Advertising When Your Website Sucks


Part I: My Website Sucks. Should I run digital ads?

Have you ever used the wayback machine? It’s a tool that shows you what different websites looked like in the past. For some sites, it’s really fun to see how much has changed and how much the internet overall has evolved. For other sites, you don’t need the wayback machine, as maintaining it has clearly been deprioritized over the years.

And understandably so! Why fix what’s not broken? The internet changes so fast, and you may update your site just to need another update a few years later.  A new website can be a big investment in money, time, and effort. That’s not my personal opinion, as a digital marketer, I see many advantages to maintaining a strong web presence and putting your best foot forward online. 

But when your website does suck, how can you keep a strong digital presence? And even with starting to prioritize your site, it takes time to create a high-quality website (and often, more time than was initially planned, as I rarely see a website redesign completed on time). But having a subpar website doesn’t mean you can’t leverage digital marketing for your business. Here are three strategies for digital marketing when you don’t want to drive users to your website.

Focus on Building Awareness

If you don’t want to drive traffic to your website, you can focus on building awareness for your business. Building brand awareness is vital for any company and can often lead to gains in the future. Additionally, many businesses under-invest in awareness marketing in favor of focusing budgets on channels that drive leads and sales. 

However, there are important reasons to invest in awareness marketing. First, it builds your potential customer base. More often than not, when users are researching a product or service, they are more likely to use a familiar name. By investing in awareness, you increase the chances for your business to succeed when a customer does need your product or service.

Awareness marketing can also be cost-effective. With many digital marketers focusing on channels that drive leads and sales, you can avoid competition and reach many more potential customers in a more cost-effective way.

Channels for Building Awareness

Most digital channels have the ability to focus and optimize towards building awareness. And while many of these channels will still have ads that could take your user to your site, optimizing for awareness can help you reach people who are less likely to click an ad but are still in your audience. Here are some of my favorite channels and strategies.

  • TikTok: As a newer platform, TikTok has an amazingly low cost per view (CPV) and has a large base that can reach many users. Their algorithm is also very advanced, so it can find your audience and optimize towards them. Some brands might not have the right demographics or may struggle with creating content that will succeed on TikTok, but I believe it is a good channel for many businesses, especially B2C, to be testing.
  • YouTube: Similar to TikTok, YouTube can reach a large audience with a pretty low CPV. YouTube is a more established channel, so it can be used if you don’t think your audience is on TikTok. Additionally, YouTube’s view time is 30 seconds (or the end of the ad), so you’ll only be charged when users watch a significant amount of your video. This view time is much higher than other platforms, so you also get more from a view than other platforms. I also like how YouTube is part of Google’s network, which means that you can later remarket to people who viewed your ads in other Google channels as long as you connect your Google Ads and YouTube accounts. 
  • Audio Ads: Another great way to build awareness is through audio ads on streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. Many people use these streaming services throughout their workday, during workouts, while driving, and countless other opportunities. One big advantage of these platforms is the lower costs, allowing for budgets of all sizes. However, a major disadvantage to them is their audience targeting. In their self-serve platforms, their targeting options are pretty limited, making it difficult to reach a very specific audience. If you do have a very targeted audience, I’d recommend using programmatic marketing and targeting these platforms, as programmatic can use third-party data to help you reach the targeted audience you need, though it will limit reach.
  • Display: Display (or banner) ads are also a great way to build awareness. These ads can be very cheap and cost-effective, and depending on what platform you use. (Google being the one I use most, but many platforms offer some display network), the targeting options can be robust. The downside with display ads is banner blindness or the fact that most people have now gotten so used to banner ads, they often ignore them. However, a good banner ad with strong targeting is still effective in my opinion. I can personally think of a few ads I have seen recently that while they weren’t the most creative or best ads, they reached the right user (me) at the right time and got my attention. 
  • Programmatic Advertising: As I mentioned in Audio Ads, programmatic advertising is a good way to reach very targeted audiences, as it can use third-party data to find people on multiple platforms. Programmatic can also be used on multiple channels, making it great for awareness advertising. Our programmatic team recommends using programmatic for audio ads, video ads (like CTV and possibly OTT), and Out of Home advertising like digital billboards to help build brand awareness.

Metrics for Awareness Marketing

When measuring the success of an awareness campaign, it is important to look at awareness metrics. Many digital marketers use lead, sales, and revenue-related metrics in order to determine success. For awareness campaigns, however, these are not the goal, and the following metrics should be used to determine if your campaign was a success.

  • Impressions: Impressions are the most basic awareness metrics, reporting how many times your ad was shown. If a platform offers viewable impressions, it’s important to look at that, as sometimes your ad is shown but not fully viewable on the page. This is a good metric to know and evaluate over time but, without additional context, lacks nuance on the actual performance of a campaign.
  • Reach: Reach is how many individual people saw your ad. This metric can help you determine your audience size and if you need to advertise to more or fewer people.
  • Frequency: Frequency is the number of times an average person saw your ad (your impressions divided by your reach). This is an important metric to evaluate in comparison to your reach and budget. If your frequency is very large, your audience could get bored of your ad, and you may need to increase your reach or decrease your budget. If your frequency is low, your reach may be large or your budget may be too small, meaning you may be spreading yourself too thin to make a real impact. What is a good frequency? Unfortunately, like most things in digital marketing, it depends. Typically, I look at frequency in comparison to engagement and cost metrics, noting any negative correlations in comparison to frequency. Once I see a clear correlation, that is my sign our frequency is starting to get too high. 
  • Video Metrics: If you are running a video ad, paying attention to metrics like cost-per-view (CPV) and view-through rate (VTR) is important. Having a low CPV means you can get more impressions to your audience within your budget, though a good CPV will vary by platform (for YouTube, I see CPVs under $0.03 and have seen TikTok CPVs under $0.01).  It’s important to have a high VTR as it shows that the users seeing your video are actually interested and watching the video. A good VTR varies by platform, as each has a different length of time that is considered a view. If you are looking to compare viewing metrics across platforms, I recommend reviewing the percentage of video watched to see what platform users are watching the video longest on.
  • CPM: CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, is an important metric to help compare cost-effectiveness across platforms. The lower the CPM, the more impressions you can show within a given budget. Of course, the quality of impressions does matter, so platforms with high-end sites will likely have a higher CPM than a platform that has less stringent controls on ad placements. 
  • Ad/Brand Recall Metrics: While not available on platforms, when it is available this metric is highly valuable and shows how likely a user is to remember your brand after seeing your ad. This is the ultimate goal of brand awareness campaigns, so use it when you do have the option to review this metric. It can help you compare different audiences and ads against each other to see what is working best and where improvements can be made.

Overall, if you don’t like your website, there are many options for using awareness marketing to keep your brand relevant without sending traffic to your website. While this does come with the disadvantage of not getting immediate leads and sales, the investment in awareness can bring large gains in the future.


Part II: My Website Still Sucks. Can I run digital conversion ads?

Does your website suck, but you still want to grow your business? In Part I, My Website Sucks. Should I run digital ads? we showed the value of running awareness campaigns. However, sometimes you need immediate results to help grow your business. In these instances, I would recommend using on-platform conversions. 

On-platform Conversions Options

Awareness is great, but your business may not be in a position to only focus on awareness and need leads and sales now (especially if you are investing in a new website). This isn’t a huge issue, as many platforms allow you to collect leads and sales directly on their platform. In fact, many prefer this, as users are spending more time on their platforms and they are able to collect that data. 

Lead Generation

  • Native Form Submissions: Many of the large advertising platforms – Google, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc- have forms you can include with your ads, so a user doesn’t need to leave the platform to fill out a form submission. When users click your ad, they will be taken to these forms. Depending on the system, the platform may even pre-fill the form with relevant information, such as the individual’s name and email address. A major advantage to using these forms is they often have a much higher completion rate than your website. Social platforms especially tend to favor these ads, as it keeps users on their site and doesn’t lower their time-on-site metrics. 
  • Phone Call Campaigns: If you do not want to collect forms, you should consider launching campaigns that emphasize phone calls as a conversion type. Many platforms will allow this, but it’s often a secondary or tertiary focus, so you’ll be limited in your strategy. If you go this route, we recommend using a call tracking system, like CallRail, to create different phone numbers corresponding to each marketing channel to help determine what is driving calls to your business. Similar to Zapier, this can be an additional cost, but knowing the source of calls and the ability to rate call quality can be beneficial and worthwhile. Many call tracking systems also offer additional tools like call recording, which can serve as training aids for your phone team. 
  • Google Local Service Ads: If your business falls into one of the categories that Google allows, Local Service Ads can be a great way to drive leads for your business. These help connect individuals with local businesses offering a service – plumbers, lawyers, real estate agents, and more –  and emphasize phone calls or messaging. Google sets a specific price per phone call or message and charges you per interaction, so you are only charged for leads. This is sometimes more cost-effective compared to other platforms where you are charged based on impressions or clicks. The major downside to these ads is the extensive setup it requires, which includes a background check through a Google partner in order to be “Google Screened.” This process can take a long time, along with other industry-specific insurance requirements. Additionally, setting up the account can take a lot of time, as you will want to fill in as much information as you can. However, once you create the account, management is very simple, as you can only change the budget. This can be good and bad, as there is not much additional information and optimizations you can make for the account, but can also be helpful if you don’t have a lot of additional time to optimize the account.


For most e-commerce businesses, you can import your online catalog onto a  platform, primarily Google and Facebook, and they can directly show your ads. However, with these campaigns, you will still need an e-commerce website, even if you don’t want to drive users to it. But as long as you can set these up, we see a lot of success with these shopping campaigns, and they can drive a great return on ad spend (ROAS). 

Drawbacks to on-platform conversions

While using on-platform conversions can be useful if you don’t want to drive users to your website, there are some drawbacks.

  • Lead Quality: For lead form submissions, we often see lower-quality leads on these forms, compared to users who go to the site to complete the form. 
  • Setup Time: In order to set up these on-platform conversions, it will take additional time, compared to a campaign that takes users to the site. For form submissions, this time is only slightly longer, but for e-commerce it can take much more time, along with additional review time. 
  • Data Loss: When users come to your site, you can track what pages they visit, how long they spend on your website, and add a remarketing pixel to their browser. When users stay on-platform, you do not get that data, and you do not have the ability to retarget them, especially cross-platform. For some of my clients, this can be the biggest drawback, as you lose the ability to push these converters further down the funnel, or get them to repurchase.

Growing your business can be difficult, and it can be even more difficult if your website is not great (whether that’s looking bad, not being mobile-friendly, or a poor path to conversion). However, even if your website sucks, there is still a way to utilize digital advertising and on-platform conversion options to grow your business.