Is Social Media Advertising Worth It for eCommerce Merchants?

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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Is Social Media Advertising Worth It for eCommerce Merchants

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Social media used to just be a fad that the kids were using to socialize, but not anymore. These same social media platforms have become business giants. Last year, Facebook raked in more than $7 billion in advertising—that was billion with a B. Social media isn’t just for the kids—it’s a valuable business tool.

You can’t just be buying ads on Google Shopping—you have to reach your audience where they are. The average person spends an hour and 40 minutes per day on social media. Lucky for you, one of the biggest benefits of social media is its paid advertising capability. Facebook’s sophisticated ad platform even gives Google a run for its money.

You might be thinking, “Wait. Why should I be paying for social media when it’s free?” Well, technically social media networks are free, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in social media advertising.

Really, the days of organic social media reach are limited. Even today, it’s estimated that organic Facebook reach is down to around 6%. Facebook didn’t get to be the giant it is by being free. It became that giant by knowing how to make money—realizing it could charge people to advertise on its platform. And, boy, did it work. Today, social media advertising is a must—something you shouldn’t be overlooking.

social media reach facebook infographic

Why Your eCommerce Store Needs Social Media Advertising

eCommerce isn’t going anywhere. In the United States alone, online spending is expected to increase by $523 billion in the next three years. While more and more people are shopping online, more and more people are selling online as well. The industry is extremely competitive, and it can be hard not to be swallowed by giants like Amazon. In order to stand out from your competition, you need to make your marketing strategies work for you—including social media advertising.

Advertising on social media gives you the ability to laser target your audience—reaching existing customers and finding new potential ones. The advertising capabilities of some of these social media networks are beyond incredible. There are so many different ways that you can target an audience—based on behavior, based on a customer list; even taking a list and making a new one. It’s almost scary how well these social media accounts know their users and how well they can advertise to them.

Let’s take a look at the most popular social media platforms and the types of ads on each before we go into tips on advertising on them.


Platform Dividers Facebook


As previously mentioned, Facebook is the king of social advertising. Its ad platform is by far the most advanced in comparison to the other social media sites. Facebook ads can help people find your business on social media and, with 2.01 billion users, there is a huge potential in the platform. Facebook has the ability to help you reach customers more affordably compared to AdWords. The platform works similarly to AdWords, using a CPC model and a CPM model. It also works to take into account quality score to evaluate the relevance of ads.

The true strength of Facebook advertising comes from its powerful targeting abilities. You have probably experienced this. You might have gotten an ad for something, and you thought it was a bit creepy.

facebook social advertising quote

It isn’t because Facebook is stalking you—well, not technically. It’s because they know so much about you—information that you willingly give them, like your age, where you live, your gender, your income, your relationship status, and more.

With all of this information, Facebook has the ability to granularly target ads to users. Different targeting options include age, location, gender, income, relationship status, language, pages a user likes, apps they use, and more. Facebook also can receive data on and off the platform on a number of different behavioral aspects like device usage, purchase behavior, and more.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of Facebook’s targeting is its ability to create custom and lookalike audiences. You can create custom audiences based on previous website visitors, email lists, and more. You can then take those custom audiences and build a lookalike audience. In creating a lookalike audience, Facebook takes the preferences, behavior, and demographics of the custom audience and finds users that are similar to your existing audience.

While you might not have had any interaction with these users, they are more likely to convert because of their shared interests with users who have had interaction with your brand.

Types of Facebook Ads

Right Hand Rail Ads – Right-hand rail ads are the most basic type of ads on the platform. As you might have guessed from the title, these are ads that are visible on the right side of the site.

Facebook Right hand Rail Ad
Right Hand Rail Ads display a title, a short description, and a URL to link to. While they are more inexpensive than other types of ads, they also tend to have a lower CTR.

Linked Ads – Linked ads are the most common type of ads that appear in both the right column and, more importantly, in the newsfeed. These ads have a larger image, a headline, text descriptions, a URL, and have the ability for interaction with users. Linked ads tend to perform well because they help to grab a user’s attention and pose engagement.

Linked Ads

Carousel Ads – Carousel ads allow advertisers to include 3-5 images, in addition to a headline, link, and call to action.  

Facebook Carousel Ads

These can be a great way to display multiple products on one single ad. Data collected shows that these ads can be very effective, driving up to 10 times more traffic to websites and getting a 72% higher click-through rate compared to single image ads.

Lead Ads – Lead ads are a great way to garner leads and allow users to sign up for what you are offering. These ads allow you to ask users for their information, and they have the ability to provide it without having to leave the platform. You can work on gathering information like email addresses, name, photo number, etc. They also provide auto-fill forms that make it even easier for users.

Lead Ads

Canvas Ads – Canvas ads are full-screen ads that are only available on mobile devices. They combine videos, photos, and a call to action. They allow users to interact with the images through tilting and zooming.

Canvas Ads

Dynamic Ads – Dynamic ads allow you to retarget specific audiences with relevant ads based on data such as products previously browsed or keyword searched. In order to use Dynamic Ads, you will need to implement a Facebook pixel on your site.

Dynamic Ads

Video Ads – Video ads are similar to linked ads but allow you to use a video instead of just a single image. You can include headlines, a call to action button, links, link descriptions, and more.

Video Ads

Platform Dividers Twitter


With over 300 million monthly active users, Twitter can be a great place to advertise your business and/or products. Twitter ads can offer a great platform to help retailers increase followers, generate traffic or conversions, or garner leads (or a combination of all three).

Twitter also has a buy button integrated into its platform which now allows eCommerce merchants to market tweets where users can buy straight from the platform. This shows Twitter’s commitment to mobile commerce.

Much like Facebook, Twitter’s ad platform has the ability to target a specific audience, through gender, platform, age, language, device, etc. It also has remarketing campaigns and can target through email addresses or usernames.

Keyword targeting is also available on the network, offering four different match types: broad match, phrase match, negative unordered match, and negative phrase match. Retailers also have the ability to target based on behaviors, such as lifestyle interests, shopping behaviors, and more, that are created by data drawn on and off the platform.

Types of Twitter Ads

Promoted Tweets – Promoted Tweets are tweets that advertisers can display directly in the user’s timeline at a specific time.

Promoted Tweets

Promoted Accounts – A promoted account is an ad that appears to your targeted audience encouraging them to follow you on the platform.

Promoted Accounts

Promoted Trends – Trends are the most popular and talked about subjects on Twitter. They show up as Trending Topics on the left side of the site. By using a Promoted Trend, advertisers are able to put their tweets at the top of that list.

Promoted Trends

Platform Dividers Linkedin

Advertising on LinkedIn can be a great way to reach a targeted group of professionals and gain more brand awareness in the business world. With over 500 million active professionals on the platform, LinkedIn can help companies, whether the goal is to gather leads, promote brand awareness, provide event registration, or more.

While you might not think of LinkedIn immediately, when thinking about social media advertising, consider this—LinkedIn usage is especially high for people with a college degree and for people with an annual household income of $75,000 or more, and every Fortune 500 company is represented by an executive on the platform.

Before you start advertising on the platform, think about whether this is a channel truly worth your time and money. LinkedIn isn’t for everyone. Seriously think about how the users of the platform would use your product or service. B2B is normally the most prominent on the platform, but that doesn’t mean B2C can’t work either. You just have to see if it works for your business model.

Types of LinkedIn Ads

Text (or Display) Ads – Text ads on LinkedIn appear on the right side of the platform, across the home page, profile pages, group pages, and more. These are the standard ads on LinkedIn which allow retailers to drive brand awareness on the platform.

Text (or Display) Ads Linkedin

Sponsored Content – Sponsored content is a type of ad that allows advertisers to have their content displayed directly in the timeline of their target audience.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored InMail – Sponsored InMail is sponsored content that is directly sent to a LinkedIn user’s inbox instead of their timeline.

Sponsored InMail

Platform Dividers Instagram


Since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 (for over $1 billion), it’s not surprising that the ad platform has many of the same capabilities as Facebook. In fact, Instagram Ads are launched in Facebook’s Ad platform. That doesn’t mean they are the same. There are a lot of differences between the two, especially when it comes to engagement with ads. Instagram dominates Facebook in engagement with user engagement 10 times higher.

However, due to the nature of the platform, there are some limitations on the types of ads that can be served. That doesn’t mean to overlook Instagram advertising capabilities. Instagram is a great place to advertise on mobile devices and when targeting a younger audience. It offers the ability to target based on location, demographic, interests, etc. Ads on Instagram also feature a CTA button, such as shop now, learn more, sign up, etc. These have proven to be very effective.

Types of Instagram Ads

Image Ads – Image ads take after the original premise of Instagram—sharing photos. These are promoted images that mirror organic posts. They also include a call to action and send users to a landing page.
Instagram Image Ads

Video Ads – Video ads are similar to image ads but feature a 60-second video in place of an image. These also include text descriptions and calls to action.

Instagram Video Ads

Carousel Ads – Just like the Facebook ad, Instagram’s Carousel ad allows advertisers to use multiple images or videos in a single ad that users can scroll through. This is a great format for eCommerce businesses due to the ability to showcase multiple products or multiple features of a single product.

Carousel Ads
Platform Dividers Pinterest


Pinterest is known for its active user base and its addictive feed, but the platform can also be a goldmine for eCommerce businesses. This became especially true with the implementation of buyable pins on the site. These pins make the site full of impulse buyers just waiting to come across your ad. Since the site is known for its incredibly active user base, you can greatly increase your reach and even revenue through advertising on Pinterest.

However, it is worth mentioning that not every industry works as well as others on the platform. Just by the nature of the platform, if you are not in a visual industry—let’s say you sell shipping crates—it might not be as profitable as for someone who sells clothing or home décor. Pinterest’s advertising models are still a bit lacking compared to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but the potential is there, especially for eCommerce businesses.

Types of Pinterest Ads

Promoted Pins – Promoted pins are similar to organic pins, in that they show up in the feed the same way, but they are paid for by retailers.

Pinterest Promoted Pins

Cinematic Pins – Cinematic pins are very similar to promoted pins but, in this type of ad, retailers have the ability to use different visuals, like animation, that can interact with users’ movement as they navigate the page.

Cinematic Pins

Buyable Pins – Buyable pins give users the ability to purchase items that are in the ad without having to ever leave Pinterest.

Buyable Pins

Social Media Advertising Tips for Your eCommerce Store

1. Multiple Ads

One of the biggest tips for any types of social media advertising is to test, test, and test some more. A great way to do this is to run multiple ads at the same time to see which performs best. We write a lot of blogs around here, and sometimes we will come up with 10 different headlines before we decide on one. We’ll keep the others around and test them out to see what works best for engagement. The same thing can be done for social media ads.

Create different versions of the ad copy, try out different taglines, test out different images, etc. Make changes to different aspects of the ads and then check often in order to see which ad is performing best. Then, once you see which ad is getting more reach and engagement, deactivate the ones that have the lowest performance and work on trying out new ads.

2. A/B Test

Another way to test your ads is by running A/B tests. However, with A/B tests, you want to make sure that you only have small details different on each ad. You should have ad A and ad B—with only one variable different between them. Maybe ad A has one image and ad B has a different image.

Whatever it might be—make sure the differences between them are minimal. The more similarities that you have between ad A and ad B, the more helpful that your data will be. This way, you know what works and what doesn’t, and you can use this data to guide any future social media ads.

3. Rotate Ads

Think about how annoying it is when you see the same commercial on TV over and over and over again. While watching the same commercial frequently might make you want to turn off the television altogether, running the same ad is sometimes the goal of advertisers. Repetition is a great way to hammer home the message that they are trying to get across. While it might be annoying, you can probably recall an ad that played three times in an hour over an ad that just played once.

rotate your ads quote
However, this idea doesn’t correlate to digital advertising, where companies are serving their ads directly in a user’s feed. In this case, the content has to be as fresh as possible. If you use the same ad over and over, you might end up losing business, not gaining it. Try rotating your ads out every so often to see if you can tell a difference in engagement. Hootsuite reported that they found advertisers should rotate their ads about every three to five days.

4. Mobile Focus

Today, not being focused on mobile and mobile users just isn’t an option anymore. In 2016, more than 80% of social media users accessed the networks on a mobile device. That means that a majority of social media ads were viewed on a mobile device. You need to be aware of this and make sure that your ads are 100% optimized for the small screen.

As shown above, social media networks have different ad campaigns for mobile versus desktop. When designing your social media advertising strategy, you, too, should follow this practice and create different campaigns for mobile versus desktop. You need to make sure that all of the images you use for mobile devices are easy to view on a pocket size device. You also want to optimize all landing pages for mobile ads to be mobile responsive.

responsive web design animated5. Remarketing

Remarketing, or retargeting, is the practice of tracking existing website visitors and serving them ads based on the product or landing page that they have previously viewed in hopes of getting them to convert. By serving an ad to existing website users, you stay on the top of their mind when they are browsing Facebook or Twitter.

When you think about it, placing all of your marketing efforts in trying to convert a potential customer at the first touchpoint isn’t all that rational. In fact, it makes a lot more sense to try to convert someone who already knows about your brand and has shown some interest in you.

Maybe the first time that a customer found your company, they weren’t quite ready to make a purchase. That tends to happen a lot—especially with social media advertising. People don’t normally browse Facebook looking for the next thing to spend their paycheck on. But, if you can stay on the top of their mind, you might be able to convert them when they are ready to buy something.

6. Custom Landing Page

mouse click animatedYou have probably been scrolling through one of your various social media accounts and noticed an ad for a specific product—let’s say a pair of shoes that you thought you just couldn’t live without. But, unfortunately, when you clicked on the ad, you just got sent to the company’s product page for shoes.

Sure, the shoes that you saw in that ad are there somewhere, but it’s going to take forever for you to find them in the hundreds of shoes that they sell. In this scenario, most potential customers are just going to bounce right back to their social media browsing rather than spend hours searching for those shoes.

When working on social media ads, you not only want to consider the ad you are creating itself but, also, you want to make sure that you consider where the users are going to end up if they do click on your ad. The landing page for your ad needs to be custom for the ad itself. The more targeted that your ad is for an audience, the more targeted the landing page needs to be as well.


Is Social Media Advertising Worth It for eCommerce Merchants?

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