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When it comes to advertising online, the vast majority of marketers look to the same handful of digital ad channels.
They’re popular because they work—but that popularity also makes for competitive ad space.
With all that’s out there in the digital landscape, we knew there had to be hidden gems where marketers could win traffic and leads, without all the competition and big-budgets. So we asked 61 marketers about the most effective, lesser-known digital ad channels they use, and they didn’t disappoint. We heard about 24 different ad channels where marketers can get real results.
The marketers we spoke with offered a wide variety of ad channels that have the potential to drive real acquisition—but there were a few key categories that stood out. Namely, social media and paid search.
Those are pretty standard types of digital advertising—the kind you’ll find in most marketers’ arsenals. Still, we heard about several unexpected ways to leverage those channels to avoid the competition of traditional digital ads.
While plenty of companies are active on LinkedIn, fewer take advantage of the paid advertising side of this social network. According to Chantelle Stevenson of ClearPivot, “LinkedIn is a very underrated digital advertising channel.”
As Conversion Hut’s Dale Broadhead explains it, “The problem with Facebook Ads and Google Display is that it’s restrictive in terms of the targeting for B2B audiences. Advertising on LinkedIn,” Broadhead added, “allows you to build amazingly accurate audiences of prospects that are the ideal buyers for a product or service.”
Amanda Foushee of Marsden Marketing says they’ve seen great results from LinkedIn Sponsored Content, too. “LinkedIn Sponsored Content has a great engagement rate that drives leads. With the ability to segment audiences by job title, we’re able to get our content in front of the people it would benefit the most. It acts as a small-scale ABM engine for our company.”
Editor’s note: Want a better way to measure and report on LinkedIn Ads campaigns? Download this free LinkedIn Ads: Campaign Performance dashboard to track key metrics like impressions, average CTR and engagements by campaign, and more.
If you’re thinking Facebook is far from a lesser-known ad channel, you’re right. But there are actually several ways to advertise on Facebook that are underutilized since most companies focus on Timeline and sidebar ads. The two we heard most about were:
“Facebook Groups give us huge visibility as a brand with pinned posts, live Q&As and more,” said Devin Stagg of Pupford.
“Everyone knows about Facebook, but there’s an advertising channel inside Facebook that a lot of business owners aren’t aware of, and that’s sponsored messages,” said Ronald D’souza of Angel Jackets. “These type of ads allow you to send specially crafted messages to a user’s inbox. It’s an excellent tool for driving engagement and actions related to your business while reducing bounce rate.”
As Deirdre O’Donoghue of G2 pointed out, everyone knows about Snapchat—but most of the hype is around story and Discover ads. But as O’Donoghue explained, “Gaining brand awareness through a trusted friend’s Snapchat is much more effective than a disruptive banner ad.”
“The Snapchat Geofilter is a less expensive way to organically target your audience in,” O’Donoghue added. “It works because when people take a Snapchat, if your brand has an interesting filter, they’ll post it regardless of whether it’s an ad or not.”
“Pinterest is a great channel to drive traffic and generate leads,” said Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers. “There are more than 250 million active users on Pinterest but still many companies neglect this channel.”
Marco Baatjes of Bottom Line Cents advised, “If you’re marketing heavy on a single social media channel, you should diversify your traffic sources by redirecting a certain percentage of your budget to try Pinterest.”
“The great benefit of Pinterest versus Facebook or LinkedIn Ads is that it’s very cost-effective,” Aufray added. “Since there aren’t as many advertisers on this platform yet, it makes the CPC low.”
McKinzie Bean of Moms Make Cents echoed Aufray, saying, ”Because many advertisers haven’t utilized Pinterest yet, CPC and CPA can be incredibly low. I consistently get email sign-ups for $0.25 – $0.30.”
Venkatesh C. R. of Dot Com Infoway pointed out that Promoted Pins have a leg up on other types of social media advertising—because they don’t disappear almost immediately. “Unlike Facebook posts, Pinterest pins don’t get lost in a sea of billions. The average half-life of a pin is 3.5 months, which is huge for lead generation as it doesn’t blur out of the spotlight like Facebook posts.”
James Watkins of PHS highlighted the relatively new Pinterest “Buy It” button. “Utilizing the ‘Buy It’ option in Pinterest,” Watkins said, “allowed us to gain more customers without putting extra barriers in their way.”
Despite the ubiquity of Twitter, the audience there is still quite considerably smaller than ad networks like Facebook and Google. Many marketers overlook Twitter Ads for that reason, but Jason Thibault of Massive Kontent doesn’t agree.
“While the available audience on Twitter is only 10-12% the size of Facebook and Google’s, it’s a highly active audience that provides you with quick feedback on your campaigns. I run promoted tweets to custom audiences for brand new posts, videos, whitepapers or any other content assets coming down the pipeline,” Thibault explained.
“If your promoted tweet features educational, useful, or entertaining content, you can pick up quite a lot of additional engagement along the way.”
Editor’s note: Track and visualize your Twitter Ads performance, including metrics like overall impressions, impressions by campaign, clicks by campaign, and more, in this free dashboard.
YouTube is another well-known name that’s curiously underused by most advertisers. “YouTube is yet to be utilized properly by many brands out there,” noted Oliver Roddy of Catalyst Marketing, “The main reason is the fear of needing to create video content.”
“YouTube video ads are amazing,” said 310 Creative’s Chris Leach. “Advertisers [should] love it because you can format the CPA so that you don’t pay unless the video plays for at least 30-seconds.”
“One of the reasons YouTube Ads work is the low competition—far fewer businesses use YouTube to advertise compared to Google, Facebook, and Instagram. Meaning the space is cheaper to bid for,” Roddy said.
“What’s more, you only pay when your ad is shown for 30 seconds or more, meaning zero cost if someone isn’t interested in what you’re selling. This can make the testing phase of launching your ads very cheap, allowing you to create laser-targeted ads in a short space of time.”
If there’s one painfully overlooked digital ad channel, it’s the sibling of Google paid search: Bing advertising. It’s value is simple—there’s way less competition for keywords on Bing, so you’ll pay much less per click.
“The cost per click is usually significantly lower than what you would pay for traffic from AdWords,” said Marc Andre of Vital Dollar. “Although the volume isn’t nearly as big as what you can get from AdWords, it’s still possible to get more traffic than you might expect from Microsoft Advertising.”
Not to mention, it’s easy to use Microsoft Advertising if you’re already acquainted with AdWords. “The platform is similar to AdWords,” Shorb said, “so if you’re an AdWords user there won’t be much of a learning curve.”
Editor’s note: Looking for a better way to visualize your overall Bing Ads performance? Download this free Bing Ads Overview dashboard to see key PPC metrics for all of your Bing Ads campaigns.
“The local search directories (Google My Business, Yelp, Bing, Apple Maps, etc.) have been very effective for driving both traffic and leads to our website,” said David Peterson of HealthMarkets.
“Many people miss out using their Google My Business listing to its full potential,” added Tom Buckland of Choose Wisely. “Google posts, for example, will only show for branded searches, but they allow you to take up more space on the results page, with any clicks directing searchers to your website.”
Samuel Solis of Page 1 Solutions echoed Buckland, saying, “Many businesses and agencies don’t take advantage of the robust features in Google My Business—from claiming listings to specifying your business information, to enhanced features like Google Posts.”
Stockton Marketing Agency’s Blake Stockton also highlighted the Google Local 3 pack.
“What most business owners and marketers don’t focus on is the Google Local 3 pack, which shows when someone searches for a broad topic or industry locally. When a business ranks in the Local 3 Pack for high traffic searches, they can exponentially grow customers from online,” Stockton explained.
Editor’s note: Gain more control over how your business appears in search listings. Grab this free dashboard and track the number of searches your business receives, which sources drive the most searches, and more.
Plenty of businesses prioritize search marketing and paid search advertising, but that isn’t the best investment for everyone. For businesses in highly-competitive industries (from a search perspective), it can help to rely on another website’s search clout. That’s where local and niche directories can shine.
“We’ve had a lot of success using directory listings, especially paid ones in specialized verticals,” shared Bill Rice of Kaleidico. “For example, in the legal space, directories like Avvo, FindLaw, Super Lawyers, and Martindale can give law firms in a very competitive SEO and PPC landscape a real opportunity to get relatively cheap, highly relevant traffic.”
“A good directory can be hard to find, but the rewards are golden,” Alexa Kurtz of WebTek added. “They’re one of the best forms of referral traffic we have. We’re a local business, so the traffic that comes from that directory is super qualified and almost always ends in a good sale.”
Sam White of AC Transmission even recommended one local directory that’s more than proven its staying power: the Yellow Pages (online, of course.)
“The Yellow Pages (YP.com) has provided steady lead generation, traffic to our website, and backlinks for us for years. By adding financial backing, we’re able to position ourselves near the top of the search results—generating steady traffic and leads at a very competitive rate.”
“Reddit is a super well-known site,” said Jeromy Sonne of Moonshine Marketing, “The traffic is crazy cheap, and the targeting can be very specific. Yet most of the marketers I know and interact with don’t really utilize it as a channel.”
Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin has noticed something similar. “People tend to ignore Reddit as a potential traffic driver, despite the fact that it boasts billions of unique visits each month. It’s a huge platform, but it’s dramatically underutilized.”
Reddit can be a versatile channel, too. McLoughlin added, “You can set yourself up as an influencer, conducting AMA-type interviews, or reply to threads with useful answers to questions. It’s all the more effective if you can link to informative content or landing pages, as well.”
“We’ve found that doing a little research on Reddit can lead to valuable new traffic—especially posting links in subreddits,” added COFORGE’s Eric Melillo. “By first posting well-written and unique content that adds value to the thread, you have a chance of posting links on follow-up threads to your more expansive post when appropriate. We use this approach all the time and watch the spikes of new traffic.”
“Quora brings us a much lower CPA compared to Facebook,” said Sandi Yu of Swapsy.
Austin Shong of Blip Billboards said, “Getting a new user to our site costs about 30% less through Quora when compared to Google Search Ads.”
Quora was one of the most common digital ad channels we heard about—and for good reason. Similar to Reddit, Quora provides an opportunity for professionals to build authority and showcase expertise by answering questions posed by the community.
“It puts us in a position of expertise and knowledge,” Marissa Ryan of VisualFizz said, “and the answers remain visible on the platform for the foreseeable future. That means that anytime someone turns to a search engine to answer a similar question, they have a chance of seeing our response in the results page. ”
“We’ve used Quora for our clients to answer relevant industry questions with blog-post styled responses,” added Matthew Tudge of WDA Branding Derby. “If you can string a good response together on a popular question, and include a relevant link ,then you’ll direct quality traffic right to your website.”
Yu explained that the reason promoting your business on Quora can be so effective is because you “get to write more about our services and our company, explain how we do what we do, and why we can do it at a lower price. This is more convincing compared to a picture with a slogan on Facebook or Instagram.”
Shong highlighted the versatility of Quora, too, saying, “With Quora, you can run narrowly targeted campaigns to drive conversions, by only displaying ads on certain questions, or focus on driving traffic by targeting broader topics or geographic areas.”
Have you ever looked at the digital spaces you own to see how you can better leverage and advertise with them? Most brands haven’t—but there are likely other ways you can use owned properties (like your website or your email) to gain more leads.
While you’ve probably optimized your website to bring in leads, there isn’t always an easy way to highlight temporary or time-sensitive information. That’s where a tool like Hello Bar comes into play.
“Hello Bar is a website service that lets you design messages for visitors and provides tools and features that ensure correct timing of the messages you want your visitors to see,” explained Jackie Tihanyi of Fisher Unitech. “Since using Hello Bar, we have garnered 116 leads through the service.”
“People don’t like talking on the phone anymore, but they want their questions answered quickly,” noted Anastasia Iliou of Medicare Plan Finder. “So, instead of finding the answers they need by looking through your content, they’ll use your live chat function to get a quick answer.”
As Iliou put it, “Boom—you have a lead!”
“Chatbots are set up to gain rapport with your clients and give them the information they’re seeking,” Lisamarie Monaco of PinnacleQuote explained, “Which then leads to a sale.”
This channel is almost too easy not to try. As Stan Tan of Selby’s explained, “It works wonders considering the amount of effort you need to put in. For us, we place a link to a page which shows our full product range in our email signature.”
As Tan notes, the key benefits are obvious:
“Capterra, GetApp, and Software Advice have been solid channels for us. While we typically get fewer leads from these channels than other sources (such as Google Ads), the leads we do get are often more qualified and ready to buy, leading to a faster sales cycle,” said Wes Marsh of BCA Technologies.
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Spire Digital’s Nick Farmen echoed that sentiment, adding Clutch, Manifest, and GoodFirms to the list. “We see 10+ leads through review sites each month.”
Martin Khan of Morningscore.io seconded the performance of Capterra for their digital advertising, raving, “I absolutely love the numbers I’m seeing in our analytics as the conversion rate is quite unmatched by any other channel.”
In highlighting the competition for many organic searches, Khan added, “if you’re running a smaller company, you can take advantage of their paid advertising.”
In addition, Luke Wester of Miva suggested seeking out even more niche review websites. “There are review/directory sites that focus solely on one industry. For example, G2 focuses on business software. These sites are known to produce purchase-qualified leads as user intent is more specific.”
“ViralContentBee is a triple treat for me,” David Leonhardt of THGM Writers said. “It has both a free and a paid version, or you can mix it up by paying for some exposure and earning additional exposure.”
“Here’s why it’s a triple treat,” Leonhardt explained. “First, I get direct referral traffic from the platform. Second, my content gets shared by people in the community. This exposes my content to a ton of people, including an audience that’s skewed toward potential clients. Third, VCB is great for SEO.”
Crediful’s Chane Steiner shared one of the more unique ad channels we heard about: job boards.
“While many people go to job boards to seek specific services, it’s also a great platform to advertise your services and draw attention to your brand.”
“The key,” Steiner added, “is posting your services in an area where potential customers are likely to see your post. So if you’re a content marketer, for example, try advertising your brand on a job board for writers.”
“There’s potential for thousands of people to see your message this way.”
Being and ad-free platform, Medium was an unexpected recommendation from TopLine Film’s Heather Baker. “While Medium is ad-free, we’ve recently found that it can be an effective indirect tool for driving traffic to your site, which we did with a recent campaign.”
Explaining the process, Baker said, “We announced the campaign on our blog, then produced a supplementary (unique) article for our Medium publication. As soon as that article was live, we actively promoted it through social advertising on other social networks. Within 24 hours, Medium was promoting it organically.”
Ultimately, Baker shared, as much as 22% of the traffic to their Medium post was driven by the platform itself.
“With geofencing, we trace a virtual fence around our clients’ competitors and/or locations where they know they can reach their customers. When someone enters the fence, they’re served an ad for our customer through apps on their mobile phone,” explained Chelsea Vaal of FUSIONWRX.
“We’ve found that this channel is great for building brand awareness for our clients, it’s highly trackable, and allows us to be much more targeted than with other methods. It also provides our clients with additional insight into their customers’ habits based on which locations perform well,” Vaal added.
Acknowledging that affiliate marketing is one of the less oft-used channels out there, Tom Mortimer of Adzooma said, “Obviously, the lifeblood of any business is a constant stream of new customers, so anything you can use to acquire more customers quickly and cost-effectively has to be worth a closer look.”
Highlighting the key benefits of working with affiliates, Mortimer explained:
“Brave Ads is a great complementary channel to reach those privacy-conscious and techy audiences, since the Brave browser blocks all tracking and invasive ads by default,” Lukas Bekr of CDN77 said. Explaining, Bekr added, “With Brave, users have to voluntarily opt-in to view ads and they get paid with BAT cryptocurrency (Basic Attention Token) as a reward for doing so.”
Since users have to opt-in to ads, engagement has proven to be much higher than averages across other ad platforms. “The latest Brave announcements are reporting click-through rates of 20% for all advertisers across the board,” Bekr said, “and our experience so far confirms these rather unbelievable numbers.”
“The key to finding a platform that fits your company,” explained Shayne Sherman of TechLoris, “is niching down on your audience demographic. We leverage Twitch to get in touch with our audience: PC fans and gamers.”
“Twitch is perfect for us because everyone on Twitch has high-performance demands of their system. Our content is geared toward an audience that’s tech-savvy or tech-interested—all of whom want to optimize their machine’s performance.”
If there’s one benefit of advertising online it’s the sheer magnitude of potential ad channels you can leverage. By breaking away from the popular and competitive channels that everyone and their brother advertises on, you can secure traffic and leads from a more targeted audience, with better cost metrics to boot.
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