Written by Samantha
8 min read

Pros and Cons of Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

Pros and Cons of Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

These days, marketing is for the masses. We’ve seen more advertising techniques available through traditional marketing. And the rise of social media platforms means there are more opportunities for businesses and organizations to reach their target audiences.

With the advancements in the digital space, there’s been a rise in “self-serve” platforms – advertising platforms that allow for quick and simple purchasing of ad space without the need to go through an advertising representative. Self-serve ads are available on almost all major social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn and TikTok. Self-serve has even made its way into Hulu, the popular video streaming service, in an industry where traditional media buying is still the norm.

There are plenty of reasons why advertisers would choose self-serve options – the ease and scalability make it the obvious choice for small start-ups and large corporations alike. However, in some cases, digital and traditional media buys facilitated through publishers, media outlets or specialized media buyers are a better option to maximize ad dollars. 

Why self-serve?

Facebook and Instagram are the largest, and arguably most influential, self-serve advertising platforms – Facebook alone has 2.65 billion monthly active users. Not only do these platforms have a large audience base, but they also have a wide selection of targeting options, making it possible to target by location, age and gender, along with more advanced criteria such as purchase behavior or connections to pages, apps and events.

Enjoy low barrier to entry.

Purchasing an ad through a self-serve platform is typically as simple as creating an ad account and adding a credit card. The platforms are often very user-friendly, providing guidance on how to set up your campaign with the correct objective to achieve your goal. Whether you’re looking to send people to your website or simply extend your reach, self-serve platforms allow advertisers to quickly and effectively set up a full-fledged campaign or promoted post. Approval times are often immediate, allowing ads to show within minutes of being approved by the platform. 

Pivot quickly and maximize results.

One of the most impactful benefits of choosing self-serve advertising is the ability to analyze results in real time and pivot quickly when a campaign isn’t performing well. Traditional media buys often involve negotiating the ad placement beforehand and assessing results at the end of the campaign, leaving little flexibility to edit your targeting parameters or make changes to creative. Self-serve platforms provide real-time dashboards where you can see key metrics, audience performance and conversion data. If it seems like you’ve missed the mark with any component of your ad campaign, you are able to pause and edit or simply end the campaign with no obligation to continue spending your budget.

You can predict results before launch.

Most self-serve platforms will allow you to see estimated daily, weekly or monthly results before you launch your campaign. For example, LinkedIn will not only give you an estimated number of leads you can expect from your budget, but it will also predict audience reach by industry, company size, job function and more. While not always 100% accurate, it provides a good baseline to assess performance before committing ad spend to a campaign. Google has similar forecasting tools that allow you to see historical keyword performance and estimated costs-per-click for the keywords you’re planning to bid on.

Everyone wins.

Ad platforms exist to make money, and they make the most money when campaigns do well. That’s why most self-serve platforms operate with a performance-based model, the most popular of which is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Under this model, advertisers pay only for the clicks they receive on their ads, ensuring they are not wasting ad spend, and incentivizing ad platforms to deliver ads to individuals who are most likely to click. Under this system, competition is high, ad costs are low, and everybody wins. 

woman working at laptop

Why not self-serve?

Advertising defaults often benefit the platform.

We’ve already established that ad platforms exist to make money. Commonly, the “default” campaign settings will favor the ad platform, encouraging the user to spend more money, based on suggested settings. Similarly, default setups on platforms like Google and Facebook will often select the best option for the advertising company to make money — but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best choice for the advertiser. This means you may end up paying more if you’re not keenly familiar with how settings impact your campaigns. The way a campaign is set up is critical to its success, so it may be best to run campaigns with the help of an expert to understand what makes the most sense based on your objective.

Navigating nuances can be tricky.

For an inexperienced individual launching straightforward campaigns without advanced objectives, audience targeting and conversion tracking are simple to dive into. However, with infinite nuances and constant platform updates and feature releases, self-serve platforms can be tricky to master. For this reason, robust campaigns are best managed by a marketing agency or experienced social media manager, who will be able run advanced campaigns with ease.

Minimum ad spend may be required.

While self-serve platforms are often affordable compared to traditional media buys, some platforms require a minimum to get started. Hulu and TikTok currently require a $500/month minimum. For most medium- and large-sized companies, this is a drop in the bucket, but it may be less attainable for start-ups or individuals who haven’t yet established themselves.

Impersonal interactions are common.

The hallmark feature of self-serve platforms is that the ad-buying process is automated, eliminating the need for a representative to facilitate the process. While this keeps costs low, it also eliminates human interaction. There’s no dedicated account representative or the ability to negotiate rates based on customer loyalty. Similarly, the support on self-serve ad accounts is often outsourced and usually falls short of providing customized solutions beyond reference to help articles.

person pointing at laptop

When to consider traditional media buys

For some campaign objectives, advertisers may need to consider an integrated approach inclusive of digital marketing as well as TV or radio. Not only will this maximize reach, but it will also increase the number of touchpoints a user encounters throughout their consumer journey. Traditional media buys should also be considered when specific placements are valuable. For example, if your audience is composed of C-level executives, you can purchase placements on publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg News or The Wall Street Journal. Facilitating those ad buys would be most efficiently done through dedicated media buyers, which many full-service agencies have on staff. They will be familiar with pricing and placements, and know what media options are most cost-effective for different objectives.

When to consider an alternative to self-serve

While highly effective, self-serve platforms may not be the best option for you.  Here are a few scenarios where self-serve might not be the best fit:

  • You need direct control over website placement or inventory: A big advantage of direct media buys is that you’re able to hand-select individual websites you’d like your ads to appear on. If you’re interested in highly specific or sought-after publications, your best bet may be negotiating placements for your ad through the site’s publisher. In addition, some marketing avenues are accessible only through manual media buys – for example, TV and radio, for example, are both considered “traditional” marketing mediums and are commonly only accessible through a traditional media buy.
  • Your campaign is robust or complicated: If you are launching a campaign focused on generating reach, awareness or site traffic, the ad platform’s job is generally straightforward: Get the most results at the cheapest price. Campaigns that are more advanced, such as those focused on website conversions, will make the platform’s job harder, as it cannot account for outside factors, such as the effectiveness of your landing page. For this reason, robust campaigns should be managed by a marketing agency or experienced social media manager, who will be able to use their expertise to develop a high-performing campaign.
  • Poor historical performance: If you’ve tried launching ad campaigns using a self-serve platform in the past but have not yielded the best results, it may be time to turn to a seasoned agency or expert to manage your campaigns. With past data to lean on, an expert will be able to find the cracks in your campaign and make recommendations for improvement. They will also be able to take advantage of more advanced strategies such as lookalike audiences, layered targeting and multiple objectives.
  • You need to reach multiple audiences or do A/B testing: If you know exactly who your target demographic is and what kind of messaging they respond best to, you’re in good shape to make self-serve work for you. However, if you’re not yet privy to this information, you should be prepared to do some testing. A/B testing factors like audiences and creative can be a highly effective strategy to determine what performs best, or which audiences will react favorably to a certain product or message.

The choice to use self-serve or a different advertising strategy isn’t always easy to make — but that’s where an agency comes in. Our experts understand the benefits, drawbacks and nuances of different types of digital and traditional media buys, and we’re here to help you get the best ROI. Contact us today to get started setting up your campaign.

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