4 Ways to Advertise Your Startup Beyond Google AdWords


By Elizabeth Yin


Everybody’s heard of Google AdWords. So, finding a good buy on AdWords is quite challenging and competitive these days. As a startup, you’re going up against companies with lots of cash and optimized customer acquisition channels. Here are 4 AdWords alternatives you may want to check out to help you get new customers at the prices you want.


1. Use cheaper search ad platforms.

Yahoo’s equivalent of AdWords (which merged with Bing) has been around for a long time. Yet, from my experience, it’s significantly less competitive than Google AdWords. In part, the user experience is more challenging to navigate and is tedious to use to do a large number of bids.


Search ads, in general, are clicked on by consumers with a strong intention to buy. This kind of channel can be a great way to advertise new products in an already established space. However, if your startup is doing something that no one is currently searching for, you may find that search ads will not yield great results. This leads me to point #2.


2. Experiment with newer discovery-based ad networks.

If your product is in a new space and no one is looking for it, the key is to get it in front of the right audience when they are of the right mindset. New discovery-based ad networks may be good channels to try. They tend to have less competition and give you a good shot at getting cheap user acquisition.


Here are a few to try:

  • StumbleUpon – shows your website to a relevant web surfer for a flat fee of $0.10 per visitor.
  • LaunchBit – gets your copy into email newsletters that get sent out to relevant audiences; uses a cost-per-click bidding system
  • Virool – promotes your video in front of relevant audiences; uses a cost-per-click bidding system


3. Negotiate direct ad buys with bloggers and newsletters.

The ad networks in the list above will get you results quickly, but because they are networks, you have little flexibility on your creative and aren’t able to customize your creative for each blog, newsletter, website your ad is on.


Another effective way to get in front of relevant audiences is to negotiate ad buys directly with individual bloggers and newsletter publishers. Technorati is a great source to find relevant bloggers. NewsletterDirectory.co is building a list of newsletter publishers.


Reach out to publishers directly. Explain that you’re a new startup trying to promote your product. Explain your product briefly and why you think it would be awesome for his/her audience. Offer something to sweeten the deal. All of this should take < 5 sentences. Moreover, you will probably need to write to multiple publishers, as only a certain percentage will be interested and will respond.


If you have your own blog or newsletter and the publisher has his/her own product, swaps are a free way to get publicity. You promote them. They promote you. The best marketers build up an audience to be able to do swaps with complementary companies all the time.


If you don’t have an audience or they don’t have a product, a lot of successful marketers will try to offer to pay on a cost-per-lead basis. They’ll pay $x for every successful signup. If your product has too complex of a sign up process, a lot of publishers will ask to be paid on either a cost-per-click basis or on a flat rate basis. It’s up to you to determine what makes the most sense and have a detailed plan and agreement on how metrics will be tracked and how payment will be done.


4. Get creative and create your own ad channels.

Lastly, the best ad buys are often in channels that people don’t think of as advertising channels. For example, in a lot of major airports, Zappos advertises in the bins where you place your shoes before going through security. This ad placement creates a brilliant connection in travelers’ minds — you place your old shoes in the bin, and see the Zappos ad, which reminds you that Zappos can help you buy a new pair.



Most people would not have expected advertising to be available in these bins. But, advertising opportunities are literally everywhere. The key is to find untapped channels that make sense for your startup and negotiate a direct buy. You can often get cheap ad buys when people don’t view their space as ad inventory and don’t expect to make much money from it.




Elizabeth Yin is the CEO and a co-founder of LaunchBit, an ad network for email. She started her career as a teenager doing back-end programming for startups during the dot com boom. Elizabeth is now a frequent speaker at conferences, events produced by O’Reilly and Women 2.0 and universities including Stanford, MIT and Harvard. She previously was a product marketing manager at Google. Elizabeth holds a BSEE from Stanford and an MBA from MIT Sloan.


Photo credits

Courtesy of Elizabeth Yin | Royal Thoughts