless ad with word-of-the-mouth benefits.

You can leverage this content by following your clients on Instagram closely to find these pieces of content. When you see a post that could become good UGC for your brand, ask them for permission to repost this content on your page. 

This also makes your ad more authentic, since it’s a client testimonial vs. claims being made by your brand.

8. Keep your Instagram ads fresh

Instagram is a dynamic environment. People are often turning to the app to see diverse content. To continue grabbing their attention, it’s key to create new ads as often as possible.

Your target Instagram audience may get bored with your content faster than it would on other marketing channels. Plus, regularly switching up your ads gives you an excellent split-testing opportunity.

Pro tip: You don’t have to make new ads every day. Rather, you can create a few and regularly switch between them.

9. Take notice of Instagram Reels

Short-form videos have become a popular way users consume content. Instagram introduced Reels to take advantage of this shift, and many people see a clear comparison to the fast-growing video platform TikTok. Whether it’s because of shorter attention spans or making sharing easier, Reels is expected to grow in 2021

Instagram Reels allows the creation of 15- to 30-second multi-clip videos set to music or other audio. It lets brands showcase their personality and products creatively, in a way that’s a happy medium between professional and informal. 

While advertising on Reels is not yet an option, we expect to see it in the future. According to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, they’re working on the new feature to ensure it’s engaging for consumers and creators before building an ad business into Reels. 

10. Analyze, analyze, analyze

A regular analysis is the pillar of your Instagram Ad campaign. Luckily, Facebook (which owns Instagram) has a number of useful tools to help track your ad performance.

As a reminder, the increase or decrease in conversions isn’t always an indication of your campaign’s quality. By keeping track of a variety of metrics, you’ll know which ads deserve an extra budget and which tactics need to be dropped.

The takeaway

To build a successful Instagram Ad campaign, you need to learn all the little nuances and take advantage of the majority of available options. 

As a social media channel, Instagram offers tremendous conversion opportunities. Take advantage of these practices and you could turn a scroll into a sale.

Looking for more social media marketing advice? You’ve come to the right place.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Mar 29 , 2021

Ready to grow your audience and humanize your brand? Then it’s time to get social.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to properly build your social media profiles
  • Tips for keeping your social media plan organized
  • Why cross-platform consistency is key
  • Pro tips for optimizing your social presence

Nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — uses social media, according to Statista. And while these platforms were once mainly for personal profiles, brands have hopped on the bandwagon in a big way.

Though social media may not directly benefit your SEO, reports show the links you share across these platforms increase brand exposure. It’s also one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reach your target audience.

But these days, merely having a business profile set up on the major social platforms isn’t enough. You’ve got to be mindful about how you present yourself on these apps if you want to stay competitive and maximize your opportunities. 

Below, we’ve highlighted 7 best practices to ensure your business’s social media profiles are set up for success.

1. Keep your display names and images consistent

Having the same username on each of your profiles is one way to optimize your brand’s social media pages by making it easy for people to find you on these platforms. The trick here is to snag these profile display names before someone else does.

Particularly if your company name is also a common word or phrase, someone may already have created an account with your name. If this is the case, you have a few options. 

You can:

  • Reach out to the account holder and see if they’ll give or sell you the account name
  • Add a word or your city to your account name across all profiles (such as @getzifty or @ziftyATL)
  • If the account is inactive or the owner is impersonating your brand, reach out to the platform and see if they’ll release it to you

It’s also a good idea to have your company logo or mascot as your profile image across platforms. This way, people can easily recognize the page as yours.

Pro tip: When uploading cover and profile photos, make sure you know the required specs or sizes so your images won’t be blurry or pixelated. (Image requirements will vary by platform.)

social media business best practices

One product of social media platforms becoming increasingly leveraged by brands rather than just individuals is the added features and tools. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Fill out your profile completely

Each social platform has its own unique profile setup and character limits. The key is to use all the available options at your disposal. This means building out your profile with things like a cover image (a background image that platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have), a brief bio about your business, and a URL linking back to your site. 

Business profiles often have added features, like the ability to list a category for your Instagram page. Facebook lets you include your business category, phone number, “About” description, when your company was founded, and more. 

Since LinkedIn is the most professional-focused social media platform, its profile features are arguably the most robust. It allows for most of the above, along with a fleshed-out company overview, company size, specialties, and even open job listings. 

Fill out your profiles completely so that those who stumble upon your profiles can get as much context and info about your business as possible.

3. Take advantage of optimization features and tools

One product of social media platforms becoming increasingly leveraged by brands rather than just individuals is the added features and tools. While most of these offerings are available for business and personal profiles alike, they allow you to optimize your profiles and let you work smarter vs. harder. 

For example, Instagram does have a “contact” button feature, but it only allows one active link on your profile. They also don’t allow you to hyperlink within captions or via Instagram Stories, meaning it can be difficult to effectively drive traffic to your site from this platform. Luckily, you still have options.

Consider creating an account with a tool like Linktree. This way, you can put the Linktree URL (creating an account is free) in your profile. Those who click the link will be taken to a mobile-friendly page with a list of links they can choose to click on. Here at HawkSEM, our Linktree often includes links to our latest blog, our homepage, and our industry newsletter signup form. 

If you have at least 10,000 Instagram followers, you also have access to the “Swipe up” Stories feature, which does allow you to link to a web page from a posted Story. (Stories, as a refresher, are temporary posts that show up on your profile for 24 hours unless you save them as a Highlight on your profile page.)

Pro tip: Don’t stretch yourself thin by trying to be super active on all the social media platforms, especially if you’re a one-person team or manage other marketing channels. It’s good to create your profile, but focus more on the platforms that your audience seems to be on the most, or the ones on which you get the most engagement.

4. Keep an eye on analytics

One of the biggest benefits to business social media pages is the analytics these platforms gather. 

Depending on which one you’re viewing analytics for, you can gauge things such as:

  • how your posts are performing in terms of engagement, impressions, and clicks
  • the rate at which you’re acquiring followers
  • how your page’s performance stacks up against previous months or years 
  • which content types are resonating most with your followers

Using a free or paid scheduling tool (like Buffer, HubSpot, and Sprout Social, just to name a few) can offer even more analytics. Different account tiers will have different options, of course, but you may be able to see additional insights like what days and times your audience is most active on a particular platform, which can help you determine the best times to post.

Once you can see the type of content that your audience responds best to, you can plan to create more similar content. Which brings us to…

5. Create a content plan

Even if your job is purely to manage a business’s social media accounts, staying organized is key. That’s where creating a content plan comes in handy. This can be a brief overview or a granular day-by-day schedule, depending on your priorities, goals, and bandwidth. 

At the least, this can help you track when you plan to post on each platform, and what type of content you’ll publish. The frequency is up to you — after all, it’s better to post when you actually have something valuable to say to your audience, rather than simply adding noise to someone’s timeline. 

Pro tip: Posting the exact same content on each of your social media profiles may save time, but this can create a poor experience for those who follow you on multiple platforms. Instead, try to mix up the verbiage or images you use, even if you’re promoting the same thing on multiple apps.

business social media profiiles

Whether you post multiple times a day or a few times a month, having a presence on the main social media platforms can be a great way to boost your business. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Pay attention to competitors

It can be difficult to come up with unique content for multiple channels consistently. For this and other reasons, Hootsuite recommends keeping an eye on what your competitors are posting on social media

You certainly don’t want to just copy their same posts, but you can use their content as inspiration that may help if you’re struggling with what to post. (You can also see what resonates most with their audience through things like comments and likes, as your target personas are likely similar.)

7. Don’t forget to be “social”

Social media shouldn’t be a one-way street. These apps are great places to let your company’s personality shine. One way to do that is by looking for creative ways to interact with and engage your followers. 

You can publish fun polls on Twitter and Instagram Stories for followers to weigh in on. Plus, many of the popular platforms allow you to “go live,” or broadcast a video in real time. This could be great for sharing big company news or having a virtual chat with another industry pro. 

Interacting can be as simple as following back those who follow you, “liking” posts others make about your brand, and responding to comments. Not only will it make your followers feel valued, but it’ll remind them that there are humans behind your business. 

The takeaway

Whether you post multiple times a day or a few times a month, having a presence on the main social media platforms can be a great way to boost your business.

With just a bit of front-end planning when you’re building your social media profiles, you can have a strong foundation that’ll help you build your following and grow your reach with success. 

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 23 , 2020

Your leads could be browsing on Pinterest — here’s how to get their attention on the popular platform.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What Pinterest Ads are
  • Steps to create a Pinterest Ads account for your business
  • Best practices for creating ads 
  • Why these paid social ads are worth exploring

More than any other social media platform, Pinterest is where people go to be inspired. What’s more, with 300 million people active on Pinterest each month, 89% of Pinners in the U.S. use the site on their path to making a purchase. 

Anyone can publish content on Pinterest by uploading images or videos. As a brand, you can also connect a product feed that’ll turn every product into a Pin, or publish from your site by linking your RSS feed to have the platform automatically create new Pins. And with all that purchasing intent, it stands to reason that Pinterest Ads are worth a second look.

pinterest ad manager

A look at creating an ad from an existing Pin on Pinterest (Image via Pinterest)

Using Pinterest Ads Manager to promote your content

Pinterest has made it pretty easy to get up and running on their ads platform. Once you create a business account, you go to the Ads dropdown menu on ads.pinterest.com and select “Create ad.” From there, you’ll choose a campaign goal based on the action you want people to take from your ad.

Next, you’ll enter your ad group details and make selections for things like your budget, targeting, and the run dates of your campaign. After that, you’ll select the dates for your campaign, add your budget, and set a maximum bid. 

Next, you’ll decide which Pin you want to promote in your campaign (make sure the Pin’s name is accurate and that it links to the proper URL). Once everything looks good, it’s time to launch your ad. 

Pro tip: All ads are reviewed by the Pinterest team to ensure ad policies are being followed — this process can take up to 24 hours, so don’t panic if it takes a day for your ad to be live.

pinterest ads in feed

An example of how ads look when browsing the Pinterest site (Image via Pinterest)

1. Prioritize the visuals

Much like Instagram, Pinterest is all about the visuals. If your image isn’t high quality and engaging, you risk getting lost in the shuffle. Some experts recommend keeping images simple and vertically aligned so they’re easy to see on mobile. The recommended ratio for Pins is 2:3, or 1,000 by 1,500 pixels.

For Pin titles, you can up to 100 characters, with the first 30-35 actually showing in feeds. (It’s wise, of course, to use keywords in your title.) For description, you get up to 500 characters, but Pinterest advises prioritizing the first 50-60.

With the limited amount of characters you get for your image description, some brands add text to the image itself to maximize the amount of words you can pair with your visual.

2. Determine the right format for your goal

There are five main ad formats you can choose from when it comes to your Pinterest ad. The one or ones you opt to use will depend on your overall goals. These formats are:

  • Standard – A basic ad that allows you to showcase your products and content via a vertical or square image format
  • Video – Use a looping video clip to grab viewers’ attention and tell a story
  • Shopping – Easily convert Pins of your products into their own ads that can be clicked on to take the user right to the purchase page
  • Carousel – Lets you showcase multiple images in a single ad that viewers can swipe through
  • Collections – A stylish way to mix individual products images with a larger image showing the items in context (like a living room image above individual photos of a lamp, couch, and coffee table)

Depending on your offering, you can play around with various ad types to see which ones resonate most with your audience. 

Pro tip: If you’re unsure about what format to try, consider video. Later Media reports that video content is thriving on Pinterest in 2020, “with Video Pins quickly becoming one of the top creative tools for brands, businesses, and creators.”

pinterest ads budget

How to enter your Pinterest campaign goals and details (Image via Pinterest)

3. Figure out your budget

When it comes to pricing, Pinterest makes setting your budget pretty simple. You can determine how much you want to spend daily, the duration of your campaign, and which audience action you want to pay for. These actions could be views, engagement, or clickthroughs. 

Plus, it’s easy to turn your ad off anytime if you’re worried about blowing through your budget too quickly. As a reminder, your ad groups are where you determine things like targeting, your schedule, and your budget.

For more paid social tips, check out our articles on best practices for ads for TwitterInstagramFacebook, and LinkedIn.

4. Take advantage of the targeting options

Speaking of targeting, you can choose one or multiple segments from the following targeting options:

  • Audiences – Combine your own data with Pinterest’s to reach those who have previously made a purchase on your site or have engaged with your Pinterest content in the past 
  • Demographics – Allow you to reach users by specific location, device, gender, or language
  • Interests – Targets users who have created boards, engaged with Pins, or have shown interest in a relevant topic
  • Keywords – Allow you to reach people who are searching for a specific topic on Pinterest 
  • Placements – Choose if you want your ads shown in Pinterest search results, while users browse, or both
  • Expanded – Pinterest populates additional interests and keywords based on the ones you’ve already chosen along with your ad content and audience

All of the ad decisions you make should take your target audience into account, from the language in your copy to the visuals you choose. Once you’ve nailed down your ideal client persona, it shouldn’t be too difficult to determine what’s bound to appeal to them most.

pinterest promoted pins

How to add existing Pins to an ad group (Image via Pinterest)

5. Keep an eye on performance

You may be surprised by how much success you find through Pinterest ads. Alternatively, you may find that the platform simply isn’t used by enough of your target audience. The only way to know how successful your ads are is to track their performance.

Pinterest encourages brands to promote Pins they’ve created that are already popular, as it’ll be easier to get these Pins more exposure. From there, you can check out the Analytics section in your account to gauge performance. And, of course, you should test a few different strategies and ad elements to ensure your campaigns are optimized. 

E-commerce brands with active accounts can take things a step further by enrolling in the verified merchant program, which adds a verification check symbol to your account and allows you to have a “Shop” tab on your profile page. 

Pro tip: Pinterest offers two ways to create ads: one is more automated, while the other is more manual and customized. Once you get familiar with the platform, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the advanced tool settings that let you build and edit campaigns, ad groups and custom targeting in Ads Manager.

create pin

Pinterest offers tools to create the most effective Pins for your audience (Image via Pinterest)

The takeaway

Pinterest is where people go to find inspiration — whether it’s for their home, career, wardrobe, or next meal. Take advantage of this visual-centric platform to target those who are browsing or searching the site for something that aligns with your product or service.

By being mindful about your content, properly targeting your audience, setting the right budget, and leveraging the proper ad format, you could gain access to a whole new segment of your audience. 

Need a bit more help to get going on Pinterest Ads? You’ve come to the right place. 

 

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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