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Learn How Paid Media Buying Pays for Itself


Your inbound marketing strategy is multipart effort, incorporating many different marketing techniques and efforts. One of the most crucial parts of this strategy is paid media.

If you’re just getting started with making media buys and running advertisements for your products or brand, it can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry, we’ve put together a detailed step-by-step guide to making successful media buys. 

We’ll cover terms you need to know, steps you need to take, and what to look for along the way. You can even download our Paid Media Audience Worksheet for a hands-on tool to help you make your first media buy. 

Terms You Should Know

Before diving further into how you can get started with paid media buying, we’ll need to define some terms. Making sure we’re on the same page about what we’re talking about is an important part of helping you build the right budget. 

  • Paid Media: Paid media means any of your external marketing efforts that involve a paid placement with a publisher. Social media ads and sponsored content are examples of paid media.
  • Earned Media: Earned media refers to the content about your or your brand that you haven’t paid for or made yourself. That means things like Google reviews, social media mentions, and traditional news coverage all count as earned media.
  • Organic Traffic: This means all the traffic to your website you get for free. Organic traffic can come from organic search, your own posts on social media platforms, and other non-paid sources.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): The ratio between the cost of your investment and the amount of income your investment creates. This is very important for paid media buying.


Step 1: Identify goals, audiences, and audience habits.

Like so many things should, paid media buying starts with identifying your campaign goals. What are you trying to accomplish by making a media buy? The more specific your goal, the better. 

Your goal, whether it’s to attract attention about a new product or simply increase brand awareness, should take a specific target audience into consideration. The same message won’t reach everyone effectively. 

What do you know about that audience? Simple information like age, location, or what social channels they’re likely to use can be extremely helpful when making your media buy. 

The next step is determining your business KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) based on your online marketing goals and what you know (or can make an educated guess) about your audience. 

Step 2: Identify platforms and start nailing down budgets.

Data is useful for many things, and one of the things it’s most useful for is making budgets. If you’ve conducted marketing campaigns around your intended goal before, you should use the historical data you have. If you haven’t, try to find available industry data.

Conversion data is also extremely helpful. By analyzing the data available to you, you can get a good idea of what kind of budget range will make sense for your media buy.

Want a practical media buying tool? Download the template!

Do you want to start working on your first media buy right away? Download our paid media template to get started now.

Download your template

Step 3: Make the buy.

Every platform is different, but each has instructions for how to make a purchase on their platform. As social media sites and other publishers are always changing, it’s important to ensure you’re up to date on the process for advertising with your selected publishers. Fortunately their processes are easy to find on their websites. 

You may also use a DSP (demand-side platform) to make media buys. These amazing tools use programmatic advertising and introduce a level of automation to your online media buying process. 

After you enter the relevant information about your campaign, the DSP will contact publishers and enable effective campaign management. Online media buyers looking to make more of their time and their budget make frequent use of DSPs and managed programmatic buying.

You can learn more about these tools from HubSpot’s guide to what is a DSP. 

Step 4: Assess effectiveness.

Now you’ve made a media buy and your advertisement is successfully placed on the platforms that best fit your strategy, goals, and audience. That means it's time to wait and watch for the results to come in. But that doesn’t mean you’re done! 

You need to resist the urge to make any decisions immediately as you watch the data come in. It takes a while for the data to become usable, and things can change quickly after you first start running an ad. If you know from past campaigns that most of your engagement comes in the first two days, for example, then a waiting period of two days would make sense. Otherwise you should consider the timeframe of your current campaign and come up with an appropriate estimate.

Depending on the initial goal you set, it’s important to consider the audience, creative and placements as you’re assessing effectiveness. For example, If your goal was to drive traffic to your website, cost per website visit could be an effective way to measure performance. More on metrics below. 

You do need to keep your initial expectations in mind so that once you have sufficient data on your ad’s performance, you can adjust accordingly. Is the ad living up to your expectations? Great! You should feel good about the campaign and the data it’s giving you for future campaigns. 

Is the ad not living up to your expectations? Now that you have sufficient data that shows this, you should start making adjustments. You may need to give it more time than you initially planned. 

Depending on the issues you’re having, you may need to increase the value of your offer or adjust the audience you’re targeting to support a truly successful marketing program. Time and data will tell. 

Troubleshooting your paid media budget 

Digital media buying isn’t always easy. The trickiest part of effective media buying, especially if you’re new to it, is usually figuring out what the advertising budget should be. That’s because it comes before making the purchase (obviously) when you have the least information to work with. And if you’ve never made a buy before, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. 

The good news is that your small business marketing budget can change. It’s best to set a budget using the historical or industry data available to you with the understanding that it’s okay for that budget to change. If there’s one thing that’s true about digital advertising over traditional advertising, it’s that it’s always changing!

How often should you evaluate your paid media budget?

Depending on your goals and initiatives, once you have a budget in place, you should reevaluate it at least on a quarterly basis. When it comes time to reevaluate your budget, you should review your previous campaign performance and look for ways to optimize your spending. 

While you’re analyzing your budget and thinking of how much you want to spend and where, you can use AI tools to help. The technology for analyzing spending across multiple channels is very advanced and can come in handy when you’re rethinking your budget. 

Paid Media KPIs

So there are a few more terms you should know! We’ve covered the importance of key performance indicators (KPIs) already, but let’s take a closer look at some of the most relevant media KPIs for you to know for your paid media campaign. 

  • Clicks: Just like it sounds, this is the number of times someone clicks on your ad. 
  • Impressions: This is the number of times your ad appears on a webpage, feed, or somewhere else someone has to opportunity see it. 
  • Clickthrough Rate (CTR): This is a ratio showing the difference between clicks and impressions, or how many people who see your ad actually click on it. 
  • Cost-per-click (CPC): In paid search campaigns, cost-per-click refers to the amount you’re charged by a publisher each time someone clicks your ad on their platform.
  • Cost-per-impression (CPM): This is an amount you’re charged by a publisher for a set amount of impressions. 
  • Average Position (AVP): This refers to the order in which your ad appears on the search engine result page (SERP) with 1 being the highest position, or first on the page. 

Now you’re ready to buy.

Now that you’ve learned the terms and the step-by-step process to making your first media buy, there’s nothing holding you back. Getting your paid media strategy ready is one of the best ways to improve your inbound marketing efforts and boost your brand. You’re on your way to becoming an experienced media buyer!

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