Advertising Online for Small Businesses

death-online-adsOr – The Death of Traditional Online Advertising

I have a friend. This friend works at a fairly well-known South African digital publication in the sales department. The other day he told me that he had a small client who had spent R3500 on advertising in their weekly newsletter, and as with most of their clients, had just not seen any results.

He was miserably trying to come up with an excuse for the client, but he was distraught. They were a startup business and he felt like he was lying to them. He didn’t want to be taking money from small businesses for something he knew would not work for them. Should he tell them the truth, or let them keep believing that this is what they should be doing with their only marketing budget? (Update – he has since resigned from his position)

And it got me thinking.

Sadly, this happens to a lot of small businesses, and even more sadly, it’s usually the ones who don’t have the money to begin with. These guys don’t know any better, and waste what little money they have on ventures that do nothing for their sales and usually end up sticking their cashflow ‘up shit creek’ so to speak. So why is this happening?

Traditional online advertising is dead

That’s right. DEAD. And may it rest in peace for all eternity.

Now, that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t advertise online; that there aren’t any advertising opportunities available to you. Quite the opposite. Online marketing is beginning to steal the lion’s share in terms of profitability,

But the internet has changed. I’ll say it again. The internet has changed. The way people use the internet has completely shifted. Social media has taken over and people are sharing, talking, and becoming a part of something. So it’s only logical to say that advertising should change too.

People no longer just consume. They INTERACT. Which means, gone are the days of “PUSH” advertising: blatant in-your-face adverts and advertorials. People have learned to ignore them and they tend to be annoying. If you want to advertise, you need to start thinking creatively and taking new approaches.

Stop wasting your money on advertising that doesn’t work

Banner Adverts

Banner ads are deader than dead. They are long buried and have started to rot. Think about it – when was the last time you clicked a banner ad? Exactly. Neither does anyone else. Unless you’re a large business and have huge money to throw at a mass branding exercise, stay away from banner ads.


Spending a fortune to advertise in someone else’s digital publication that has no relevance to your brand? It just doesn’t make sense. People don’t care. They will skip it and move on to something else.

Start thinking like your customers – what do they want?

Now you know where not to put your money, let’s focus on what you should be doing. Since the way people treat media has changed, let’s find out what they are looking for.

What people are looking for online?

  • Interaction. This is important, so listen up. If there is one thing people don’t want, it’s to be advertised AT. So your advertising needs to have an interactive aspect.
  • Gratification. Everyone loves something that does something for them. Who doesn’t love a deal, a competition, or learning something useful? Start thinking about what you can achieve for your potential customers. What are you going to achieve for them? What are they going to get?
  • A voice. People love to have their say. They will tell others about you, but how are you going to encourage them to, and is the opinion good?
  • Relevance. People are always looking for information. How are you going to make sure your brand is there and available when it is relevant to what they are looking for?

Be creative – campaigns work!

You know what people want. Now how do you use that information? Start with a campaign. Just a simple creative concept that is going to achieve something for your potential customers , catch their attention and keep it.

Some good places to start:

  1. A competition
  2. A deal
  3. Something fun and interactive
  4. Interesting articles or helpful videos
  5. The sky is the limit – use your imagination

Find your avenues – where are you going to put your campaign?

This one is the kicker. We can’t tell you all the avenues because there are hundreds. But do your research and you’ll find plenty of relevant places for your campaign. Just keep asking yourself – “what am I going to achieve for my potential customers, and will it be achieved here?”

Think about relevance!

You can easily find plenty of relevant places to advertise and share your content online. If you are a restaurant, you could share recipes with If you offer kiddies products, you could collaborate with a magazine for parents. Find something relevant to your brand, and think about how you can make it work.


Competitions are fun and social. Competition-based websites like Premium Prizes and JustPlay are a great place to advertise competitions and generate traffic (we’ve had great results with Premium Prizes). Their social nature makes Facebook advertising really effective – plus it’s not chronically expensive. Use your smarts and encourage people to share your competition. Word of mouth is the most effective advertising – and it’s FREE.


Everyone loves a deal. Websites like Groupon are fabulous – and they work if your campaign is relevant (first-hand experience here!) Again, Facebook advertising works well and people want to share something awesome.

Google Ads

Google ads are great for more general advertising that isn’t necessarily campaign-based. Because people are searching for something specific, you can effectively advertise your individual services or products. Just make sure they are done properly and you will see great results. Plus it’s relatively inexpensive.

Go forth and conquer!

So, be creative. Think outside of the box. Explore the possibilities. Just remember – what are you achieving for your customer?

Don’t be the small business that spends money they can’t afford on advertising that doesn’t work.

Have you had any good or bad online advertising experiences? Share them with us.

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