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How to stretch a small advertising budget for big impact

Amazing products and visually-dazzling design are prerequisites for a successful ecommerce store, but they don't actually drive users to your website. That's where effective advertising comes in. Despite what you may think, crafting a compelling advertising campaign doesn't have to require a huge budget - it just takes educated strategies and some smart follow-up. While setting an exact budget for marketing and advertising initiatives can be more art than science, here are some general rules to keep in mind to maximize your impact without spending a ton.

Identify your ideal customer

Even the most brilliant creative campaigns will fall flat if they're not reaching your target customer. Before you make any decisions on ad spend or platforms, think about your target customer. Are they more likely to use Pinterest or Facebook? Be more responsive to direct mail or pay-per-click? Read long authoritative white papers or watch short chatty videos? The more detail you can conjure around the habits of your target customer, the easier it will be to figure out how much to spend on a marketing budget—and how to optimize your advertising budget.

Tailor your ads by time of day

One major foundation of social media strategy is to customize your ads by platform, so that campaigns you're running on Twitter, for instance, don't look identical to those you're running on Facebook. But smart advertisers are also customizing campaigns based on time of day. For an ecommerce site that sells mainly household goods, that means morning ads might spotlight things like coffee cups and desk organizers, while Friday afternoon ads might center around cake stands and hammocks. Understanding the mindset of your target customer - when they'll be looking for which types of products - can greatly boost the ROI of ads, no matter which platform they appear on.

Sweeten the deal

Customer are inundated with advertisements. One way to gain an advantage is to offer a promotion in your advertisement, such as a discount code or free shipping. If you have the space in the ad, include an end time for the promotion (such as "ends 8/8!") to help create a sense of urgency and increase the chances even more than the viewer will engage with the ad.

Invest in photography

Paying to advertise your products is a waste of money if your ads feature bad photos. If you only have the time or budget to create great-looking ads around a limited number of products,choose your highest-margin offerings. This tactic maximizes ROI and can help fund future photo shoots and ad campaigns.

Experiment, experiment, experiment

As much as you can strategize and estimate, the only concrete way to know whether your store is going to get more customers from text-only Google AdWords ads or sponsored Twitter posts is to go ahead and try both. It may be tempting to take a scattershot approach and try everything at once, but doing so can quickly overwhelm your ability to gauge what's really working. Instead, test a limited number of advertising initiatives on two or three platforms, keeping careful track of which ads generate the highest engagement, click-through rate and total conversions.

Testing just one campaign on a particular platform isn't enough to provide accurate insight into whether a given tactic is working. Instead, experiment with ads at different times of the day and week, targeting slightly different audiences. Closely monitor relevant metrics across your ads to continue gleaning insights and further hone your strategy.

Consider long-term ROI

Advertising channels like pay-per-click and social media campaigns can quickly rack up costs. That's why exploring content marketing as a supplement to advertisements makes sense for so many online businesses. While investing in a well-written blog post might cost money upfront - particularly if you don't have the time or inclination to write - a blog can attract customers to your site for months or years to come. That's why, when you calculate the return on investment to compare advertising to marketing initiatives, it's important that you factor in the long-term nature of most content marketing.

Continually reassess

Once you have a strategy that's working, you can earmark more money toward replicating similar initiatives. But don't assume anything should stay on auto-pilot forever. Even if direct mail is wildly successful for the first six months of your business, that might not always hold true. Continuing to fund legacy tactics after they've lost their value can quickly burn through your advertising budget, so make sure to keep an open mind and be prepared to alter your strategy if need be.

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