5 Paid Traffic Sources Every Online Marketer Should Be Testing

Audrey Ference
Audrey Ference

5 Paid Traffic Sources

Paying for traffic can be a powerful tool for marketers. 2017 emarketer survey found that 42% of small and medium businesses consider Facebook and other social ads to be the most effective marketing method available to them — better than their own websites or email lists!

Paid traffic can come from more than just Facebook, though. Technically, any service you pay for that drives leads or eyeballs to you is a paid traffic source.

Here are some of the big ones:

  • Display ads, aka those things on the side of the page your ad blocker erases
  • Paid search like Google AdWords or Bing Ads
  • Social media ads, the sponsored content that appears in your Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds or before the YouTube video you clicked on
  • Sponsored content — a type of content marketing that looks like an article on a website or even in a print mag but is actually a piece of content marketing for a brand

Depending on the kind of marketing you’re buying, you could pay per click (PPC), pay per view (PPV), pay per acquisition/action (PPA), or just pay a flat rate for each instance, for example with an influencer you generally purchase a certain number of posts.

With some old-fashioned display advertising, you might just pay to keep your ad displayed for a certain amount of time.

That’s a lot of options, and figuring out what works for you can take some tinkering. A mix of organic and paid traffic is usually the most effective way to grow a business.

The exact magic mixture will depend on your specific audience, but when you’re testing paid traffic sources, here are the five you should consider first:

  1. Google Adwords
  2. Facebook Ads
  3. Outbrain Amplify For Advertisers
  4. LinkedIn Ads
  5. Twitter Ads

1. Google Adwords

Google Adwords
AdWords are an old-school paid traffic source that still offers huge potential rewards, though the cost per click is often high. The basic concept is that you choose keywords that you think your potential customers will search, and you bid on putting your ad as one of the sponsored search results at the top of the page. Of course, AdWords has gotten way more sophisticated as the online advertising world has evolved. Now you can use dynamic search ads, a feature that customizes your ads based on what’s on your website and what people are searching without having to fiddle with your list of keywords all the time. AdWords also offers the ability to make bid adjustments by device, target users by geographic area or demographic group, and retarget people who have engaged with your website before. The more specifically you can target your AdWords, the higher chance you have of success. Figuring out exactly which little slices of humanity work best for your brand takes experimentation, so keep detailed records of which changes produced good results.

Google also offers display ads on their Google Display Network. Display ads get a bad rap these days, and for good reason. Here’s a heat-map study from the Nielsen Norman Group showing how even people without ad blockers ignore display advertising:

Blindness - Outbrain


At the same time, GDN reaches 90% of people on the internet. It will just depend on your audience and your keywords whether or not GDN ads work for you. If your AdWords are killing it, it might be worth a try. Still not sure? Here’s a flowchart to help you decide.

In short

  • AdWords now offer tons of targeting and remarketing options, so test, test, test to find out what works.
  • Probably Google Display Ads aren’t worth it for most businesses but might be worth a try if you’re finding a lot of success with AdWords.

2. Facebook Ads

Hubble Facebook Ad

95.8% of social media managers surveyed said Facebook ads gave them the best ROI of any social platform. Facebook advertising is a must for anyone paying for traffic. But Facebook has LOTS of options, and they’re changing constantly. Do you want to put your ad in newsfeeds, on Instagram, messenger, or in the audience network?  Do you want to target by place, age, interest, or find prospects similar to a group you know already works using lookalike audiences? Do you want to use text, images, video, slideshows, or collections? The upside of Facebook is that it’s possible to reach exactly who you want in exactly the way you want to reach them (sometimes, hilarity ensues). You can create static or dynamic campaigns, small or big campaigns, retargeting campaigns, campaigns with a huge spend or campaigns with a tiny spend. There are Facebook lead ads, which makes it super easy for people to give you their information. Link ads, that send people to your website. Or ads that contain in-Facebook product catalogs that do automatic retargeting. It’s a lot to learn, but it’s also easy to get started. Experts like Jon Loomer are a great way to stay on top of best practices, and there are tons of tools that can help you optimize your campaign without having to become a total expert.

In short

  • Pros: lots of options
  • Cons: lots of options
  • If you’re not sure, get help, or just start playing and see what works!

3. Outbrain Amplify For Advertisers

Amplify works differently than AdWords or Facebook ads, in that we don’t do ads. Instead, we provide the platform where you put a link to your awesome content. This is where you start the relationship with your potential customer, bringing them down the funnel by providing nothing but valuable, useful, funny, and endearing content. Similar to Facebook and AdWords, Amplify offers a cost-per-click bidding system, the ability to test multiple headlines directed to the same content, device targeting, geographic targeting, lookalike audiences, and custom audiences, our retargeting tool. Our premium network of publishers ensures that you’re always getting traffic from high-quality sources. More importantly, though, the algorithms behind our content discovery platform are constantly working to find the most engaged audience for your content. The people who click our content recommendations are far more engaged than people who come from search or social, according to this analysis from 2016:

content discovery vs search vs social
It’s not just upper-funnel, though: see how One King’s Lane used our Custom Audiences tool to drive four times more conversions.

In Short

  • Content discovery can hit consumers anywhere in the sales funnel
  • Retargeting drives conversions

4. LinkedIn Ads

Linkedin Ads - Outbrain Blog

For those of you in the B2B market, LinkedIn’s native ads could be a great paid traffic source. You can target people who have visited your website; target by contact or account; or by title, industry, demographics, or geography. Their options are a display ad, a sponsored post in people’s feeds, or InMail ads. They offer a pre-filled contact form similar to Facebook’s lead ads, but really the most exciting thing about LinkedIn is the ability to pinpoint-target people by their business information and to reach them in the “walled garden” of LinkedIn. Similar to the way that discovery has lower bounce rates than social because people are in “content consumption” mode, when users are inside of LinkedIn they’re in “professional” mode and will view ads and read content with a different mindset. That could be very powerful for the right advertiser: according to marketingland, the best candidates for LinkedIn ads are high-value B2B products and services, recruiters, and higher ed.

However, LinkedIn’s network is priced on a cost-per-click and it’s pretty expensive. You won’t find any targeting for less than $2 per click, and a lot of the targeting will start at $4.50.

For example this one:

LinkedIn Campaign manager

In short

  • LinkedIn is a powerful tool for B2B, higher ed, and recruiters
  • Expensive but worth it for the right people

5. Twitter Ads

Twitter Ads

Twitter is interesting because if you’re good at it, you should be able to generate tons of organic (read: free) interactions, but at the same time, people can be very wary of brands co-opting what they see as part of Twitter’s culture. Offensive or ill-timed tweets can also blow up in a careless social media manager’s face. “Good at” twitter means more than just able to make conversions or generate retweets, it means an understanding of and sensitivity to the medium. If you are good at Twitter, though, the payoff is huge: 94% of customers plan to purchase something from a small or medium-sized business they follow, and 69% bought something because of something they saw on Twitter. So is it worth it to pay to advertise on Twitter? With those numbers, it’s definitely worth a try.

You can pay to promote a single tweet, an account, or a trend, and either pay per click, follow video view, impression, engagement, app install, or lead. You design a campaign around the objective and type of promotion, then you can cut up the audience by geography, income, gender, phone carrier, or interest. For “interests,” you can get as granular as keywords like specific TV shows or movies. Twitter has a fairly high CPC, so make sure anything you promote has a strong CTA and think hard about your goals before you create a campaign. If you’re generating leads and conversions, great, if you’re just paying for followers, you might be able to do that with better free content.

In short

  • Amazing conversion numbers for small businesses
  • Make sure you’re not paying for something you can get for free


The customer journey is extremely varied, so remember that in reality, a mix of pay-per-click advertising and other organic channels is probably the best way to bring potential customers down the funnel. As long as you understand the importance of building trust and providing value first without asking for anything in return, you will achieve results from these paid traffic sources. And don’t get too caught up in expecting people to go down the funnel the way you want them to. The funnel doesn’t actually look anything like a funnel. It looks more like this:

Actual marketing funnel



Audrey Ference

Audrey Ference

Audrey Ference works with Outbrain's headline writing team. Her work has also appeared in Slate, Salon, the Hairpin, the Billfold, the Toast, Teen Vogue, and others.