The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Paid Social Media Ads – Part 3

This week we’ve come to the conclusion of Smokehouse SEO’s Beginner’s guide to paid social and we’re closing it out with targeting & the difference between paid and organic social.

So let’s close this out!

Organic Vs. Paid Social Media

What’s the Difference?

Paid social media ads is exactly that, it is when you put money behind a post to boost it or when you create a paid advertisement.

Organic social media is the opposite. It is when you just want a post placed on a social media channel and you don’t have any money or a budget to put behind it.

The major differences are as follows:

  • Organic social media posts are ‘one and done’
  • Paid social media posts run for the duration you specify during ad creation
  • Organic social media posts cannot be (reliably!) targeted to a specific audience while paid posts can be targeted to specific people via spreadsheet uploads (if matches are found in the Facebook database of users), based on a specific URL’s traffic, Physical locations, stated interests and a variety of other factors. I mean, Facebook attempts to give you some some targeting options with it but personally, I just don’t find them as useful or as reliable as the paid options
  • Organic social media posts only reach about 2% – 6% of your pages own followers while paid ads can reach an extremely large audience (depending on how you target)

When Should I Use Paid Social Media?

Let’s be real for a second. Organic social media reach is nearly dead in 2019 and is constantly decreasing in importance as platforms monetize their messaging and algorithms.

There are still some old school ‘pay for social media? blah! Organic is just as good!’ goofballs out there but there also people who still think the world is flat out there. I don’t advise listening to either.

A good rule of thumb to follow to determine whether to use paid or organic social media is as follows:

  • Paid Social Media: I have a product, service or message that I really care about and I think a lot of people will want to know about. This item sells for actual money or will lead people to make a purchase in the future by getting our brand name in front of people. I have a message I need to get in front of very specific audiences, people and/or there are some people that I DO NOT want to see our post, so I am trying to limit it as much as I can.
  • Organic Social Media: I would like this to be publicized but it’s not that big of a deal. We don’t expect a lot of sales and the sales we would have from this product are too low to make much of an impact on our bottom line.  This post is basically just for entertainment/informational purposes and we don’t care if everyone sees it or not.

Important: Again, in 2019, organic social media reach is basically non-existent. If you have a message you ‘care’ about, you will want to use paid advertising. Be sure you factor in your potential ROAS (return on ad spend) when determining any/all paid social media advertising budgets.

What Should I Know About Ad Targeting?

Ad targeting is absolutely crucial to get right. I mean, think about it, you can write the best ad in the world but if no one sees it or if the wrong people see it, what’s the point?

There’s a lot of things to know about proper ad targeting that we simply can’t cover in one post so I’m going to cover the bare basics that everyone should know to get started.

Targeting types:

The most common type of targeting falls into one of four categories: interest-based, URL-based, custom or lookalike.

Before we go further, here’s a quick note: You will absolutely want to implement platform-specific tracking pixels before you start any type of social media advertising. Without the pixels being in place you won’t be able track nearly anything that happens on your site as a result of social media ad properly – or at all. Implementing basic, standard pixels is easy (each platform has their own guide and its basically just copying and pasting) but I’ll tell you now, configuring custom events in them is a little bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing so I strongly suggest you reach out to a developer or a more experienced person if you’re new.


Interest based targeting is just that. Its when you go into a social media platform and you say ‘I want people who like t-shirts, rock bands and guitars to see my ad’ and Facebook will go, ‘OK, we’ve got about 4 million people who meet this criteria’ and you go ‘great! target them!’

This is your most basic type of targeting. It’s pretty good for getting top of funnel awareness but if you’re looking for conversions or sales from this – I don’t recommend it. It could happen but you’re basically asking people to buy something from someone they’ve never heard of before.

URL based

This is when you say ‘Ok, I have this web page and I want everyone who visits that page to see my ad!’ and your social media platform goes ‘Ok, cool, do you have our platform specific tracking pixel on that page?’ and you either go ‘yeah!’ and they say ‘great! we can do that!’ or you go ‘Oops! I don’t! Let me go put that on my site!’ and once you put the pixel on then the platform goes ‘Ok, great! Now we can do that!’

This is pretty good for conversions, especially when implemented properly. If you have a solid budget, I recommend doing this for a good dynamic product ad campaign or a retargeting campaign. Creative people will find a lot of solid uses for the copy for ads such as these too (eg: ‘We saw you looking! Come back and save!’, etc) so these are some of my personal all around favorites

Custom Audiences

This is when you have a spreadsheet and you straight up upload it into a platform and say ‘Hey platform, find these people!’ and the platform goes ‘Ok, give me a minute!’ and it will try to match the people on that spreadsheet with the users in their database. Some suggestions for this are uploading your previous customers and obviously your email marketing lists. I’m not exactly sure if that’s not a violation of some obscure privacy law which keep getting weirder and weirder these days but honestly, I highly doubt it, I mean they opted in to get messages from you, right?

These types are great for getting people to take that next step. If you have previous customers and you target them with a new version or a companion product to what they bought that can be sales from the jump. If you have an announcement or press release that you want to make sure your contacts see on social media, you can use this but there is one other amazing reason to upload your lists and that is what we’re coming to next…

Lookalike audiences

This is when you take those custom audiences you have and say, ‘Hey social media platform, find me people who don’t know me yet but have a ton of things in common with the people on these custom lists!’ and the social media platform goes, ‘You got it! I’m going to go into our user database and I’m going to find people who share the same interests, have the same habits and whatever else the algorithm does to determine who should go on this list that the writer of this article doesn’t know because the platforms don’t go around broadcasting their algorithm secrets!’

If you’re looking to get your brand, product or service in front of people who don’t know you yet but probably would love you if they did, you can’t beat this. There was a recent study done about interest based targeting vs lookalike targeting and the winner was no surprise.

So those are the basic ad targeting types all beginners should know and now here’s the NUMBER ONE thing I wish someone had told me when I first started out targeting ads:

Costs for targeting different countries is NOT created equal.

If you do any type of PPC advertising, you probably knew this already but again, this is for beginners.

Basically, If you target expensive countries (US, Australia, UK, etc.) and less expensive countries (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc.) in the same actual ad, well, buddy, I hope you like getting a lot of impressions in the less expensive countries and nearly NONE in more expensive countries.

It just makes sense as well. Let’s say you optimized for impressions or clicks or traffic. Look, you told Facebook, let’s say, that you wanted as many people to see or click your ads as much as possible for the spend you specified and you just said ‘target the US, Canada, Pakistan and Cambodia’. The algorithm goes, ‘well, your buck can go MUCH farther in Pakistan and Cambodia so I’ll show your ad there!’ and therefore you’ll end up with like 80% of your budget spent there and almost nothing spent in the US or Canada.

Some people create multiple ad sets to handle this issue but honestly, I just like to create two separate ads, one for the more expensive countries, one for the less expensive ones. Sure it might not be the most efficient way to do it but it works for me and whats more, I find it easier than doing multiple ad sets.

The Bottom Line

And that does it!

I hope this beginner’s guide was helpful for those of you out there just getting started with paid social. Of course, you will not be an expert after reading these and there’s a lot more to learn – and keep up with as social media changes nearly as fast as SEO – but hopefully this laid a solid foundation for you to build on as you go forth!

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