You need to diversify your paid media channel mix. Ask yourself: is your cost per action (CPA) on Meta higher than they were a few years ago, or even just compared to last year? Do you feel like you’re hitting a cap on the volume of conversions (e.g., purchases or leads) that make sense given your CPA or return on ad spend (ROAS) goals? Although you probably already know, this issue isn’t unique and there are solutions.
When you’re hitting these walls in your growth marketing, you need to test new channels. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t continue trying to decrease your CPA on Facebook and Instagram ads, but you should reallocate some of your bandwidth to launching and optimizing new channels. It’s a rule any growth marketer, or entrepreneur for that matter, should live by: always be testing (ABT).
These are the channels that are relatively low-lift and efficient alternatives to Facebook and Instagram ads. For both my ecommerce and lead generation clients, I’ve seen similar or better results on these channels.
Under the heading of paid social, these are the channels I’d recommend testing, listed in order of potential.
YouTube ads (regular and shorts)
YouTube should be the immediate channel you test after Meta. Before going into some of my reasons, YouTube here refers to YouTube regular and YouTube Shorts. I highly recommend trying both. So, why should YouTube be your next channel test?
Ad creative and copy that’s used on Meta should be relatively easy to migrate to YouTube. The Facebook and Instagram videos you’re running in the newsfeed, which are likely 1:1 or 16:9 aspect ratio, can be used on YouTube regular. Additionally, the video ads you’re running on your Story or Reel placements can be used for YouTube Shorts.
Pro tip: Make sure you have a separate campaign for each placement; run on YouTube Shorts by uploading videos in 9:16 aspect ratio and then only bid on mobile devices. This will increase the likelihood that you’re only running the creatives you choose on YouTube Shorts. I recommend re-uploading your top 3-5 creatives on Meta to YouTube. Although you’ll likely see similar creative performance, it’s always good to validate previous learnings when launching a new channel.
Like Meta, YouTube, which is technically run by the Google Ads audience builder, has tons of targeting options. If you’re doing any type of interest targeting or competitor targeting on Meta, you can likely find similar audiences to leverage on YouTube. Don’t get ‘selection happy,’ however; pick 3-7 audience segments per ad set.
Pro tip: I’ve found the most success with In-market targeting. I prefer this option to Affinity targeting. I also recommend trying Similar Web targeting and uploading domains of competitors, and even your own. Leveraging this type of targeting gives YouTube direct signals as to the types of visitors you want to target. Think of it as a type of look-alike audience.
Since YouTube is part of the Google Ads ecosystem, you’ll be able to utilize more advanced bidding options and experience the benefits of a fully realized ad delivery algorithm. Some newer ad platforms like Quora or Reddit, as I’ve personally found, aren’t as good at learning with new bid types; newer ad platforms can result in longer learning periods and your budget not being spent fully.
You may be surprised to see Pinterest ads on this list, but I’ll try and make my case. Pinterest has about 450 million monthly active users, about 70% are female, roughly 50% are millennial, and 45% are in the $100K+ income range. In other words, if you’re an ecommerce brand, Pinterest could be a low-CPM (cost per thousand impressions) option for high-quality users. Here are a few other reasons at the ad level for why I like Pinterest as an alternative to Facebook and Instagram:
1. Audience quality and targeting
If your brand does well on Instagram, even the more reason to try Pinterest. I like to think of Pinterest as a more shopping-ready, high-quality Instagram. Think about it; Pinterest users are most active during milestone events: moving, weddings, closet makeovers, parties, etc. These users are more in a shopping mindset versus the average Instagram user. Moreover, Pinterest offers several forms of targeting that’ll seem familiar: interest, look-alike, and even keyword targeting.
2. Shopping feed
You may have a product catalog uploaded to Facebook already, or even have launched Google Shopping ads, but I imagine you don’t have Pinterest Shopping ads running. Pinterest Shopping ads are a great low-lift ad placement. If you’re on a Shopify site, just connect it with the Pinterest plugin and build the shopping campaign in a few relatively easy steps.
Pro tip: Ad creative on Pinterest ads is a bit different. You’re going to want to create taller images and/or GIFs. Taller media will perform better since it’ll take up more room in the feed. I recommend taking a look at their ad specs if Pinterest ads seem like something you want to try.
Did I surprise you again? I’ve had success with Nextdoor Ads for ecommerce clients that are in the home, outdoor, subscription, media, pet, and furniture categories. Additionally, for service-based clients with leads or sales funnels, I’ve had success with finance, home, car, outdoor, and local businesses.
Nextdoor offers Newsfeed ad placements that’ll work with your 1:1 and 16:9 aspect ratio ad creative on Meta. The targeting is a bit different, however, so I’d recommend starting with just your demographic targets. Perhaps most importantly, Nextdoor CPMs are quite low; you’ll likely see CPMs between $8-$11, which should give your CPA and ROAS some room.
Other paid social considerations
I debated whether or not to put TikTok Ads on this list. I ultimately decided not to after reviewing my own client work and speaking with some fellow growth marketers. Why isn’t it on this list? We haven’t seen consistent, reliable success with TikTok Ads. Although I’ve seen some weeks where I’ve had success on TikTok, most weeks result in relatively high CPAs. TikTok also needs a lot of content, so unless you have a lot of content, it may not be the right channel for you.
If you’re not looking for a direct response, growth channel, but perhaps for more of an engagement or even reach platform, then I would recommend TikTok Ads. However, for this list, I’m trying to focus on direct response channel alternatives to Facebook and Instagram.
No “Alternatives to Facebook and Instagram Ads” article would be complete if it didn’t talk about some paid search channel options. Although the below channels will be a relatively higher-effort lift than paid social platforms, I do want to include them so you know these are options for you.
Google Search Ads and Bing Search Ads
Google Search Ads are probably a no-brainer as an alternative channel to Meta Ads, and it’s for a good reason. Google Search is the largest network available, supporting 4.3 billion monthly active users, compared to Facebook’s 2.9 billion monthly actives.
I could write an entire article on how to use Google Search Ads effectively as a channel alternative to grow your business, but I’ll keep this short and constrained. Google Search Ads offer the most powerful keyword targeting of any platform. If you can imagine any given person finding your product or service via a search, it means you’re a good candidate for Google Search Ads.
Keep in mind, however, that although you’ll likely find your target users, the targeting and creative are different from Meta. You’ll be leveraging keywords versus interest targeting, although you can layer in audience segments with your keywords, and you'll largely be creating optimized ad copy versus image or video creative, although you can upload image extensions as small square thumbnails to accompany your ad copy.
In other words, the most significant similarly to Meta Ads is the sheer opportunity for growth and scale.
Pro tip: To increase scale, you can connect your Google Search Ads with Bing Search Ads. Your campaigns will migrate over in a few clicks, and it’ll likely provide about 10%-20% additional volume.
Google Shopping ads
Google Shopping ads are a great way to bring in incremental growth if you’re an ecommerce company already leveraging Meta Ads or even Facebook/Instagram Shopping Ads. Similar to your setup with Facebook/Instagram, your Shopify site will be compatible with a Google Shopping plugin that’ll create a Google product feed in your Google Merchant Center account.
Once your product feed is ready, just select “Shopping” in your Google Ads campaign build and get your products shown across the Google Shopping ecosystem. Of course, there are additional optimizations you can make over time and strategic ways to build out these product groups within your campaign, but, even so, this is a medium-impact, low-lift alternative.
If you’re an ecommerce company and you already have products uploaded to Amazon or you’re open to creating a Merchant account and uploading your products, then Amazon Ads are going to be another impactful, low-lift ad option for you to grow your ecommerce business.
Amazon Ads leverage robust keyword targeting and product targeting options that are more customizable than Google Shopping ads. Google Shopping ads don’t allow you to select keywords you want your products to show up for; they show your products based on the metadata on the product’s detail page. Amazon Ads, however, allow for both options; you can select the keywords you want your product to show up for and capture relevant shoppers who may be starting their search on Amazon. In fact, 61% of shoppers start their search on Amazon.
Other ad platforms
Retargeting should be part of your campaign mix. Even if you’re already running retargeting ads on Meta, you’re missing the largest display ad inventory, which AdRoll has access to. AdRoll serves ads across the internet. You’ve probably seen those Google AdSense widgets on the side of articles; AdRoll utilizes inventory like that and more.
AdRoll will work on a small budget and will capture those users who didn’t convert after visiting your site. Although AdRoll itself isn’t a replacement for Meta Ads, it’s a strong addition to your channel mix.
Sponsored editorial and e-newsletters
If you have the budget for it (i.e., at least $5K per month extra), sponsored editorial and e-newsletters are great options. Sponsored editorial are effectively articles written about your product or service, which you pay the publisher for. For example, let’s say you sell furniture and have identified Apartment Therapy as a relevant blog in your niche. You can request a media kit, and you’ll likely see sponsored editorial or sponsored content as an option. Once their team writes an article about your business, they’ll likely amplify it across their social and website.
Pro tip: Whenever you run sponsored editorial, make sure you’re communicating with the editor what you want to be emphasized about your businesses, focusing on those messaging items that have converted well on other paid channels. You should also make sure you’re including 3-5 links to your website in the article where each link has relevant anchor text and UTMs. This’ll give an SEO boost to your domain and will enable you to attribute traffic back to the article.
Sponsored e-newsletters are similar, but you’ll likely see options to sponsor part of a newsletter or an entire newsletter. Same rules apply here: make sure the editor is using proven talking talking and that there are several links bringing the user to your website.
Although these options are relatively more expensive on a per run basis, they’re going to bring in much higher quality users and higher conversion rates. When evaluating this channel, make sure to account for higher conversion rates in your modeling.