Whether you’re a small online store just starting out, or one of the most recognized ecommerce businesses in the world, growth is probably one of your top goals. And growing means making shoppers aware of your brand and increasing sales at your ecommerce store.

Online advertising is an essential part of any ecommerce marketing strategy because it’s one of the best ways to build brand awareness, target customers, and drive sales. In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into effective ecommerce advertising strategy. We’ll explain the purpose and benefits of online advertising for growing a successful  ecommerce business. We’ll look at how to align your digital advertising tactics to your business goals. And we’ll share seven of the best ecommerce advertising strategies to help grow even a tiny ecommerce site into a brand that commands attention. 

What is ecommerce advertising? 

Ecommerce advertising is a type of marketing that distributes paid content across digital channels to attract potential customers (and repeat buyers) to an ecommerce store. Ecommerce advertising today is a billion-dollar industry: according to the US Census, retail digital ad spend represents 25% of total digital spending, despite the fact that ecommerce sales are only 13% of total US retail sales. Even brick and mortar stores are investing in online advertising. 

Most ecommerce businesses and new DTC brands invest in online advertising, since the internet is where you host your store and where many consumers like to shop. Online ecommerce advertising includes obvious forms of paid advertising, like Google ads, banner ads, dynamic product ads, and social media advertising. But it also includes other digital marketing formats like content marketing, email marketing, newsletters, and user-generated content. 

When ecommerce brands also have brick and mortar stores, they may also opt for more traditional advertising like radio, TV, direct mail campaigns, billboards, and or other types of physical display ads. 

What’s the difference between ecommerce advertising and ecommerce marketing?

Ecommerce advertising is just one kind of marketing. For example, ecommerce marketing strategy includes preparing your products for market, determining your target audience, defining your products’ value propositions, and designing your visual and written brand voice. Ecommerce advertising is how you promote your products and brand through paid channels.

Ecommerce advertising is an important tool in mechants’ digital marketing toolbox, especially when combined with other ecommerce marketing tactics. G2 has found that brands using three or more marketing channels in their campaigns see a 250% higher engagement and purchase rate than brands using single channels.

Benefits of ecommerce advertising

The intent of all paid advertisements is to bring brand awareness of your products, company, and promotions to both new customers and existing ones. Advertising campaigns can target a variety of ecommerce business goals: you might want to drive traffic, increase average order value (AOV), build your subscriber list, grow brand awareness, or promote a sale. Could you accomplish these goals without advertising? Probably not. In a digital world where people’s attention is an expensive and competitive commodity, advertising is a necessity. Here are some of the reasons advertising is so popular with ecommerce marketers.

It’s scalable. 

Paid advertising has a cost, obviously, so your budget will be an important factor in your ecommerce advertising strategy. Your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and return on ad spend (ROAS) are two important metrics to track. But the beauty of online paid advertising is that it’s scalable: you can start with a small budget, experiment to find the most effective ads and channels, and double-down on what works. 

It’s targeted.

Thanks to third-party cookies, Facebook pixels, and the willingness of many consumers to share their personal information with social media networks, search engines, and brands, it’s easier than ever to target specific kinds of customers with the ads that are most effective at getting their attention. You can target your ads to shoppers based on demographic information such as their age, gender, or location; you can customize your ads based on psychographic information like interests, beliefs, and activities; and you can segment and target customers based on behaviors, like which websites they visited, what products they viewed, what items they put into their cart. 

It’s informative.

The most important action in any ecommerce advertising campaign is to measure, analyze, and adapt your strategy to ensure optimal results. Constantly monitoring and tweaking your ad campaigns may feel high-maintenance, but advertising is a great source of data. Ads can help you understand who’s clicking on what, which images yield the highest conversions, and which retargeting headlines are most effective at getting shoppers back to their abandoned carts. All this information about your target audience can then be applied to further optimize your marketing and advertising efforts.

It often pays for itself. 

The more successful your advertising is, the more new revenue you’ll have to commit to more advertising, and so on. You can probably think of a brand that you’d never heard of, until one day their Instagram ads were all over your feed and then before you knew it they were a multi-million-dollar company. “Buying” brand awareness is one way to dominate market share in a competitive industry: by becoming an ecommerce business that people want to shop with, simply because everyone’s heard of you, you generate more revenue.

7 essential strategies in ecommerce advertising

Now that we’ve broken down just what ecommerce advertising is all about, it’s time to dive into some strategies that will help you succeed with your advertising campaigns. 

1. Personalization

In an ad-saturated marketplace, creating a customized experience in your content, landing pages, online store, and advertising is the only way to grab a potential customer’s attention. Personalization helps you build a relationship with your audience by finding out just what they need, and then meeting that need. 

Why does personalization matter? We’ll let the numbers do the talking: 

  • Demand Metric finds that 82% of customers feel more positive about a brand after engaging with personalized content

  • Accenture found that 91% of consumers are more likely to do business with brands that remember, recognize and provide them with relevant recommendations and offers

  • Adobe found that 72% of people who value personalized recommendations say personalization led them to purchase more than they had planned

  • According to consulting firm McKinsey, 80% of consumers value personalization in retail to the extent that they would depart for a competitor if a seller gets it wrong

Today, data collection and precise targeting enable brands to discover more information than ever about their shoppers. The more information gathered, the closer a marketer can get to a true 1:1 personalization experience. Cookies and pixels share visitors’ behavioral data (clicks, browsing habits, and cart participation; and social networks and ad networks allow you to target according to demographic (age, location, gender) and psychographic (interests, values, beliefs) data. 

Brands can also collect first-party data directly from shoppers through instruments like pop-ups, conversational ads, newsletter sign-ups, surveys, opt-in boxes at checkout, and other form fills. 

2. Social media advertising

The most successful advertisers spend their money and effort reaching consumers where they hang out — and that’s why social media has become a top tool for DTC marketers looking to reach buyers. Consumers in the US spend an average of two to three hours per day scrolling through their social feeds, so this is prime real estate for advertisers. 

According to JungleScout’s Consumer Trends Report, nearly half of consumers have read social media comments to form an opinion about brands, and 35% have purchased a product based on a brand’s livestream.

Most social media platforms offer not just brand visibility but a vast variety of ad formats and targeting tools. As an example, let’s take a look at Meta, owners of Facebook and Instagram. Meta offers a range of ad formats: video ads, display ads, lead ads (capturing user information without having to leave Facebook), dynamic ads, and more. Because Facebook also owns Instagram, you can manage ads for both social media platforms in one place. 

There are myriad target audience options, using either custom audiences created from Facebook’s own pixel and user data or audience segments created from your own uploaded subscriber lists. Lookalike audiences are a powerful way to reach people who “look like” your highest LTV customers, according to Facebook’s algorithm. 

While social media offers a lot of variety, you’ll have to experiment a bit to find the right format and targeting options. This is especially important because the skyrocketing popularity of social media ads and privacy changes to Apple’s iOS have impacted Facebook’s data and ROAS. Smaller ecommerce sites especially need to be strategic about spending in this marketplace. 

3. Google ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising through Google is another popular way to get your brand out to new customers. Google is the #1 most trafficked website in the world and offers a number of ad formats for advertisers — including Google search ads, Google shopping ads, and Google Adwords. Google ads work by matching the terms typed into the search box to the keywords you use in your ads. You assign a budget to your ad campaigns and “bid” on the keywords you prioritize. If Google determines that your ad is both relevant and within the budget targets (popular search terms are more expensive to bid on), it will show your ad on the SERP (search engine results page.) You pay only when someone clicks on your ad. 

There are three types of keywords that you can target to trigger your ad: broad, phrase, or exact. 

A broad match shows your ad when a user inputs a query that has your keyword or a variation, misspelling, or synonym of that keyword. 

A phrase match presents your ad only when your keywords are in the query and in the proper order. It does not allow for synonyms, though it will trigger with close variants. 

An exact match only shows your ad if the query search matches precisely with the keywords. It will not allow for any variations, misspellings, or synonyms. 

Because a broader term match will blow through clicks (and money) more quickly, those with limited budgets should use exact or phrase match to get the most out of their advertising dollars. Google Analytics allows you to track your keyword conversion performance, so if you notice certain words aren’t converting well, you can redirect your campaign budget to the ones that get you more traffic. 

4. Retargeting 

Retargeting allows ecommerce brands to place a cookie with shoppers who have visited their site (especially those who’ve shown interest in a product,) and then use that cookie to follow up with them when they navigate away. Per JungleScout’s Consumer Trends Report, 42% of consumers say being “followed” around by retargeting ads is helpful.

Brands can retarget shoppers across a range of formats and platforms. You probably aren’t surprised these days if you browse an item of clothing at a website, or perhaps even put it into your shopping cart, and then find yourself seeing that same item of clothing in ads on Facebook, Instagram, news websites, or elsewhere. That’s retargeting.

Retargeting is an especially effective method for converting abandoned carts, since the item(s) a shopper abandoned may literally follow them across the internet until they return to your site and complete the purchase. Retargeting is also a great way to make product recommendations or upsell, since you can use a shopper’s browsing history to program your ads. 

5. Conversational advertising 

If you made it this far, then you just read about how important personalization is in helping your brand stand out from the crowd and making customers feel like you know and value them. This is why conversational marketing shines in a crowded sea of display ads. 

The most common form of conversational marketing you’ve probably seen is a website chatbot that engages you across various pages of a site. Similarly, conversational ads use automation and logic to engage individual shoppers in 1:1 conversations, right in the context of the ad itself. 

Social media platforms, many of which also have built-in 1:1 messaging capabilities, are pioneering conversational ads. LinkedIn and Facebook both offer various kinds of conversational advertising, customized to respond to each user’s individual actions or keywords. Conversational ads are often more effective than traditional digital ads because they can help “humanize” the shopping experience. For many visitors who crave the personalization of a humanized connection but don’t want to interact with a sales or customer service rep, conversational ads are an effective form of engagement and lead generation.

Emotive’s Conversational Ads, offered on Facebook and soon other platforms, are designed to help brands build their SMS subscriber list and drive traffic to their ecommerce site. With a double-digit conversion rate and the ability to generate opt-ins 10X faster than traditional pop-ups, Conversational Ads are a solid solution for brands with underperforming ROAS. 

(Learn more about Emotive Conversational Ads.) 

6. Omnichannel advertising

In the same way that investors are told to diversify, omnichannel advertising — running ads across a range of platforms or channels — is the best way to get a strong ROI. Although Google, YouTube, and Facebook are among the top websites in the world when it comes to traffic, most shoppers spend their time at multiple sites every day. With omnichannel advertising, you can show up for consumers no matter where they are or where they’re coming from. 

Omnichannel advertising can harness different referral sources, including Google, influencer marketing, affiliate marketing, review websites, or social media likes. Interaction on one channel can update on the others, so you’re keeping tabs on shoppers as they roam across the web.

The omnichannel approach gives you more communication touchpoints with your consumer and reinforces awareness of your brand. In a competitive ecommerce marketplace, these multiple touchpoints not only improve conversion rates, they help you build a data profile of shoppers that can improve your personalization — something we know shoppers appreciate and find effective. 

7. Conversion rate optimization

In ecommerce marketing, a conversion is any action a shopper takes that gets them closer to becoming a buyer. For example, you might measure the conversion rates of your ads (the percentage of click-throughs you get to your website), the conversion rates for email or SMS sign-up forms, and the conversion of shopping carts into completed purchases. (Read more about conversion marketing.)

As a merchant you’ll have goals for every conversion opportunity, and you can set up your advertisements according to these goals. Your conversion rate is the number of shoppers who actually fulfill your ad’s goal, divided by the total number who simply viewed or interacted with your ad. 

Most ecommerce stores improve their revenue through conversion rate optimization (CRO), which is the process of making small improvements to your conversion performance. A/B testing and experimenting with ad copy, images, and target audiences are effective ways to optimize your ads. 

CRO is an important tool in ecommerce advertising because it helps you improve results using resources and budget you already have. Instead of spending more on an ad campaign with a low conversion rate, for example, you should test and tweak your campaign until it’s more than paying for itself. 

Start your ad engines

If you want your business to keep up with the other brands, it’s important to stay on top of the best practices for ecommerce advertising. The technology powering digital ads also makes it easy to target, segment, and refine your audience and conversion data, so you can continuously improve your advertising effectiveness and ROAS. 

Once you have a solid and engaging website, expand into a diverse mix of advertising channels. Make sure you close the acquisition loop by engaging shoppers and building strong relationships with your buyers. Remember that acquiring new customers can cost five times more than keeping your current ones, and likewise, a 5% increase in customer retention correlates with at least a 25% increase in profit.