Online marketing has never been more important. Today, people turn to the Web for even the most minor tasks. If something can be done online, that’s where people will accomplish it. And your business needs to be where the people are.
But online marketing isn’t about creating a single standard campaign, getting ads on a few websites, and calling it a day. The process and strategies for successful online efforts have become incredibly sophisticated, especially with the growing demand for mobile options.
To effectively target your customers, you need to:
- Understand what types of advertising make them convert.
- Make them understand the value you’re providing.
You’ll need five key principles to develop a campaign that converts.
How to Design Online Ads
1. Understand the Goal
All business owners know their company needs marketing to get in front of potential customers and create revenue, but many fail when it comes to strategizing. A general ad campaign that hasn’t been tweaked for local markets or tested is unlikely to generate the kind of demand you seek.
The Wall Street Journal reported that when small businesses hire large online marketing firms to create a campaign, they miss out  on local reach and get disappointing results.
MECLABS, a third-party research and testing company, is one business that helps advertisers excel at online marketing. It tests many different elements of ads, such as text length and banner placement, to determine which aspects lead to higher click-throughs and better conversion rates.
This testing helps MECLABS understand which calls to action drive consumer response, allowing its team to adjust strategies accordingly.
Additionally, they also match landing page messaging to creative messaging, which leads to higher conversion rates. Consistent messaging throughout the purchase cycle is a key best practice to keep in mind for any marketing plan.
2. Define a Plan of Action
Your business needs to define a game plan for your overall strategy and for each type of campaign you plan to deploy. The messaging and language throughout should be consistent and scale to local campaigns, which will allow you to target specific demographics in a meaningful way.
Cheeseboy, a quick-service grilled cheese restaurant chain, understands the benefits  of hyper-local advertising. To attract customers to its 2nd Annual Free Grilled Cheese Day, the company used PlaceLocal to build online ad campaigns for each of its six New England locations. By using ads targeted by ZIP code, Cheeseboy was able to let customers know what was happening at the locations nearest them.
Cheeseboy made more money per person than it spent on advertising, and by attracting thousands of people to the event for a free sample of its product, Cheeseboy boosted brand awareness and increased customer loyalty.
3. Create Effective Calls to Action
To reap the full benefits of your online marketing strategy, your ads should have a specific call to action. Effective calls to action should be:
- Visually appealing. The design should catch users’ attention and compel them to click.
- Brief. Keep the message direct — preferably fewer than five words.
- Action-oriented. Set expectations, and make it clear what their click accomplishes.
- Focused on value. Be sure to state exactly what visitors will get if they click on the CTA (call to action). “Click here” tells the user nothing, whereas “download your free ebook” sets expectations and expresses value.
Be sure to keep calls to action consistent with your brand. Exciting, youth-oriented brands would not benefit from subdued CTAs, while larger tech firms shouldn’t try to overdo it with overzealous verbiage or flashing buttons.
4. Identify a Mobile Champion
Considering that there are now more mobile devices  in the world than people, you cannot have an online marketing strategy without factoring in mobile.
According to Small Biz Club, 51 percent  of consumers said they are more likely to purchase products and services through a mobile-optimized site. Additionally, 90 percent  of mobile searches result in action in a day, and coupons delivered via mobile have 10 times  the redemption rate of traditional coupons.
Mobile ads make it convenient for users to take action, especially when the marketing is localized and it’s easy for them to pursue your offer.
5. Focus on Your Audience
Remember, it isn’t all about you. Businesses that struggle to create effective online ads do so because their strategies focus on telling potential customers what the company does, rather than how it can help them.
Instead, focus your messaging around users and what problem or challenge you’re solving in their lives. Try different calls to action based on improving your users’ experience, and tailor your marketing to where customers are in the buying process.
In the end, small business advertising encompasses the key elements of all marketing: creating thoughtful, relevant campaigns that resonate with a targeted group of people. And with the tools available, it’s never been easier for small businesses to learn about their target audience and use this information to optimize their ads for maximum conversions.
Computer  Photo via Shutterstock