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the slow death of online advertising

The Slow Death of Online Advertising

The pandemic changed our lives in many ways. For those forced to stay at home, the online world became our primary means of communicating and interacting. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, became a driving communications vehicle for many businesses to keep customers updated and announce new features, such as online food ordering and delivery.

But the pandemic had a downside. As people sought information and verification of the ever-changing status of the global situation, social platforms became plagued with misinformation, fake ads, and outright hatred. The changes began to propagate at the start of the last presidential election and reached a fever pitch during COVID-19.

Stuck in the middle of all this are customers and businesses. With facebook’s reputation at an all-time low and users leaving the platform in droves, it begs the question, “Is it still worth advertising on Facebook?”

The short answer is no, especially if you are a business catering to a small local market segment.

There is an additional factor about to have a significant impact on online advertising. Starting in 2021, Apple announced it would be implementing safeguards in its iOS system that prevent apps from tracking user activity from app to app or when navigating websites in a browser. 

You’ve probably experienced how ads appear to follow you wherever you go, for example, if you click on an Instagram ad and later see the same ad when visiting your favorite website. Facebook, Google, and other ad platforms use a network of associate websites and apps for ad placement to increase their advertisers’ reach and conversion rates. However, with Apple’s new standards, these networks will no longer be able to track user movements or repeat ads on other sites they visit. For example, Facebook’s ad network accounts for more than 65% of conversion rates for businesses. Losing access to this tracking information will dramatically lower ROI. 

Additionally, if you use Facebook’s pixels or Google Analytics on your website, you’ll no longer be able to re-target your visitors with additional advertising. This has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of online advertising greatly.

What can be done?

Facebook and Google are in the business to make money. They are working on ways to circumvent Apple’s anti-tracking protocols and develop new ways to provide valuable analytic data on which advertisers rely.

A Shrinking Audience

Another sign that Facebook is losing its shine can be gleaned from its recent company performance report released earlier this year. It illustrates that the US market for users has reached its cap, although Facebook usage continues to grow in other countries, such as India. 

While large brands might not feel the pinch right away, those with smaller wallets will see their ROI drop. For companies limited to marketing in a small geographic area, this means no new users are likely to join Facebook just as a growing number of people are leaving the platform. With fewer eyeballs to show ads to, it will cost you more money to reach them effectively.

More Hoops

With the rise of fake news and the government increasingly insisting Facebook and other platforms do better at policing content, Facebook has started implementing verification steps businesses must complete before advertising. 

The next time you try to place an ad on Facebook, you might be asked to verify your business and upload documents, such as Articles of Incorporation, Driver’s License, and even bank statements to verify you are a legit company.

Additionally, you may be forced to enable two-factor authentication, which requires you to enter a code in addition to your username and password when logging into Facebook. Some people may find the process extremely frustrating and even decide to abandon the platform altogether.

Goodbye Likes

The long sought-after marker of online success has been the almighty Facebook Like. Acquiring likes has been the quintessential goal for most digital marketers. It stood as a sign of a user’s interest in a company and automatically assigned the person as a follower. However, users could choose to like but not follow a business. 

To better quantify a user’s interest, Facebook recently announced the elimination of likes in favor of follows. This is good news and bad news for businesses. On the one hand, anyone who currently likes but doesn’t follow will be transitioned automatically to a follower. But future users will have to choose to follow your business. On the other hand, there is also the high likelihood of fallout, where users will unfollow companies en masse, dramatically reducing business follower counts. 

While the move will better identify quality leads, any loss of likes can limit marketing results for local businesses.


Another area where businesses will see changes on Facebook is in how far their ad dollars will go. Until recently, small budgets of $250-$500 could produce reasonable reach and traffic for a one-month ad run. Now, that budget will last you about four days. That’s a four-fold increase in costs to achieve the same results. Organic reach is also at an all-time low. It’s no longer valuable for businesses to focus energy on content creation to stay top of mind. And now paid reach is getting hard to justify. 

For non-commerce/retail businesses, it’s no longer effective to maintain a Facebook presence.

Next Steps

There are two key areas small businesses should focus on to maintain an online presence.

Instagram and other emerging platforms

Instagram’s structure has long been based on hashtags, which allows people to follow and search for topics of interest without following specific businesses. This potentially enables companies to reach more people than just their followers. Instagram also has a discovery feature that shows viewers other relevant posts after they have seen all the updates from companies they follow. Instagram is also anxious to up its market share through video. It has always been a visual platform, so it makes sense for businesses to pay close attention to their imagery and worry less about any written copy.

Video is also gaining traction on other platforms, such as TikTok, which has already surpassed Facebook’s user base worldwide. TikTok’s algorithms are constantly being refined to show more local content to users, which bodes well for local businesses looking to connect. The beauty of TikTok is that the videos need not be highly professional. Instead, users appreciate authentic content and content that teaches them something new or makes them laugh. 


Many people in corporate America will say email marketing is ineffective because people are inundated with email. However, this isn’t true when it comes to average home users. Email still outperforms other digital marketing efforts by as much as 2 to 1. The best advice businesses should follow right now is to use social media marketing to drive email signups. Once you have people on your mailing list, it becomes exponentially less expensive to market to them repeatedly. It’s also the best way to connect with your customers and build loyalty.

Don’t forget print

Print marketing has taken a back seat to digital marketing in the past ten years. As more people have transitioned to working at home, the online ad tsunami is becoming just noise, and ROI continues to plummet. Print presents a unique opportunity to connect with potential customers and encourage loyalty and repeat sales with customers. 

On the surface, print can seem expensive; however, with the changes coming and the rising costs of online marketing, businesses shouldn’t ignore the ROI of print. It’s definitely worth the investment. Programs, such as the USPS Every Door Direct Mail, allow you to easily target your entire local area without needing a specific mailing list. This is an excellent opportunity for service- as well as retail-based businesses to target households. In addition, messaging and design play an essential role in print because, unlike digital, where you can change up images and copy daily, additional print runs can be costly.

Consider other forms of advertising

If your business belongs to a chamber or other organization, you should explore advertising or sponsorship opportunities they offer. This is best suited for B2B businesses. For B2C, check with your church or child’s school. Most produce a monthly or quarterly newsletter and may have ad opportunities as well.

Lastly, don’t forget the power of PR. When your company hires someone or does something new, send a press release to the local newspaper. This is the best free way to advertise.