A group of people cheering, depicting community building, a replacement for paid advertising

5 Alternatives to Paid Advertising

August 16, 2022

For years, paid advertising has been an avenue for many small businesses to increase their reach and brand awareness. However, with rising advertising costs and only the world’s top companies raking in most of the advertising revenue – paid advertising is no longer a viable option for small businesses that are looking to find their ideal audience. 

Google also plans to phase out third-party cookies by mid-2023, which means businesses need to find alternatives to paid advertising so they don’t fade into obscurity or lose revenue. So if your ad costs are increasing while your reach decreases or if you’re simply looking to jump ship before Google’s major change, consider these 5 replacements for paid advertising below. 

The pros and cons of paid advertising

A diverse team sitting at a desk with paid advertising reports in their hands and on their computer screens - depicting one of the 5 replacements for paid advertising

Before we get into the 5 replacements for paid advertising, let’s have a closer look at paid advertising and the pros and cons that it offers.

Firstly, it’s important to note that paid advertising isn’t 100% terrible – some small businesses still dedicate a portion of their monthly marketing budget to paid advertising. Even though it works to an extent, the purpose of this article is to highlight that paid ads aren’t the only option. 

Let’s get into the pros and cons of paid advertising…



  • Paid advertising offers instant results - Unlike organic methods of reaching your desired audience, you can start seeing the benefits of paid ads immediately. It doesn’t take long for ads to be approved and your ad will start reaching people within hours. This can be contrasted to SEO, which takes months to start yielding results.
  • It offers better targeting options - You can choose the demographic and characteristics of people you’d like to reach
  • Paid advertising platforms offer flexibility - Targeting, A/B testing and campaigns are flexible with paid ads
  • Paid ads are cheaper than traditional marketing methods - Advertising your business on a billboard, in a newspaper, or on TV is expensive – especially for a small business. Paid ads are much cheaper and also offer more control over campaigns and reporting so you know what worked and what didn’t
  • They can help you build stronger relationships with your audience - By advertising to your target audience, you introduce your brand to them and help them get familiar with who you are. This leads to you building a relationship with your audience, which makes it easier to convert sales. 


  • Paid search is getting increasingly expensive - Cost for paid ads continue to rise, leading to only the biggest companies being able to afford to adequately market themselves.
  • It’s saturated, which means more competition - Competition between small businesses is high, which further drives up paid ad costs.
  • Customers are becoming more desensitized to ads - Customers are tired of being marketed to because they’ve been exposed to so many ads, which leads to devalued advertising.
  • There’s an increase in ad blocking - More people are trying to avoid ads altogether, with ad blocking in the U.S. increasing from 15% to 30% since 2014.
  • Google is phasing out third-party cookies - This is arguably one of the most important reasons small businesses need 5 replacements for paid advertising. Growing privacy concerns are changing how we do digital marketing, as seen by Google phasing out third-party cookies by mid-2023. This means Google ads/paid search ads will be impacted. Companies that don’t find alternatives to paid advertising could see their ad revenue potentially fall by up to 52%.

1. Referral Marketing

A graph depicting the concept of referral marketing, one of 5 replacements for paid advertisings

The first of the 5 replacements for paid advertising is referral marketing. A referral program is a great place to start reaching your ideal customers without paying for ads. Starting a referral program also comes with a whole range of benefits.

Firstly, they’re a good way to incentivize people to send you leads. Unlike recommendations (which only a few customers would likely engage in), referral programs encourage people to promote you because they’ll be receiving value for any leads they give you. This value can come in the form of commission for every new customer, a product upgrade or a limited edition product. 

We love referral programs because they leverage the loyalty of your existing customers and have been proven to increase the loyalty of said customers by keeping them more engaged with your brand.

Benefits of referral marketing

Some benefits of referral marketing include: 

1. It enables word of mouth

Word of mouth is considered one of the most powerful forms of marketing, even in the digital age. This is because people value recommendations from people close to them and are likely to take action based on them. 

By creating a referral marketing program, you’ll be able to leverage people’s natural inclination to recommend things they enjoy or find useful to the people closest to them. 

2. It creates brand loyalty

People who find value in your brand offering become the mouthpiece of your business. A referral program is a great way to reward them for promoting your brand, which will foster brand loyalty. 

3. Referred customers are more loyal than those acquired through other channels

Customers who have been referred to you by someone they know are more likely to convert than customers who have been acquired through other channels. This is because they already have a degree of trust for your business based on the referee’s experience. 

4. It offers a great return on investment

Statistics show that referral marketing converts 30% more leads than other types of marketing channels. Added to this, customers referred by other customers are 4 times more likely to refer other people to your brand and have a 37% higher retention rate. 

5. It expands market reach

You’ll be able to acquire more customers with less time, money and effort when you have a referral program. This will help you reach your target audience with more ease. 

6. You’ll be able to find your leads where they are

A referral program allows customers to share information about your brand on the platforms they frequently use to communicate with their friends and family. Your referral program should have a click-to-copy link and share button which easily allows customers to share it via social media platforms and email. This is important because 71% of customers are likely to make a purchase after receiving a social media referral. 

How to build a referral program

A woman referring a man to someone else - depicting one of the 5 replacements for paid advertising

Taking advantage of referral marketing as one of the replacements for paid advertising means implementing an effective referral program that incentivizes customers to tell other people about your business. Here's how you can do this:

  1. Make sure your offering is unique: One of the first steps to building a successful referral program is to make sure that the products and services your business offers are unique. If your business doesn’t stand out from the crowd and make an impression on customers, it’ll be difficult for them to refer you to people they know, regardless of how amazing your referral program may be. 

  1. Create a customer referral template: A template can help you create the tone and messaging needed to effectively reach your target audience. Templates can be used for referral request emails, follow-up emails, social media copy, and more.

  1. Create goals for your referral program: Think about what the end goal for your referral program is. This will help you figure out what your next steps are. Goals for your referral program can range from business growth, increasing revenue, retaining customers, or building trust. 

  1. Figure out who your ideal customer is: Having a clear idea of who your ideal customer is will help you position your referral program in a way that allows your customers to recommend leads that are most likely to purchase from your business. Once you’ve figured out what your ideal customer is, be sure to describe it to the people who will be participating in your referral program. This will give your customers a clear understanding of the types of people they need to refer to you, which will save you from potentially wasting your time on collecting leads that won’t take an action but are merely interested in your business. 

  1. Identify how you’ll reward your customers: The type of referral reward you give your customers should be something that they’ll find useful. A clothing store might consider offering a coupon for customers who refer other customers to them and a software or tech company can offer a free trial to referred customers. Determining what your referral reward should be may require you to consider who your customers are, what types of rewards they’ll likely enjoy, what types of rewards fit your business, and whether the rewards in question will be monetary-based or not. Even though everyone loves cash, it’s important to note that monetary rewards aren’t the only way to incentivize customers. You can get creative with your rewards programs by offering unique gifts, free products, gift cards, charity donations, service upgrades, store credit, and free subscriptions. 

  1. Promote your referral program: Think about where your referral program will be announced and promoted. Choosing a variety of channels to promote your referral program is important because you’ll reach your customers effectively.

  1. Use a referral software to keep track: Measuring your return on investment is important so that you know if your referral program is working or not. Doing it manually isn’t realistic, so make sure you install a referral software that can easily track your return on investment.

2. Partnership Marketing as One of Many Replacements for Paid Advertising

A woman shakes hands with a man, depicting 1 of 5 replacements or paid advertising

Partnership marketing is our second out of 5 replacements for paid advertising. Partnering with another brand that has similar goals to you is a great alternative to paid advertising. 

How to get started with partnership marketing

If this is your first time partnering with another brand, keep it really simple.  

You could start by just adding a paragraph about them to your monthly newsletter with a link back to them and vice-versa. That’s an example of a simple partnership campaign, known as cross promotion, which allows you to borrow each other's audiences for a moment. 

If that works well, try a longer campaign with them that includes emails, social media posts and possibly some joint content creation. If that campaign proves successful, you should also consider launching a co-branded product or entering into a brand licensing agreement to continue your partnership efforts. 

To begin, you just need to find another brand targeting the same customers as you and make sure their brand values are in alignment with yours.

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Partnership Marketing

Where do you find potential partners?

This can be a lot of work, but again, try to keep it as simple as possible. Look at the brands you know and work with already or consider partnering with a customer or client of yours. The whole reason for intribe’s existence is to make this part much simpler - so if you’re ready to start looking for partners, sign up for an intribe membership and start connecting with like-minded brands around the globe. 

3. Email Marketing

A woman reading an email on her laptop, depicting email marketing, 1 of 5 replacements for paid advertising

Some people think email marketing is an outdated concept that was a beneficial marketing channel for brands in the 2000s. The truth is, even though email marketing is one of the oldest digital marketing channels, it’s still as relevant as it was a decade ago, with statistics showing that there are 3.9 billion email users globally. 

The best thing about email marketing is that you aren’t reliant on a specific platform. You own your list and it’s purely up to you what you do with it. This makes it one of the most ideal replacements for paid advertising.

3 benefits of email marketing

1. Excellent delivery rates

Compared to Facebook posts, email delivery is amazing. Over 90% of emails get delivered. In contrast to Facebook marketing, only 2% of Facebook fans will see your posts. This is because Facebook limits the number of times your post will appear in the news feed to entice you to pay for their ads.

2. It drives conversions

Visitors from email marketing are much more likely to buy. According to a survey conducted by Monetate, 4.24% of visitors from email marketing buy something as compared to 2.49% of visitors from search and 0.59% from social media.

3. It has a higher ROI

For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $38.  When you take into consideration the deliverability, the open rates, the click-through rate and the strength of the relationships you can build over time it’s no surprise that the ROI is so high. This is precisely what makes email marketing one of the most viable replacements for paid advertising.

How to get started with email marketing in 6 steps

  1. Choose an email marketing platform: You can get started for free with Mailchimp or choose something a bit more advanced like platform.ly at a reasonable price.
  2. Acquire email addresses: You probably have some already and you can start to accumulate more by using an email capture widget on your website like Convertful.
  3. Add contacts to your platform:  You can either add your existing contacts manually or if you have them in a spreadsheet you can usually import them from there.  The email capture widget will be able to add them automatically.
  4. Create your welcome email: This is your opportunity to make your new signups feel welcome and inform them more about the value you can provide to them.  Once you’ve got a basic welcome email setup, you can then build a welcome series.
  5. Create additional templates: Most email marketing systems will allow you to create templates that you can use over and over to save time.  Create one for each type of regular email you send: monthly newsletters, business updates, thank you notes after purchase or subscription, new product or feature launches etc.
  6. Explore the more advanced features: Once you get comfortable with the basics you should move on to the more advanced features like split testing headings, scheduling, testing, and automation flows.

4. SEO and content marketing

A sheet of paper on a wooden desk representing Google Search home page but replaced with SEO related words

Search Engine Optimization

If you’re reading this, you probably already have an inkling of how valuable good content can be. It’s true that SEO is a long game, but it’s also a game of compounding returns. The earlier you start, the earlier you start reaping all the benefits., which is why you should definitely incorporate SEO as one of your replacements for paid advertising.

At intribe, we didn’t do too much with the content on our website for a long time and when we first started to get serious about blogging, Google Search Console only recognized about 50 keywords from the intribe website. After the first month we got to 100, and after another month we reached 200, and then we got to 500. A month after that Google recognized 1000 keywords associated with intribe. The daily & monthly traffic grew consistently along with that.

How to SEO optimize your website

It’s easy to over analyze what your blog content should look like, but this can stop you from blogging in the first place. Don’t overthink it – just start blogging!

I initially wasted time waiting for our landing pages to get upgraded. You can start blogging and rank for keywords with even the most basic ‘coming soon’ landing page. If you already have a website, that’s even better! 

Don’t know what to write about? I didn’t either until one day I had the idea of interviewing experts or people that had experience in the areas I wanted to cover. For me, this was huge, I didn’t need to create the words myself so I started doing interviews over Zoom, recorded them and then uploaded the interviews into an online software program called Happy Scribe which produced a transcription of the interview which I then edited. Editing still took a lot of work, but it was way easier than writing from scratch. Over time, I started coming up with ideas for articles myself, like this one.

There are a variety of great SEO tools that you can use to find the best keywords and topics for your blog posts. They’ll help you pick the ones with the highest search volume, allowing you to easily rank for targeted keywords. You can also use other SEO tools like Hike SEO and Morning Score to improve your website’s content and SEO.

While we’re on the topic of SEO tools, be sure to learn as much as possible about one of the most important SEO tools ever – Google Search Console. It’s a free tool offered by Google which helps measure your website’s performance, search traffic, clicks, and more. Google Analytics is also a good SEO tool to use. Google Analytics also helps you measure how visitors interact with your website.

Let's get into the subsets of content marketing, one of the 5 replacements for paid advertising...

Social Media Marketing 

A person holding a phone that shows a variety of social media platforms

A subset of content marketing, social media marketing is also one of the best replacements for paid advertising. Social media marketing can help you reach your target audience. It’s a great promotional strategy because more than half the world (about 4.62 billion people) uses social media to connect with others. This means you can find your target market and increase your brand awareness by showcasing what your business offers across various social media channels.

How to create a brand presence on social media 

A man in a black suit holding up a sign with the words 'online presence' on it - displaying replacement for advertising

  1. Decide which social media platforms your brand needs the most: Starting a brand account on all the major social media platforms may seem like a good idea, but it’s one of the quickest ways to waste your time and burn out. You have to start by figuring out which platforms fit into your brand’s strategy before signing up for an account. For example, a small business that sells art supplies is not likely to prioritize LinkedIn as a platform. They’d be better off focusing on showing people the value of their product through video content on Instagram Reels and TikTok. But first make sure to edit your video using a tiktok video editor to stand out fromthe crowd.
  1. Learn social media best practices: There’s no point in having social media if you don’t know how to post high-quality content that instantly connects with your target audience. Follow successful accounts that are in the same niche as you and use them as inspiration for your own content. You can also watch videos and read blog posts on how to create the best social media content.

  1. Consistency is key: As with everything in life, running successful social media accounts requires consistency. Create a content calendar with a posting schedule and make sure you stick to it. Social media is a long game so you can’t be too impatient when it comes to seeing results.

    Make sure you also track your performance on a monthly basis so you have an idea of what type of content works and what doesn’t.

  1. Video content is king: Video content is the most consumed type of content on the internet. Your social media should reflect this. 

Posting on Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and even TikTok is a good way to reach people and increase brand awareness. You should also keep in mind that TikTok has the highest organic reach of any platform, meaning your brand can leverage off TikTok’s popularity to build an audience and loyal customers.  If all that sounds complicated there are some great social media marketing tools that make it much easier.

Now that we've gotten SEO and social media out of the way, let's get into our last content marketing point (webinars) which can also be used as replacements for paid advertising.


A woman staring at her Mac computer screen, while on a webinar

If you’re looking for replacements for paid advertising, you should definitely consider using webinars to expand your reach, collect leads, and increase sales. Webinars allow brands to offer value outside of their products and services. If your brand content is centered on educating your customers, webinars will benefit you greatly because you can easily provide useful information while marketing yourself to a group of people who are interested in what you have to say.

Creating your own webinar 

Before using webinars as eplacements for paid advertising, you have to know what steps to take to host one successfully. Hosting a webinar might seem like rocket science, but it’s much simpler than it actually seems. Here are the steps you should take to make sure your webinar is a success:

  1. Choose a topic: The first step is to choose the topic you’ll be discussing in your webinar. To get inspired, think about what your audience will find useful and consider if there are any trending topics that are relevant to what your business offers. 

  1. Pick a date and time: Schedule your webinar at the best time for your audience. Think about when they’ll have time to attend a one to two hour webinar. You should also factor what time is ideal for your audience if your company has an international presence. 

  1. Make sure you have promo material for your webinar: Your promo material should match your brand identity. Use this material to spread word about your webinar across social media, email, and even on your website. 

  1. Create a hashtag: A hashtag is important for engaging your webinar attendees. Create something catchy and unique that still aligns with your brand and the topic at the hand. 

  1. Make webinar content: Webinars need slides, videos, pictures and other materials to be interactive and engaging. Make sure you’ve prepared these way before you host your webinar.

  1. Do a dry run: Practice makes perfect. No matter how good of a speaker you are or how confident you are, you can benefit from running through your webinar content. It will help you figure out if there are any aspects you need to change so the webinar runs smoothly. 

  1. Host the webinar: Today’s the day! This is when you host the webinar at the agreed upon time. You should also remember to record the webinar so that people can access it at a later stage.

  1. Follow up with attendees: Don’t just let your attendees walk away after your webinar. Ask them for feedback so that you can improve your future webinars. You can also ask them if they have any questions or requests for you.

5.  Community Building

A diverse group of people high 5-ing, which shows community building

Having an active and supportive community offers benefits such as content opportunities (for user generated content), events, education, referrals, and more. Community building also offers intangible benefits because creating a sense of belonging and togetherness for customers increases loyalty, customer retention and profit margins while decreasing customer acquisition costs. This is undoubtably what makes community building one of the most neccessary replacements for paid advertising.

How to build a strong community 

1. Engage with your customers

One of the most important things to do to build a community is to engage with your customers. This means finding them where they are – be it on social media, email, SMS, or any other communication method. 

Engaging with customers builds a relationship beyond just a transactional one and it allows you to also learn more about who your customers are and what they like.


2. Ask for feedback

You can only improve your offering and address your customers’ grievances if you ask them for feedback about their experience with your brand.

Using social listening tools to keep up with what people are saying about you is also a great way to keep up with customer feedback.

3. Create your own jargon

You should create catchy hashtags, phrases and words that are unique to your brand. This will add a sense of belonging to the members of your community. You can also get your customers to help you pick the best hashtags through online polls to make them feel included in your creative process. 

4. Align with a social mission 

Aligning your business with a cause that’s dear to your heart and complements your values will help you build your community further. You can raise awareness about this cause on all your platforms (social media, website, and even external media). Learn more about partnering with cause-related organizations here.

5. Focus on your unique selling point 

Building a community is also about creating passion in your customers. Highlighting your unique selling point (USP) is the best way to invoke passion into your community and will make people proud of being a part of your community. 


As paid advertising continues to get more expensive and competitive, businesses around the world are looking for more cost-effective alternatives that will allow them to grow. Added to this, Google plans to phase out third party cookies by mid-2023, which is why making the switch to other forms of marketing is key. Some of the 5 replacements for paid advertising you can consider switching to are referral marketing, email marketing, SEO, webinars, and giveaways.

What is Intribe? 

Intribe helps brands partner up to enjoy collaborative partnership marketing opportunities. Our clients tell us this delivers 10x the conversions of traditional advertising channels. 

We are currently running an early bird discount of 75% off our normal prices.

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