What is online advertising, and what types of ads are there?

Have you ever reacted to a video on Facebook, a post on LinkedIn, or clicked on a search result in Google, only to realize after that it was an online ad you interacted with?

You’re not alone. In today’s digital age, the sheer variety and complexity of “types of online ads” play a pivotal role in shaping our online experiences.

More than ever, the ads you can use to help grow your business online can be contextual, relevant, targeted, and helpful in ways that marketers in the 50’s could only dream about.

But what is online advertising really about?

At its essence, it’s a dynamic tool that brands and businesses use to connect with their target audience, share stories, and promote products or services.

If you’re just starting with your business and online advertising, the expansive world of online advertising can appear quite overwhelming.

However, for seasoned Search Engine Marketing professionals like the ones working at User Growth, it’s an exciting challenge — a continuous game of strategizing, understanding, and adapting.

TLDR: Online advertising is the strategic use of digital platforms to promote messages, using various ad types crafted for various audiences and objectives.

In this article, we’re going to show you all the different types of online ads there are.

By understanding the purpose and potential of these ads, your company can harness the power of online advertising more effectively.

Whether you’re just starting in the marketing world or looking to enhance your current strategies, this guide gives valuable insights to optimize your digital footprint.

Join us as we delve into the multifaceted universe of online ads.

What is online advertising?

Online advertising, also known as internet advertising, web advertising, or digital advertising, refers to the practice of promoting products, services, or brands through digital channels such as websites, social media platforms, and mobile applications.

Compared to traditional advertising, online advertising offers several advantages, including:

  • Targeting specific audiences: Online advertising allows you to target specific audiences based on their demographics, interests, behaviors, and online habits. This makes it easier to reach the right people at the right time with the right message.
  • Measurable results: Online advertising allows you to track and measure the effectiveness of your campaigns in real time. This makes it easy to optimize your campaigns and improve your ROI.
  • Lower costs: Online advertising is generally more cost-effective than traditional advertising, as it eliminates many of the expenses associated with print, television, and radio advertising.
  • Flexibility: Online advertising allows you to change your campaigns on the fly, making it easy to adapt your marketing strategy as needed.
  • Global reach: Online advertising allows you to reach a global audience, making expanding your business to new markets easy.

Overall, online advertising offers many advantages over traditional advertising and can be a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes.

What types of online ads are there?

Of course, just like in traditional advertising, where you could place your ads in a newspaper or on TV, there are many different formats and types of online ads.

As the internet evolves, so do online advertising options.

Today, there are many different types of online advertising that you can integrate into your digital marketing strategy.

So, it’s key to keep learning about the latest trends, techniques, and strategies. You can use these online ad methods all together in one 360° campaign or use them individually.

Let’s dive into the various types of online advertising so you have a better understanding of the different options that are out there for your business.

Search Engine Marketing

Have you ever typed something into a search bar and noticed the first few results have the word ‘Ad’ next to them?

That’s one part of Search Engine Marketing, called Search Engine Advertising (or SEA) in action (the other part being SEO, or making sure you rank high in Google without paying for the spot)!

And you’re not the only one using a search engine. According to a study by BrightEdge, 68% of online experiences start with a search engine.

Moreover, 92.96% of global traffic comes from Google Search, Google Images, and Google Maps.

SEA is a smart way for businesses to make sure their websites show up at the top when people are looking for certain things.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) explained

These kinds of ads are one of the most common online. When someone clicks the ad, they go to the business’s website, and then the business pays for that click.

This way of advertising is about businesses buying special words or keywords that relate to what they do.

When someone searches for those words, the business’s website can appear right at the top, marked with that ‘Ad’ label. But there’s a catch! Every time someone clicks on their website from that ‘Ad’ spot, the business has to pay a bit of money. It’s kind of like paying rent for a prime spot in the digital world.

Google Ads is the most known place for this. It’s called PPC (Pay-Per-Click), and it’s a good way to advertise.

Because certain words or phrases are super popular and many businesses want them, they can become a bit pricey. That’s why sometimes, only the big companies might use certain words.

But the good news is, if done right, this method can help businesses reach lots of people quickly and can be a good way to advertise.

Not sure where to start or afraid to throw away your money on Google Ads? Get in contact with one of our SEA specialists, and we can surely do an audit on your current Google Ads campaign or help you set one up from scratch.

Display Advertising

The second most used type of advertising is the one you see all over the internet (except in Google search).

Ever been browsing your favorite website and see those colorful banners on the side or top with pictures and words? Or maybe while playing a game or using an app, a little ad pops up? That’s Display Advertising doing its magic!

What is display advertising?

These ads are like the billboards of the internet world. Instead of driving down a highway and seeing a big sign, you’re scrolling through a website and – boom! – there’s a flashy ad.

So, how do they work? Well, businesses create these eye-catching ads to tell you about something cool they offer. Once the ad is ready, they pay to have it put on websites where they think their customers might be hanging out.

The really neat thing is these ads can be targeted. So, if you’ve ever looked at new shoes online and then seen ads for shoes everywhere you go online, that’s because the ad knows what you’re interested in. It’s like having a personal shopper that shows you stuff you might like!

Just a heads up, they can be a bit annoying if they pop up too much. But on the bright side, they’re a colorful way for businesses to share their message with you.

Thinking about using display ads for your business? They can be a great way to let people know about what you offer. If you’re not sure how to get started or want to make your ads more effective, our team at User Growth is here to help!

Video Advertising

Have you ever clicked to watch a video on YouTube, and just before your chosen clip plays, there’s a short video about a new movie or maybe a cool gadget? Yup, you’ve just encountered Video Advertising!

Think of Video Advertising as the TV commercials of the online world. But instead of waiting for your favorite show to come back on, these ads pop up before, during, or after you watch a video online.

What’s super cool about these ads?

They’re moving, they’re talking, and they’ve got music – it’s like a mini-movie before your actual movie! And because they’re videos, they can really tell a story and get you hooked in just a few seconds.

There is also a high probability that people watching YouTube are in a buying mood:

  • 80% of shoppers who watched a YouTube video related to a planned purchase did so at the start of the shopping process.
  • 70% of shoppers have said they are open to learning about products on YouTube from brands.
  • 70% of YouTube users watch videos on YouTube when they need help making purchase decisions.
  • 40% of global shoppers purchased products they discovered on YouTube.

Plus, here’s a fun fact: some of these video ads are ‘skippable’ after a few seconds (we’ve all waited for that “Skip Ad” button, right?), while others stick around for their whole duration. But either way, if the ad does its job well, you might not even want to skip it!

Another great way to use video is using Custom Audiences in your Google Ads. This allows you to target people on YouTube when they search for your target keywords on Google search.

Of course, video advertising is more than just advertising on YouTube. Other powerful platforms to use are TikTok and Instagram, for example.

Thinking of sharing your brand’s story with Video Advertising? It can be a powerful way to connect with people and show more about what you do or sell.

Native Advertising

Ever read an article or watched a video online and thought, “Wow, that was super interesting!” only to find out later it was actually an ad? If yes, then you’ve experienced Native Advertising.

This kind of ad is a special type of display advertising. But instead of just being a random ad on the side of a page, it sneaks right into the main content.

It might appear as a recommended story at the end of another article or as a cool video labeled ‘sponsored content.’

This ad is like a chameleon; it blends right into the content around it. Instead of shouting, “Hey, look at me! I’m an ad!” native advertising whispers helpful tips or shares cool stories just like regular content would.

What makes it so great? People like it! It doesn’t pop up and interrupt; it feels natural.

They like it even so much that according to an eye-tracking study by Sharethrough and IPG Media Labs:

  • Participants were found to look at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads.
  • Native ads registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads
  • 32% of respondents said the native ad “is an ad I would share with a friend of family member” versus just 19% for display ads.

That means more clicks and more chats for businesses. Plus, with some eye-catching images, native ads can be even more inviting than other ads.

Here’s the deal: because native ads fit in so well, people usually enjoy reading or watching them. They don’t feel like those pushy ads we sometimes want to skip. This makes them a big hit, not just with the people visiting websites but also those who run those websites.

If you’re thinking, “Isn’t this a bit sneaky?” remember that the key to good native advertising is honesty as long as the content is clearly sponsored and offers real value.

Social Media Advertising

You know those times you’re just scrolling through your Instagram feed, checking out what your friends are up to on Facebook, laughing at the latest memes on Twitter, connecting with colleagues on LinkedIn, or getting lost in the fun dances on TikTok?

And then… BAM! An ad appears that’s just perfect for you. That’s Social Media Advertising working its magic!

Let’s break it down. Businesses know that most of us spend a good chunk of our day on social media.

So, they think, “Why not put our ads where people are hanging out?” And that’s what they do! Whether you’re tweeting, liking, or dancing online, these ads are there, mingling with the regular posts.

But here’s the cool part: these ads don’t feel spammy.


Because Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and the rest have become quite good at showing us stuff we might actually like. Maybe it’s those shoes you were just thinking about buying or a new coffee shop opening up in your area.

Each platform has its own vibe:

  • Twitter might have short and catchy ads.
  • Facebook could show you events or products your friends have liked.
  • Instagram? Beautiful photos and stories of products in action.
  • LinkedIn is all about connecting professionally, so ads here can be about courses, webinars, or job opportunities.
  • And TikTok? It’s the new kid on the block! With catchy tunes and cool videos, ads here are all about fun and creativity.

And while 77% of B2B and B2C marketing are saying they use Facebook and Instagram retargeting advertising strategies as their most-used types of ads. All social platforms can be used also for branding, building awareness, as part of your content marketing distribution, or using lead generation ads, to drive sales directly from those platforms.

So, if you’re considering advertising your business, social media is like a big party where you can meet many new people.

And the best part? You can choose which party (or platform) fits your vibe the best!

Need help crafting that perfect social media ad? At User Growth, we’ve got the skills to make your business the talk of the online town!

Affiliate and influencer marketing

Hey, have you ever watched a YouTube video or read a blog post where someone raves about a new gadget or beauty product and then drops a link below saying, “Use my code for a discount!”? That, my friend, is a sneak peek into the buzzing world of Affiliate and Influencer Marketing!

Let’s dive in a little:

Affiliate Marketing is like a digital version of “word of mouth” but with a twist. When you use that special link or code from your favorite blogger to buy that awesome gadget, they get a small commission from the sale. It’s like giving them a little “thank you” for introducing you to something cool. Neat, right?

Now, onto the stars of social media – the influencers. Influencer Marketing is when brands team up with popular folks on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok. Why? Because these influencers have a massive group of fans who trust their opinions. So, when they say, “I love this new smoothie blender,” their followers listen up!

Here’s why this is so cool:

  1. Trust: We’re more likely to try something if someone we trust suggests it. It’s just human nature!
  2. Reach: Influencers can reach loads of people in a jiffy. One post, and BOOM, thousands know about a product.
  3. Relevance: Brands can pick influencers who match their vibe. Selling skateboards? Team up with a skater!

Remember, it’s not just about big celebrities. There are loads of “micro-influencers” with smaller, super-engaged audiences. Sometimes, they’re even more impactful!

Mobile Advertising

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been deep into playing a game on your phone and, out of the blue, an ad pops up about those shoes you were eyeing earlier. Yep, that’s Mobile Advertising at play! 📱

Examples of mobile advertising
Examples of in-game mobile advertising

Alright, here’s the scoop:

Every time you’re using an app or playing a game on your phone or tablet, there’s a chance you’ll see an ad. These aren’t just any ads; they’re specially designed for your mobile device. Neat and snappy!

Let’s break it down:

  1. In-App Ads: Have you ever noticed those banners or videos in between levels of your favorite mobile game? Those are ads placed right inside apps. They can be super effective because they grab our attention when we’re already engaged.
  2. App Store Advertising: Before you even download an app, ads can get your attention. Some apps are promoted at the top of app store search results. It’s like having a shiny billboard in the digital world!
  3. Mobile Web Ads: Just like those ads on your computer’s web browser, but they’re optimized for your phone’s screen. So, whether you’re reading the news or checking out a recipe, these ads fit perfectly and catch your eye.
  4. SMS Advertising: Yup, even those text messages! Some companies send special offers or news through SMS. It’s like getting a personal invite to a sale or event right in your pocket.

Here’s why this all matters:

  • Always On the Go: Our phones are always with us. This means ads can reach us anytime, anywhere!
  • Targeted & Relevant: Using some tech magic, these ads can be tailored just for you. If you’ve been searching for hiking boots, don’t be surprised if you see an ad for them the next time you play a game or browse the web.
  • Interactive: Mobile ads can be super fun! They might ask you to swipe, shake, or tilt your phone, making the ad experience kinda cool.

Email (Newsletter) Marketing

Guess what? Email advertising isn’t just about shooting promotions at everyone on your list and hoping for the best. If you’re only doing that, beware! Too many “BUY THIS NOW!” messages and your emails might end up in the dreaded spam folder. And trust us, once you’re there, it’s a tricky climb back out!

Let’s unpack this email thing:

  1. Quality Over Quantity: Ever open your email to find a flood of “salesy” messages? Annoying, right? It’s super essential to balance your promotional content with value. A good rule is to always think: “Would I want to read this?”
  2. Sponsoring Newsletters: Here’s a pro tip! Instead of only sending emails, why not sponsor a popular newsletter in your field? It’s like being a special guest on a popular TV show. Your message can shine in a new space and reach new folks.
  3. Gmail Ads: Now, this is cool. These ads sneakily (in a fun way!) show up based on what you’re chatting about in your emails. Talked about air conditioners recently? Boom! You might see an ad about the latest cool AC models in your Gmail. And, these aren’t just random placements. They’re tailored using Google Ads Discovery campaigns to match what you might be interested in.
Gmail ads appear at the top of user’s inbox
Gmail ads appear at the top of a user’s inbox

A few things to remember:

  • Respect the Inbox: Your subscribers trusted you with their email. Make sure you’re sending them stuff they care about!
  • Be Creative: From fun GIFs to compelling stories, there are endless ways to make your email stand out. And trust us, a bit of creativity goes a LONG way.
  • It’s All About Timing: Monday morning might not be the best time to ask someone to buy. But maybe Thursday afternoon is perfect. Keep an eye on when your emails get the most love.

So, if you’re thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if my emails could do better…” or “I’ve never tried Gmail ads, tell me more!” – don’t be shy! Reach out to our team at [Your Company]. We’re here to help you be the star of the inbox!

Retargeting and Remarketing

The final type of advertising isn’t really a direct type like the previous items, as it can be applied to most of the above types of advertising. But since it is so powerful, we thought it deserves its own mention to make you extra aware of this powerful type of advertising.

You’ve probably seen this before. You want to buy a new pair of shoes online or a new tv, and after you do your research, you’re being “followed” online on different websites, reminding you about the item you were researching.

That’s retargeting and remarketing at work.

What is the difference between the two?

Retargeting mostly uses cookies (not the yummy kind!) to track users around the web. So, if you visit a website and look at a product, retargeting will remind you of that product when you visit other sites.

Remarketing is more about sending emails to users who have visited your website but didn’t make a purchase or take a desired action. It’s like saying, “Hey, we noticed you were interested. Anything we can help with?”

What you need to keep in mind if using these types of ads is the following:

  • Not Too Much!: It’s important to find a balance. You don’t want to creep your potential customers out by always being everywhere.
  • Make it Relevant: Use these tools to show users things they actually care about. It’s way more effective and feels less spammy.
  • Mix and Match: The beauty of retargeting and remarketing? You can use them with almost all the online ad types discussed in this article. Cool, right?
  • Set up conversion events: Make sure to track proper conversions on your website. This way, the moment someone decides

How effective is online advertising for my business?

How effective is online advertising for my business?

As an agency that has worked in online advertising for over a decade now, the number one question we always get is, “How effective can online ads really be for my business?”.

It’s a very valid question to ask. After all, if you spend money on advertising, you want to know it will provide a good return.

In our experience, online advertising can be highly effective for businesses of all types when done correctly.

One of the big advantages of online ads is that they allow you to very precisely target who sees your ads.

Through features like location targeting, interest targeting, behavioral targeting, and more, you can get your ad in front of potential customers who are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.

This precision targeting was not possible with traditional media like television or print.

Another advantage is that most online advertising allows you to see results quickly.

With things like Google Ads or Facebook ads, you can set up your campaign and start getting impressions and results within a very short amount of time.

This fast feedback loop means you can test different approaches quickly to see what works best.

And you have detailed reporting showing exactly how many people saw your ad, how many clicked through to your website, and more.

This makes it easier to optimize your ads over time, and take that knowledge of high-performing and converting ads, and use that information to help improve your SEO campaigns.

Of course, advertising success will depend on having a good product or service at a fair price and a well-designed, easy-to-use website.

But when those other pieces are in place, in my experience, most businesses can expect to see a three to ten times return on their online advertising investment if they have the right targeting and messaging.

So yeah, – when done right, online ads can certainly be an effective way to gain new customers for your business.

How to measure the success of online advertising

Alright, so if you’re diving into the online advertising pool, you gotta know which numbers (or metrics) to look at to see if your splash made waves. Every campaign’s got its own “success numbers”, but here are the biggies you should definitely check out:

  • Conversion Rates: Think of this like the score on a game board. It’s the chunk of folks who saw your ad and thought, “Yep, I’m in!” and did what you wanted them to. The higher this number, the bigger your win.
  • Click-Through Rates (CTR): This one’s pretty cool. It’s all about how many people clicked on your ad out of everyone who saw it. High CTR? You’re on fire! Low one? Maybe it’s time for a lil’ tweak here and there. A high CTR indicates that the ad was engaging and relevant to your target audience. We always recommend combining this metric with the conversion rates. After all, if many people are clicking but no one is converting, you might need to look at your landing pages to make them more effective.
  • Cost per Action (CPA): So, every time someone does what your ad wants them to (like signing up or buying something), there’s a cost linked to it. CPA tells you if spending that money was worth it.
  • Bounce Rates: Ever walked into a room, felt it wasn’t your vibe and left? That’s what this measures on your site. You want fewer folks bouncing and more sticking around.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This is the big-picture stuff. How much did you make compared to what you spent on the ad? If this is high, give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Lifetime Value (LTV): This isn’t a one-night stand metric. It’s all about seeing how valuable a customer is in the long run after they’ve clicked on your ad.
  • Engagement Metrics: On social media, this is your applause meter. More likes, shares, and comments? Your ad’s a star!
  • Referral Traffic: This is about folks who’ve come over to your site because of your ad. If this number’s up, your ad’s doing its magic.
  • Sales Metrics: Sales metrics can be seen as an extension of the conversion rates. After you need sales to help grow your business. It’s the real deal. Did your ad make people buy or sign up? Sales metrics, such as revenue and units sold, provide a direct measurement of the impact of advertising efforts on a business’s bottom line.

And hey, there are also some other nifty metrics like cost per view, cost per lead, and so on. Depends on what you’re aiming for with your ad.

Remember, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s about making those numbers dance to your tune!

In closing, online advertising provides businesses with powerful tools to reach new customers in a targeted, measurable way. As we’ve explored, many different ad formats and channels can be leveraged together or on their own.

The key to success is understanding your business goals, target audience, and which tactics are best suited to drive the desired outcomes, whether that’s increased brand awareness, traffic, leads, or sales. It also takes testing to see what resonates and continuously optimizing based on data.

While online ads may seem complex at first, we hope this overview has helped explain the options and potential of each type of advertising. Remember – it’s not about using every channel but finding the right mix to complement your existing marketing strategy.

With attention to targeting the right message to the right people at the right time, online advertising can be a highly effective growth engine for large and small businesses. Don’t be afraid to start small with one or two formats, then scale up what’s working well.

And if you find yourself wanting to dive deeper into a specific channel or tactic or would like help developing an integrated digital marketing plan, feel free to reach out.

We’d be happy to help you harness the power of online advertising to take your business to new heights.