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Best Paid Traffic Sources (2021 Edition)

Paid traffic can be a gold mine of opportunity. But like anything, not all traffic sources are created equal. Unless the channel or audience delivers where you need it to — your bottom line — you’re just pouring your money down the sink. Discover the channels that will drive more converting traffic with the latest data to back them up.

If you want to win traffic and conversions in 2021, paid traffic needs to be part of your marketing mix.

Consider this: Visitors that arrive at a website through pay-per-click (PPC) sources are a whopping 50% more likely to purchase something than organic visitors.

Paid traffic can be a gold mine of opportunity. But like anything, not all traffic sources are created equal. Unless the channel or audience delivers where you need it to — your bottom line — you’re just pouring your money down the sink.

So how do you find the channels that will drive more high converting traffic to your website?

Simple: look at the numbers. And that's exactly what we're going to do here.

We’ve reviewed the data across the main pay-per-click and paid social channels to pinpoint which platforms deliver the most bang for buck in 2021. We'll also shed light on the best tools to help you find click-happy buyers and unearth high-performing keywords that convert, time and time again.

4 reasons to use paid traffic sources to increase conversions 

Whether it’s on Facebook, YouTube, or Google Ads (AdWords), paid traffic is the most effective method to get your message out there to your exact target audience, precisely when they’re looking for your products or services.

Why?

It all boils down to reach, targeting, speed, and measurement. 

1. It allows you to maximise your reach

Organic traffic sources aren’t dead, but they’re definitely less effective than they used to be.

Take Facebook, for example. According to AdEspresso, the average organic reach for a Facebook post is just 5.2% of its total likes.

That means that if you have 5000 likes on your Facebook, your post will only reach 260 people on average.

The same goes for Google. Unless you’re in the top three positions for any given search, which get 75.1% of all clicks, you’ll only be bringing in a handful of people to your website. 

On the other hand, paid channels allow you to get your message out there to as many people as your heart desires.

Let’s say you’re running Facebook Ads. You can promote your latest sale to your ENTIRE audience by boosting a post, or get in front of new customers with paid media. 

Paid traffic sources allow you to tap into the billions of people browsing the Google Display Network, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or watching videos on YouTube. You can also put your business at the top of Google Search, or maximise your reach amongst a targeted group of industry professionals with LinkedIn.

With that kind of reach, you’ll get your message out much further and wider than if you stick only to organic traffic methods.

2. You can get laser-focused with your targeting

With organic search or social, you have no control over who sees your content. You simply put your message out there and hope that it reaches the right people and drives traffic.

Paid traffic allows you to specify EXACTLY who you want to reach with your ad.

Targeting tradies in Melbourne? Or looking to reach city-dwellers who are interested in health and fitness? 

You can do it all with paid ads.

On top of that, you can get even more granular on certain platforms.

Let’s say you’re a pizzeria operating in Sydney CBD and you want to advertise on Google. You might want to show one ad about pizza delivery for people who are searching on their desktop during the day, and another ad for people who are searching on their mobile phones within a 1km radius. 

You’ve also got the option to target people based on where they’re at in their buyer journey. On Facebook, for example, you can serve up one ad for those people who are just discovering your brand or doing research, and another for visitors who have already visited your website and shown an interest in buying.

3. Paid ads are quick to get up and running

It can take upwards of 6 months to see the results of your SEO campaign. 

The same goes for social media platforms, where it can take months or years to build a loyal and relevant following.

And while these long-term strategies should form part of your game plan, most marketers don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to demonstrating ROI.

That’s where a paid traffic source can lend a helping hand.

A paid campaign can be set up in a matter of hours, and start pulling its weight shortly after.

This means that you can instantly start bringing qualified traffic to your website and optimising your campaigns — rather than waiting to see if you’re going to improve your search ranking or slowly watching your follower count rise.

4. You can easily track the results and ROAS of your campaign

On top of being able to target different audiences with laser-sharp precision, paid traffic is also FAR more measurable than their organic counterparts. 

Let’s look at Google Ads (AdWords).

Here are ALL the different reports you can generate within the platform:

 

Google Ads reporting

 

This makes it easy to identify which ads are bringing in the most traffic, which ads are converting, and which audiences your messages are resonating with.

The same goes for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter.

With these kinds of audience and traffic insights, it's far easier to funnel your budget into profitable audiences and channels, while eliminating the poor performers.

Finding your market and audience

Now that we've made the case for why paid traffic sources are beneficial for brands, we're ready to get into the how.

Here's the thing: when it comes to running a successful paid traffic campaign, it's all about targeting.

When you know your market and your potential customers, you can pinpoint the best traffic source for your business AND craft focused, relevant messaging that cuts through the noise.

In fact, that’s precisely how this brand managed to increase their clicks by 256% and decrease CPC by 70%.

Chances are you already have an idea of your broader market. You can use this as a starting point to define who your ideal prospect is and where they spend their time.

Define your target audience

This is the moment to really drill down to who you’re trying to get to buy your product or service.

Start out with the basics:

  • How old are they?

  • What’s their income?

  • What’s their marital status?

  • What are their interests and hobbies?

  • Do they own a home or are they renting?

  • What level of education do they have?

  • Do they have children?

  • Where do they work?

After this, start to dig a little deeper:

  • What are their goals?

  • Where do they work?

  • What media outlets do they use to get information?

  • How do they prefer to consume content?

  • What are the biggest challenges or pain points they’re looking to solve?

  • What motivates them to make a purchase?

  • How do they prefer to shop?

It's also helpful to create a few buyer personas at this stage to REALLY flesh out your potential customers. 

Here’s a great example of one for a shoe store:

buyer persona - shoe store

Image source: Alexa

Here’s one for a car dealership:

buyer persona - car dealership

Image source: Alexa

And one for a B2B tech company:

buyer persona - B2B

Image source: Alexa

Understand where they spend their time

Different audiences hang out on different social media platforms and consume content in different ways.

After you’ve figured out who your ideal prospect is, it’s time to get to work understanding where they spend their time.

For example, if you’re an athleisure brand targeting women, Instagram and Facebook are likely to be the best platforms for your company to reach its target audience.

If you’re selling a SaaS product, you’d be better off starting with targeting audiences on LinkedIn or focusing on search engines. 

This graph from HootSuite illustrates the different breakdown between channels:

social media demographics

 

Alexa is another handy tool to have if you want to get a breakdown of your website’s user demographics and browsing location. Use this to scour any potential advertising platform to figure out its audience profile before investing your budget.

alexa tool

 

 

5 of the best paid traffic sources in 2021 

As we mentioned earlier, not all paid traffic sources are created equal. However, there are a few traffic sources that stand out above the rest. 

These platforms have a decent reputation for ROI and come packed with an extensive suite of advertising features to help you drive traffic to your site. We’ve listed out five of our tried-and-tested ones below, as well as the pros and cons for each. 

One last word of advice before we get started: keep in mind that finding the best paid traffic sources isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The right platform for one brand might be completely different from another brand, depending on the audience and the product or service.

Google Ads (AdWords)

Google controls a massive 92.24% of the global search market and 94.61% of the search market in Oceania. This means that no matter who your target audience is, they’re probably using Google at some point during the day.

What’s more, the Google Display Network reaches up to 2.5 billion users across more than 2 million websites.

With this sheer domination, it’s no surprise that Google Ads has also got a robust advertising offering, which includes:

  • Paid-per-click campaigns that appear at the top of search results

  • Image or video display ads across the Google Display Network

  • Product listings on Google Shopping

  • Advertising in apps across the Google Play Store

  • Sponsored emails through Gmail ads

  • Local campaigns via Search and Maps

  • Retargeting campaigns across all channels

It’s not just about breadth. Time and time again, Google has proven to deliver quality ROAS for brands that use the platform effectively.

On average, businesses make an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend on Google AdWords. The average cost-per-click (CPC) is also fairly low, starting at just $2.69 on the Search Network and $0.63 on GDN.

Pros of Google Ads (AdWords):

  1. As the world’s biggest site AND website network, Google gives you the ability to drive tons of quality traffic to your landing page from a pay-per-click campaign or display ads.

  2. You have access to extensive targeting options, ranging from device selection to in-depth demographic details.

  3. A variety of business ad formats. There's a lot of flexibility to promote your business in the most suitable way with text ads, image ads, shopping ads, video ads and more.

  4. Google is one of the only paid search platforms in the world that you can use if you have a massive budget and want to scale using a paid traffic source.

Cons of Google Ads (AdWords):

  1. Competition. As the biggest search site in the world, it’s no surprise that every player in the industry wants to use Google's pay-per-click (PPC) ad platform. This can drive costs up for highly competitive search terms, with some CPCs reaching the $100+ mark.

  2. Whether it's Google Ads (AdWords) or Bing Ads, paid search and display requires constant optimisation. If you don’t have the time to keep an eye on your campaigns and fine-tune your Ad Quality Score or landing page, you can easily end up sinking a lot of money into online advertising without actually seeing results.

YouTube

YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world and receives a whopping 2 billion users every month. On mobile alone, YouTube reaches more people than any other mobile network, and one billion hours of video are watched daily.

There are five types of YouTube Ads:

  1. Skippable in-stream ads that play before, during or after other videos.

  2. 15-second non-skippable in-stream ads that play before, during or after other videos.

  3. Video discovery ads that appear as a sponsored video at the top of YouTube search results.

  4. 6-second bumper ads that play before, during, or after other videos. 

  5. Masthead ads that are displayed as a featured video at the top of the YouTube homepage. 

As a video-only online marketing platform, it probably comes as no surprise that YouTube is, hands down, THE most effective for video marketing. Paid YouTube mobile advertising is 84% more likely to receive attention than advertising on TV, and 43% of new customers buy something they saw in a YouTube ad. 

Pros of YouTube Ads:

  1. There is a TON of traffic on the platform. With billions of users, it’s more likely than not that your target audience is on YouTube.

  2. It’s a fairly affordable paid advertising source. There have been instances where brands have gotten CPCs well below the $1 mark with the right targeting and message.

  3. It’s engaging. While text ads are easy to skip over, it’s much harder to ignore a video that appears RIGHT before a video you want to watch.

Cons of YouTube Ads:

  1. Video advertising requires just that — video. If you don’t have quality video content or aren’t willing to invest, it’ll be incredibly difficult to get your message out there or drive traffic to your landing page.

  2. Viewers can skip your video. Unless you’re opting for the non-skippable ad formats, viewers will most likely click “Skip ad’ as soon as possible.

 

Facebook Ads

Facebook is the biggest social media platform in Australia and the world’s third most-visited website after Google and YouTube. In addition to Facebook, the social media giant also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. Advertisers can also choose to appear in Facebook’s Audience Network, which covers mobile apps and games.

When you promote your brand, video, or blog on the Facebook Ad network, you can choose from the following placements:

  • Native advertising posts in Facebook newsfeeds

  • Native Facebook Stories

  • Facebook Messenger

  • Facebook Marketplace

  • Facebook video feeds

  • Facebook right column

  • Instagram Explore

  • Native Instagram Stories

  • IGTV and Facebook videos

 

According to the platform, 1.6 billion people are connected to a small business — showing just how intertwined businesses are to the Facebook experience. Because of this, users are more open to ads than other platforms, with the average user clicking on 11 ads per month. 

When it comes to Instagram, social media advertising is even MORE effective. A third of Instagram users have made a purchase after discovering a new product or service on Instagram, and three quarters are expected to take action on at least one ad at some point.

Pros of Facebook Advertising:

  1. Like Google, Facebook Ads is insanely scalable. You can reach billions of people through Facebook and Instagram, which means it’s the perfect place to grow your brand, reach new audiences, or grow website visitors. 

  2. Facebook knows a lot about its users, which means it can offer plenty of impressive demographic targeting options. On top of this, you can choose ONLY to target audiences that have already shown an interest in your product, or audiences who look like your existing followers.

  3. There are plenty of ad formats for marketing. From newsfeed ads and Stories ads to video to images, you can really get creative with your messaging. 

  4. Users are fairly open to advertising. The numbers show that these audiences love to discover new products/services or read a company blog on your site, as long as the brand is relevant to them.

  5. Facebook’s algorithm will automatically preference the ads it thinks will perform best, based on your marketing goals (i.e. traffic to a page, form fills, awareness). This means you’ll waste less money on poor-performing ads, because the algorithm displays them less (or not at all).

 

Cons of Facebook Advertising:

  1. There are more than 6 million active advertisers on Facebook so website real estate is scarce. Like Google, Facebook Ads can get HYPER competitive — which in turn drives up cost-per-click for some industries.

  2. Ad frequency is a real challenge. Your business ads appear multiple times wherever you choose to place them. This gets stale really quickly for users and drags down your ad performance, so you need to constantly be refreshing your ads.

  3. Facebook has started clamping down on ad quality recently. It can be tricky to get your account reinstated after this, so you need to be aware of all its advertising policies before putting up an ad. 

 

LinkedIn

If you’re a business-to-business organisation, LinkedIn is most likely going to be in your marketing mix. LinkedIn allows you to reach a professional network of more than 722 million members, including hard-to-reach executives or key decision makers. In fact, 25% of LinkedIn users are senior-level influencers in their organisation.

LinkedIn has fewer ads than some of the other platforms out there, but there are still plenty to choose from:

  • Sponsored posts on a user’s LinkedIn newsfeed

  • Sponsored InMails 

  • Dynamic ads in the right hand column

  • Display ads in the right hand column

  • LinkedIn text ads in the right hand column

Pros of LinkedIn Ads:

  1. You can get your brand, product or service in front of REAL decision-makers. These audiences might be tough to reach on other platforms. On LinkedIn, they’re handed to you on a silver platter.

  2. Targeting. LinkedIn Ads offer more than 200 targeting options, including job position, seniority, industry, and more. 

  3. Ads have a significant influence on LinkedIn users. Ad exposure on LinkedIn can increase purchase intent by as much as 33%, and 52% of buyers list LinkedIn as their most influential channel during the research process.

Cons of LinkedIn Ads:

  1. It’s an expensive traffic source. Really expensive. LinkedIn KNOWS it has a powerful advertising and marketing platform. Because of this, LinkedIn has a minimum bid of $2 per click (although most ads start at the $4.50 mark). 

  2. You need to have a high life term value for each customer. Because of its steep costs, it’s only worth advertising on LinkedIn if you can generate some serious value from each purchase.

 

Twitter

Most brands overlook Twitter Ads as a paid traffic source, but this channel can hold its own when it comes to paid advertising. With 192 million daily active users and hundreds of millions of tweets every day, there’s always new content to browse on Twitter.

This hive of activity also means Twitter is a gold mine for paid ads. 93% of users who follow a business intend to buy from them. More importantly, 69% have purchased a product after viewing an ad on the platform.

Twitter’s paid advertising options include:

  • Promoted Ads in the feed

  • Follower Ads that increase visibility amongst your existing audience 

  • Twitter Amplify, where your ad appears before or alongside publisher content

  • Takeover, which allows you to put your brand on top of a conversation or trending hashtag

  • Twitter Live for promoting livestream content

Pros of Twitter Ads:

  1. Although Twitter has a smaller audience base, it generally serves up much higher quality traffic for advertisers. 

  2. There’s far less competition than Facebook or Google, which means you get a higher share of voice. It’s also got some interesting ad formats that you can play around with to find the one that allows your brand to shine.

  3. Twitter’s targeting features are more extensive than you’d think. You can target different demographics, specific keywords, or even trending hashtags.

  4. Twitter has the lowest cost per click of all four social networks, with the average cost-per-click coming in at just $0.38.

Cons of Twitter Ads:

  1. You have to be careful what you put out. Ill-timed or offensive tweets can MAJORLY backfire on Twitter and cause your ad to go viral in the worst possible way (i.e. with negative comments or retweets).

  2. It’s more suited for conversions or lead gen. Unlike other platforms, Twitter is one of those rare cases where you can still increase your brand awareness and reach using organic methods alone.

 

Tools to support your paid traffic strategy

Wordstream

Wordstream helps you craft paid campaigns that get high CTRs, engagement rates and more conversions. Using Wordstream, you can analyse your Google AdWords account performance and conversion rate, then get tailored recommendations based on individual account data. What’s more, it’s easy to consolidate and report on all of your different advertising platforms, with tools for social advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

SEMrush

With the acronym for search engine marketing in its name, it’s no surprise that SEMrush is really good at helping brands get better ROAS from paid ads. SEMrush is packed with great features to generate keyword ideas, preview profitable ads, and analyse the competition for different search terms. SEMrush also provides great advertising segmentation based on data, so you can deliver targeted messages to your audience. 

SpyFu

There’s no way around it: competition on paid platforms is FIERCE. SpyFu allows you to use your competitors’ campaigns to your advantage by seeing what works for them, then incorporate these findings into your future ads. You can find your top ad competitors on platforms like Google AdWords, the Facebook Ad network and Bing Ads; track their performance over time, browse their landing page, and analyse their online engagement across social channels - all to gain the upper hand.

Acquisio

It’s tough to know which paid traffic sources are the best for your site without evaluating their performance side by side. Acquisio gives you a way to do just that. Through this tool, you can manage and report on your marketing initiatives in one dashboard, then optimise your campaigns for maximum ROI. Acquisio comes complete with campaign management data, a branded report, social ad optimisation, and tips to optimise your bids and budgets.

Drive quality traffic and conversions with paid traffic

With the right platforms and tools, the sky's the limit when it comes to paid online advertising. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to make massive revenue gains with paid traffic, you need to have a solid campaign strategy, test different formats, optimise your targeting, and report diligently on ROAS.

Luckily, you don't have to go at it alone. At Online Marketing Gurus, we help you find the best paid traffic channels for your brand and build up a lean, mean conversion machine. Grab your FREE digital marketing audit and 6-month digital marketing game plan below.

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