Exploring Paid Marketing for SaaS: Which Channels Work Best?

July 3, 2023
Contributor: Amita Jain

Discover the most effective paid media channels to generate brand awareness, drive qualified leads and secure conversions.

Software marketers are constantly under pressure to prove the value of their efforts. And when it comes to getting new business, paid media enjoys a prominent position in their toolbox. Despite marketing budgets declining in recent years, the spend on paid media increased and surpassed other channel investments in 2022 [1].

But with numerous paid advertising channels to choose from, how do you know which ones to invest in for the most return? The simple solution is to diversify. Technology marketers who use an average of 14 channels or more experience higher revenue growth than those using fewer than 12 channels [2].

To help you choose the right digital ads that meet your business needs, we explore eight popular paid media marketing channels and look at their use. Toward the end, we stack them against each other for a quick comparison.

What is paid media marketing?

Paid media marketing refers to advertising your products and services on popular online platforms, such as search engines, product comparison sites and social media. The algorithms behind paid media channels track user behavior, demographics, search pattern and interests and deliver them ads or sponsored content they would be interested in.

Starting off with two broad categories—search ads and display ads— the success of paid media in generating leads and boosting brand awareness has led to multiple ad types. Below, we dive into eight noteworthy paid marketing channels that prove useful for SaaS B2B marketing. 

8 types of paid media channels for SaaS businesses

1. Paid search advertising

Also known as search engine marketing (SEM), paid search advertising helps businesses show up before organic results on the search pages. Unlike organic SEO, which takes time to yield results, paid search ads generate traffic immediately after their launch. 

These ads are indicated by the word “sponsored” or “ad,” and are simple to set up. You have to select the keywords or search terms your target audience would use during their search and bid on them with several other competitors targeting those keywords. You’ll pay a fee to the search engine each time a searcher clicks on your ad. They are, thus, also called pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

Search ads are valuable to find target users with a high intent to purchase and get qualified leads. The challenge with paid search ads is that the competition for popular keywords is fierce, requiring you to pay higher for them.  

Example of paid search advertising, Google search engine results page

Paid search advertising example ads [3]

Pro tips

  • Consider the searcher's intent when you bid. For the “best project management software” keyword, linking to your software landing page may result in low click-through rates or high bounce rates, as the searcher here is looking to compare software, not purchase one. Try creating and linking to a specialized landing page that compares your solution with others.   
  • Use the return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) bidding strategy. ROAS is the revenue you want to generate for every advertising dollar spent. In this bidding strategy,  the ad platform determines the search that will generate higher conversions and  automatically bids on it, and lowers the bid if a search isn’t likely to create high-value conversions. 

2. Display advertising

This is a powerful tool to generate brand awareness, cultivate demand and create the need for your products and services among users. It involves strategically placing visual advertisements, such as banners, images, videos or interactive elements, on websites, mobile apps and social media.

Display ads target users who may not be actively looking for your products or services but match the characteristic traits of your target audience. To get started with display ads, define your target audience, identify websites or platforms your audience is likely to use and create visually appealing creatives that will leave a lasting impression on viewers.

While display ads tend to have low click-through rates and conversions, they have their unique space in paid media marketing. The key is to remember these ads don’t answer a demand like paid search ads but create demand.

Example of display advertising ads

Display advertising example ads [4]

Pro tips

  • Leverage programmatic advertising. Select a programmatic advertising platform to run your display ads. These platforms automatically select the ideal locations for your display ads across a vast network of websites and apps.
  • Hook your audience immediately. Use appealing visuals, videos and calls to action (CTAs) to increase the click-through rates and brand recall.

3. Product promotion on software comparison sites

Software comparison sites play a critical role in software buyers’ journey, supporting them throughout their research, evaluation, and consideration phases. These sites are trusted by thousands of technology buyers as authentic sources of information and peer reviews. 

Advertising on comparison sites involves creating a profile for your products and services (initially for free). You can then upgrade your profile to move up the category results page, generate higher click-through rates and capture marketing-ready leads. By advertising on these sites, you don’t waste money trying to educate the market and attract users actively seeking a software solution. This increases your chances of getting hot leads that are ready to buy. 

To learn more on how to use these sites to your advantage, check out this article on how to reach the top of your software category

Screenshots from Capterra, a Gartner Digital Markets’ software comparison site

Screenshots from Capterra, a Gartner Digital Markets’ software comparison site [5]

Pro tips

  • Choose reputable and well-known software comparison sites. Make sure the sites you choose attract millions of monthly in-market software buyers, such as Gartner Digital Markets’ Capterra, Software Advice and GetApp. 
  • Create a strong product profile. Highlight the competitive advantages and detailed features of your software. Add images and videos to boost engagement.
  • Get customers to publish reviews. Reviews play a critical role for buyers when comparing different software options as they tend to trust the opinions and experiences of their peers. Make your profile strong with authentic reviews and address negative feedback immediately to maintain a positive brand image.

4. Social media advertising

With an expanding user base and the ability to target audiences with incredible precision using parameters such as age, job roles and interests, social media acts as a powerful tool for businesses. 

Social media advertising refers to displaying ads on popular social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. A huge advantage of social media ads is their visual impact and high engagement potential. 

However, one of the biggest challenges of social ads lies in their low audience intent. Often, users on social media are simply browsing through their feeds and they may pay little attention to the displayed ads. This makes targeting ads to the right audience segment, knowing your campaign goals and creating appealing content extremely critical for success.

Social media advertising ad examples

Social media advertising ad examples [6]

5. Influencer marketing

Influencer advertising helps you reach a niche and highly engaged audience while gaining social proof and credibility from well-known individuals with strong social media following and influence in a niche industry. Typically, these individuals are social media personalities, industry experts or bloggers with loyal followers who value their insights and recommendations.

By partnering with influencers, you leverage their trust and rapport to subtly promote your products and services. With the right influencers’ support, you can shape the audience's purchase decisions in a huge way. 

When choosing an influencer, go beyond follower count to check their relevance to your products and credibility and engagement levels among your target audience.  

Examples of popular expert influencers

Examples of popular expert influencers [7]

Pro tips

  • Choose influencers who genuinely appreciate (or use) your product. Authentic endorsements have greater resonance with followers.
  • Set clear goals, but give influencers creative freedom. Determine key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor the effectiveness of influencer campaigns. However, make sure influencers have the freedom to customize creatives and position your brand according to their channel’s needs. 

6. Affiliate advertising 

Like a referral program, affiliate advertising operates on a performance-based model. When an individual or a business endorses your products or services on their platforms (such as websites, blogs or social media accounts) and drives desired actions such as leads or purchases, they get a commission or referral fee. 

It starts with setting up an affiliate program for your business and laying down the goals (clicks, leads or sales) you want affiliates to fulfill.

Affiliate marketing is no-risk advertising as you only pay when an affiliate leads users to perform a desired action, letting you tap into their network of loyal supporters at a fraction of the cost.

Example of affiliate marketing - Skillshare

Example of affiliate marketing [8]

Pro tips

  • Provide affiliates with engaging marketing materials. Send visually captivating banners and demo videos that effectively convey the value of your SaaS offerings. Be sure to include promo codes and unique affiliate links to properly compensate them.
  • Handpick quality affiliates who have a strong presence among your target audience. Make sure affiliates are driving valuable leads rather than spamming users into visiting your brand touchpoints. 

7. Native advertising

Native ads smartly blend into the content of a webpage, appearing like organic editorials or news stories rather than traditional adverts. They’re widely used on high-traffic and popular news and journalism sites.  

Because native ads don’t redirect users to another site when clicked, they provide a non-disruptive and engaging experience to them. It bypasses the subconscious “ad block” that makes users ignore and filter out any advertisements and gives better interaction results, more than display ads. Even though publishers label this content as "sponsored" or "promoted" for transparency, users still feel curious to click on them.

Native ads can be challenging to create though. It’s easy to come up with a few banner ads to be used on multiple websites but creating new and authentic creative stories every month that also convey your marketing message is not as easy.

Example of native advertising: Wall Street Journal

Example of native advertising: Clicking on the ad above (in square) leads to the webpage shown below it (in rectangle) [9]

Pro tips

  • Find publications or websites that your target audience reads. Make sure they have a sizable readership in the industry you want to reach.
  • Use appealing creatives. Improve the effectiveness of your native ads by experimenting with different formats, such as plain creative versus creative with text, and track their click-through rates. Try out variations in other content elements such as headlines and calls to action.

8. Retargeted advertising 

You must be familiar with being followed around the internet by travel ads after searching for holiday destinations. Retargeted advertising, or remarketing, helps you reach out to people who have already shown interest in your products or services but haven't yet converted into customers. 

Retargeted adverts work by placing a tracking pixel or code on the business website, which allows marketers to track users once they visit the webpage. If a visitor leaves without completing a desired action, say subscribing to your software or signing up for a free trial, retargeted campaigns are initiated to bring them back.

One challenge with retargeted ads is to make sure they’re delivered in a privacy-compliant manner and adhere to applicable regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

Example of a retargeted ad

Example of a retargeted ad [10]

Pro tips

  • Use dynamic remarketing. It’ll help you deliver personalized ads to users, based on their previous interactions. It ensures users see ads featuring the exact products or services they showed interest in.
  • Limit the number of times a user sees your retargeted ads. It’ll help you avoid ad fatigue for potential buyers and ensure a positive user experience.

Three considerations to determine your paid marketing channel mix

  • Your goals

Strike a balance between your short-term goals (such as increasing lead volume, driving traffic and earning sales) with long-term goals (such as brand awareness and recognition). Focusing solely on short-term goals often hinders the potential of brands to garner optimal traction. Read more on how marketers balance the need for leads with brand-building aspirations.

  • Your target audience

Create ideal customer segments you wish to target by using a variety of granular characteristics (such as interests, location, job role and demographics) and behavioral patterns (such as search history, purchase history and frequently visited websites) to attract more high-quality leads.

  • Your budget

Allocate your paid-ad budgets based on your goals rather than by channels. If you’re new to paid marketing, start with smaller-budget campaigns to test which messages and ad channels resonate best with your potential customers. You can also benchmark your paid media budget against your competitors’ and the performance of your past paid campaigns (if available).

Not all paid channels are created equal. Focus on the ones that align with your objectives. Here’s an at-a-glance comparative view of paid media channels discussed so far. 

Monitor, assess and refine your paid media campaigns

Paid ads can be tracked and tweaked in real time for better performance. Continuously audit your existing paid media campaigns to identify areas for optimization. If you are seeing low conversion rates, low click-through rates and high landing page bounce rates, it’s time to revisit your strategy.

The Software Marketer’s Guide to Paid Media

Explore ways to generate more high-quality leads with less budget.

Amita Jain

Amita Jain covers B2B content creation and strategy to help businesses reach their marketing goals. She received her master’s degree from King’s College London, U.K. Exploring the world of art and reading fiction are some of her usual happy distractions outside of work. Connect with Amita on LinkedIn.



  1. The State of Marketing Budget and Strategy in 2023 — Insights From the CMO Spend and Strategy Survey, Gartner
  2. Tech Marketing Benchmarks Survey 2022: Demand Generation Insights, Gartner
  3. Adapted from Google, Google 
  4. Digital IQ Outlook: Wealth and Asset Management 2022, Gartner
  5. Adapted from Capterra, Capterra
  6. Digital IQ Outlook: Insurance 2022, Gartner
  7. Elevate Your Brand by Partnering With a New Type of Influencer: The Expert, Gartner
  8. Adapted from Skillshare, Skillshare
  9. Adapted from Wall Street Journal: Business, Wall Street Journal
  10. Maximize Ad Relevance by Responding to 4 Drivers of Consumer Attention, Gartner
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