Indie Hackers January 21, 2021

How to get ad channels to work for your startup (for beginners)

Julian Shapiro @julian

If you're new to running ads, here's a quick overview of how to make each of the popular ad channels work.

(From our experience running ads for 400+ startups.)

Important note before we dive in: We're growth marketers. We believe that you should test most channels (in time). This is an 80/20 to help you prioritize which you might want to test FIRST based on your business.

There are 2 types of ad targeting:

Behavior targeting: Serves ads to people searching for your product. Better for conversion, but audience size is limited to people searching for you. Think Google ads.

Profile targeting: Uses social profiles/engagement to serve ads. Conversion is lower, but audience size is less restricted. Think Instagram ads.

Here are the top channels ordered by average cost per click for U.S. audiences (LinkedIn being most expensive):

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Twitter
  3. Instagram
  4. Facebook
  5. Google Ads
  6. Pinterest
  7. Snapchat

This is from our experience running ads for clients. Your cost per click will vary based on your product, industry, and audience.

Let's dive into each (and a few more).

1. LinkedIn

LinkedIn offers uniquely granular company and employee targeting (firmographic targeting).

Clicks are expensive. Most companies won't be able to afford LinkedIn ads.

Good fit: B2B companies earning thousands per customer.

Poor fit: Anyone earning < $10,000 USD in LTV

Try experimenting with LinkedIn's ad units:

  • Text Ads: Typically only work for retargeting & brand marketing.
  • Sponsored Content: Focus on these. Decent CTRs but saturate quickly due to small audiences.
  • InMail: Generally avoid. Response rate is poor compared to good cold emailing.

2. Twitter

Twitter ads let you target users who follow a particular topic or person. That's unique.

Best for 2 scenarios:

  1. Companies targeting niche audiences that can ONLY be identified based on who they follow.
  2. Enterprises running brand marketing. They effectively "buy" followers through ads.

Downsides compared to Facebook and Instagram ads:

  • Twitter ads usually cost 2x more per click.
  • Conversion is usually lower.
  • Audiences saturate quickly because there are fewer engaged users.

Better use case: If your profit margins allow, run Twitter ads to get sales leads that you close via email or phone.

3. Facebook and Instagram

Facebook (FB) and Instagram (IG) are the best profile targeting channels.

Good fit for: Mobile apps/SaaS, eCommerce.

Poor fit: Most enterprise products.

IG ads generally convert better than FB. Use IG to target the 18-24 year old audience that DOESN'T use FB.

FB & IG ads 80/20:

  • FB and IG have a ton of users. If you get ads to work, they'll sustain a higher daily spend than other social channels.
  • Best for product discovery—you reach people who didn't even know they needed your product.
  • Start broad, then niche down. It's the one channel where you can really lean into the algorithm.

4. Google ads

The best behavior targeting channel: Reach people who are actively searching for your product.

Good fit: Products that solve known, high-volume problems.

Bad fit: Products people don't search for because they don't know they exist. e.g. cutting edge technology.

Google ads 80/20:

Balance specific vs broad: Use exact match keywords on the "money" keywords, and add a broad match modifier (e.g. + women, + summer, + hats) to capture long-tail keywords.

Then add negative keywords to filter out things that aren't suitable.

5. Pinterest

Pinterest ads combine profile (interest) targeting with behavior (search) targeting.

Best for:

  • Selling fashion, food, or furniture.
  • Products that lend themselves to pretty, eye-catching imagery.
  • Predominantly targeting women (70%+ of Pinterest's audience).
  • B2C eCommerce.

Key for Pinterest: You don't want users to click your ad by accident.

  1. Ads can't look so obvious that people reflexively ignore them.
  2. But, make them look enough like ads that those who click do so purposefully.

Blend in, but don't mislead.

6. Reddit

Reddit ads work best in two scenarios:

  1. If your product appeals very broadly (e.g. underwear, credit cards).
  2. If you earn a lot per customer AND your niche is active in a subreddit.

If your product fits within a large subreddit category, try subreddit targeting: Running ads within niche subforums.

You can get them to run profitably, and large subreddits take longer to saturate than small ones.

7. Snapchat ads

We've seen Snapchat ads work for 2 company types:

  1. Consumer-facing mobile apps or games with a free trial.
  2. Retail businesses that lend themselves to impulse purchases (e.g. restaurants)—You can target users near your store and capture them as they walk by.

8. Banner ads

Best for:

  • Cheap brand marketing: Advertising not to get clicks, but to stay top of mind.
  • Retargeting: Showing ads to your site's visitors to get them back.

If you do run display ads, do it through Google Display Network—It provides the most granular targeting

And that's a wrap! You'll notice we haven't covered TikTok or Youtube above. We'll cover them shortly in our newsletter (or on Twitter

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  1. 1

    Thanks! Great insight. Will definitely use that knowledge soon when advertising my app

  2. 1

    sweet. good overview.

  3. 1

    Amazing, thanks. I feel like most IHers fail at ads and most people here recommend staying away from them, so this at least gives a roadmap for how to save a bit of money testing ads on different platforms.

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