The Different Types of Online Ads, Decoded

Every time you log on to the web, someone is paying to try and get your attention. 

Doesn’t matter if it’s on your desktop or mobile device, whether you’re searching on Google or swiping on Tinder. You can’t go two seconds on the web without encountering an ad, and probably more than one.

As a business owner, you too can attempt (if you dare) to tap into this bottomless well of attention. But not all ads are created equally. You have a whole menu of platforms to choose from — some of them better suited to the task than others.

Here are some of your top options to consider … 

Search Engine Ads

Search engine ads appear at the tops of search engine results pages (SERPs) on websites like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Yes, Google is the 800-pound gorilla, but millions of people still use Bing or Yahoo, and you can find great deals here.

Most search ads are made of text and try to hide in plain sight amongst other search results. Some studies show that organic search results (i.e. SEO results) are more trusted than paid ads, but people can and do still click on “sponsored” results.

Google also has the “product carousel,” which you can pay to be on if you sell physical products. These carousel ads include a product picture and price as well as text.

Each time someone clicks on your ad, you owe the search engine money. The price is set through a “bidding” system — i.e. the highest “bidder” on the keyword gets their ad displayed. 

Popular keywords are typically more expensive, and you pay for the click whether the user buys or not … so pick your keywords carefully! Make sure the person searching those keywords is likely to be a warm prospect.

Social Media Ads

Sponsored content found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Ads can be placed in a number of positions — posts, sidebars, reels, stories, etc. 

Social media companies maintain vast stores of data for their users, so you can target your perfect customers based on their demographics, interests, geography, and browsing patterns. Many of the algorithms have gotten so good that after seeing who has engaged with your ad, they can begin to show the ad only to people who share characteristics with the people who engaged with you to increase your engagement percentage. 

Typically, instead of paying per “click,” you pay per exposure or per impression, so successful social media ads make the most of that exposure to hook the viewer with a combination of video, imagery, and text.

Display Ads

Most websites have display ads — banners advertising a product. You may not have known this, but you don’t have to negotiate directly with the owners of those websites to get your brand on one of those banners. Google Ads — the same place where you buy search and carousel ads — can place your visual content on banner ads at targeted sites. 

We only use display for retargeting purposes and suggest you do the same.

Email Ads

Those emails in your Gmail “Promotional” folder? They’re not actually emails. They’re ads meant to look like emails. You can buy this kind of exposure through Google Ads. Like the search ads and display ads, they are PPC.

Video Ads

YouTube pioneered video ads — an ad that plays before free YouTube content. One of the characteristics of these ads is that the user can often skip the ad after five seconds, and you still pay for the impression, so you had better target well and hook your viewer in those first five seconds. 

Mobile Ads

Many popular mobile apps, from games to dating apps, show users (especially non-paying users) advertisements before they get access to the app content. You can buy ads from the apps themselves, or from ad aggregators.


Curious which digital ad channel is right for you? Let us provide you with a customized assessment of the best strategy for your brand to buy the attention of your future fawning fans.

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