The best ad platforms for ecommerce

May 14, 2020

As you know (or hopefully know), at Outfund, we’re all about growth. Our funding is built for growth driving activities, like online ad spend.

You’re an e-commerce entrepreneur: your product rules, your website is beautiful, you’re ready to go. You need to find some customers so it’s time to start marketing. But where do you buy ads to get results? 

There aren’t necessarily hard and fast answers per industry or company size. One food company might thrive on Instagram , another might soar on Google Ads. Just like your product needs some time and experimentation to find their market, your ads need the same to find their medium too!

Almost all online advertising works on a live auction model where advertisers bid on advertising opportunities as they’re created. Advertisers set their bidding model for ad space and then their ads and bids are set out into an exchange to compete against other ads. The more valuable the audience, the more competition and the higher the price to serve them ads.

After this though, the strengths and weaknesses of various platforms and media vary A LOT. The big self-serve advertising options for most e-commerce companies are paid search and paid social. Note we haven’t covered display and programmatic video as they tend to be a bit more involved and complex for startups and scale-ups to handle in-house. 

Paid search/PPC



PPC or pay per click isn’t strictly the same as paid search engine advertising. You can actually select ‘pay per click’ as an option in many forms of advertising. But PPC usually refers to search advertising, because that’s where the model first evolved.

Search ads are short text ads, resembling a search result, that you pay to display against particular searches on Google, Bing or… other search engines are available. You pay for each click on your ad, which usually heads to your site or your landing page.

Average costs tend to be a bit higher than social and significantly more than most display - partly because of the maturity and popularity of search engine ads and partly because, unlike most forms of advertising, you’re supposedly reaching customers ready to buy. This is called intent-based advertising.

Paid search works particularly well for products or companies competing for known demand. For it to work, you need to have enough users already searching for a product or solution that you can answer. So where you’re offering a new spin or competing on price in a well-known category, paid search can be very useful. If your product’s value to the consumer can be summed up in a sentence (i.e. cheap legal services) search might suit you.

Industries that tend to thrive with search advertising include SaaS platforms, food & drink subscriptions, pharmaceuticals and financial services.

Paid social



Social ads are unsurprisingly ads bought on social media platforms. Facebook (combined with Instagram) have the most variety of formats and the most detailed targeting; others platforms have more limited options. 

Due to the large amount of data users share on social, social ads will give you a lot of depth when it comes to targeting. If your product is niche or highly specific, this can be very useful.

Social works especially well for discovery of innovative brands and services because you can target an audience without them knowing the problem you solve even exists. It’s also valuable for products where branding and visual identity matter more than utility: new fashion lines or lifestyle brands. 

Costs vary heavily depending on the platform - Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are generally the least expensive, while LinkedIn is more expensive because of its B2B focus. Overall though (and this is a generalisation), social ads tend to be less expensive per action than paid search. 

Plus Amazon!

E-commerce giant Amazon is so big that it’s an advertising platform unto itself. Amazon has a multitude of ways to advertise across their various media properties but the main tactic for e-commerce sellers is promoting their products against particular keyword searches on Amazon. Just like paid search ads, promoted products get tip top position against popular customer searches. 

In a way, Amazon is a bit like a massive search engine - just one focused completely on shopping. 

The same general rules of PPC apply here: if your product is a superior alternative to something that’s already in demand, it can fare well with Amazon PPC. The main difference is that Amazon’s formats let your product (and its customer reviews) come through more than a search engine ad, so if your strength is really in the quality of your product, Amazon PPC could work for you.

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Paid search and social offer completely different strengths and opportunities. Ideally a business could use both: compete for high intent searches on paid search and inspire new discovery among appropriate audiences on social. But not every brand can exploit both at first; if you hit enough scale, you could end up doing just that. 

As a general rule, if your product is competing in a well-known category, paid search and/or Amazon PPC could be your fastest route to sales.

If you’re trying to build a market and bring new ideas, or sell with the power of your brand or visual storytelling, paid social will probably give you more opportunity to do this.