5 Ways Firearm Brands Can Advertise Online WITHOUT Google Ads and Facebook Ads
Every marketing leader knows that Facebook, Instagram, and Google rule when it comes to digital customer acquisition and engagement.
Except, there’s a problem every shooting sports brand faces.
Facebook’s (and as an extension, Instagram’s) advertising policy specifically prohibits the promotion of websites selling firearms and ammunition. And Google, which owns YouTube, is even more strict. In 2014, Google banned the sale of “dangerous products or services,” which includes – you guessed it – firearms and ammunition.
Facebook ads are still allowed to promote gun blogs or groups connecting gun enthusiasts, but if an ad directly (or indirectly) links to a landing page where guns can be purchased, your ad campaign is a no-go.
So, does this mean your digital marketing plan is a done deal?
Not a chance!
Here are 5 clever ways to advertise guns, ammunition, and gun accessories online without the use of Facebook Advertising or Google AdWords – [Bonus Content]
1. Invest in On-Page and Off-Page SEO
Most marketing leaders at Shooting Sports brands know that search engine optimization (SEO) is absolutely critical for acquiring new customers that are searching Google for purchase-intent keywords like “best AR-15” or “rifle scope reviews.” When customers type “gun retailers near me” or other desirable terms into their search bar, SEO is the special sauce that can get your website to places that money can’t buy (at least for the shooting sports industry): premium page one placements that actually result in organic traffic that converts.
There are two types of SEO that matter for gun and ammunition marketing: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.
On-Page SEO refers to your website and is impacted by factors including site speed, content, mobile-friendliness, and site structure- all of which are easy to control.
How Can You Make Your Website Faster?
Perhaps the easiest step to take is to optimize your site for speed by either upgrading your site’s hosting package or moving to a more capable host. As a general rule, if your web developer wants to put you on “their own server,” you’re signing up for more headaches than you realize. We recommend sticking to reputable third party hosts like WP Engine for WordPress Sites or AWS (Amazon) or Bluehost for Magento sites. Of course if your site is on Shopify or Big Commerce, hosting is taken care of. You can also improve your site speed by running speed tests, identifying slow-loading elements like oversized images, and minifying them. Not only will your site be faster, but you’ll have improved the user experience, too!
What makes for good content for On-Page SEO?
You can also improve your site’s content by providing robust, reader-friendly articles that help them solve their problems relevant to your products. For example, Hoppes.com doesn’t feature content around shooting tips, but instead focuses on gun cleaning tips and tricks that are relevant to their product offering- and as a result, to their customers.
Marketing leaders that are tasked with marketing firearms-related products should also take advantage of free resources like Moz’s free Keyword Explorer. Gun brands and their marketing leaders can use the Keyword Explorer tool to identify opportunities for content development.
The more helpful your posts are, the easier it is for your posts to rank higher on search engine results pages and get shared on social media by shooting sports enthusiasts.
And, here’s a fun fact for you: the average Google page one search result contains 1,890 words.
In 2020, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you can bet that you’re hemorrhaging traffic. The majority of all Google searches (and customer purchase journeys) begin on a mobile device. Work with your web development team to make sure that your website is responsive and user-friendly for screens of all-sizes. Not sure where to start? Check out Google’s Developer Resources for a checklist to get started.
Finally, be sure to organize your site in a way that makes sense for the user. If your site contains a bunch of broken links and is hard to navigate, you’re not doing your shooting sports brand any favors!
2. Automated Email Marketing
Email marketing is still a digital marketer’s best – and most effective – digital marketing asset, even more so for firearms and firearms accessory brands.
Although often seen as “old school” by some, email marketing is still a digital marketer’s best – and most effective – friend.
In fact, according to Hubspot, email marketing generates $38 for every dollar spent and over 59% of all marketing leaders consider email to be their most profitable marketing channel. Further, emails pertaining to readers’ hobbies (shooting sports!) receive an astronomical 27.35% average open rate according to Mailchimp.
Before you hit “Send” on that next email, beware of falling prey to every rookie marketer’s first mistake – the dreadful newsletter “blast.”
Although sending a one-size-fits-all newsletter seems easy and cost-effective, you’re essentially leaving bags of money on the table.
Don’t believe us?
Here are some more fun facts for you: personalized emails deliver 6X higher transaction rates and marketers have seen a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.
In other words, when sending an email, always remember the cardinal rule of marketing: those who sell to everyone sell to no one. Be sure your list is segmented according to your customers’ interests and that your emails are tailored to fit your customer’s needs by giving value to your subscribers. For example, a loyal customer that purchases .556 ammunition from your site once a month may not be interested in a new laser for a handgun.
A simple way to get started with personalization is to add interest checkboxes to your sign-up form according to your firearms brand’s basic categories and interest areas. When customers join your email list, they should be able to choose whether they want emails related to hunting, law enforcement, competitive shooting, or concealed carry, for example.
Also, brands should always work to continually segment their lists based on secondary information like geographical location or how they joined the list. For example, it doesn’t do any good to send an email promoting silencers to a customer who’s stuck in California (sigh…). For more information on how to get started with behavioral email targeting, read Hubspot’s comprehensive guide here.
Aside from narrow-targeting your emails, you should also take advantage of automated email flows. It’s critical for shooting sports brands and their marketing leaders to set up a welcome campaign for new subscribers and browse abandonment and cart abandonment campaigns to reclaim lost ecommerce sales. Another favorite automation of ours is a customer win-back campaign. For example, if someone bought hunting apparel from your site over a year ago, why not send them a one-time offer to “win them back” and get them re-engaged with your brand?
There are a multitude of email marketing software options available, but we typically recommend Emarsys for enterprise level clients and Klaviyo or Sendlane for smaller clients looking to maximize their bang for their email marketing buck.
3. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is a great opportunity for shooting sports marketers to reach new customers through social media channels. 92 percent of customers trust word-of-mouth advertising, even if the customer doesn’t know the individual personally. As ad blockers continue to become more prevalent, influencer marketing is fastly growing in popularity as an effective tool for digital marketing. Plus, influencers typically reach a higher percentage of their followers than and brand account.
“But wait!” you say. “I don’t have a $1M budget to pay Jerry Miculek to promote my products!”
And, that’s okay. Thanks largely to Instagram, it’s now easier than ever for lesser-known individuals to build a niche, yet significant audience and become influencers in their own right. Micro- and Nano-Influencers are extremely cost-effective and open up influencer marketing opportunities for shooting sports brands of all sizes.
Instead of reaching out to the hottest names in the firearms industry, try reaching out to lesser known individuals like Reginald Kaigler (also known as Demcad) who has over 66,000 YouTube followers or Jack Spirko (the host of The Survival Podcast) who has over 107,000 Facebook likes.
By collaborating on lifestyle photos, product reviews, and contests, you can quickly and easily reach a large and engaged audience of shooting sports enthusiasts.
Another great tactic for digital marketers in the shooting sports industry is to partner with influencers to “white label” ads through the influencer accounts. While gun manufacturers and retailers can’t directly run ads on Facebook and Instagram to sell firearms, influencers can pay to promote their content that reviews a firearms product but doesn’t link to a website where guns and ammunition are sold. This strategy is incredibly effective and every marketing leader in the shooting sports industry should consider it.
4. Affiliate Marketing and Digital Media Buying
Affiliate marketing presents an opportunity for firearm retailers to reach their target audience at an affordable price.
By creating your own affiliate program, you can reward content publishers based on performance (i.e. sales) rather than paying a fixed rate upfront. Many of them will also be happy to trade products for the promotion, which lessens the strain on your marketing budget. Sites like Commission Junction and ShareaSale are great places to start; just be sure to either allocate at least a couple of hours every week to campaign management after the campaigns are up and running or plan on bringing in a strategic marketing partner like Fidelitas to help.
Digital media buying is another alternative for reaching potential customers. Even though Google and Facebook won’t take your marketing dollars (at least, not directly), there are many third party display networks that are great for serving retargeting ads or executing branding campaigns. The trick is to make sure your target markets are well-defined, your creative is well-designed, and your tracking pixels are installed properly in order to truly measure the effectiveness of each campaign.
5. Social Media Marketing
Facebook may not allow gun and ammunition brands to use paid advertising to promote their products, but – for now – there are no restrictions against organic social posts. With 2.45 billion active users spending an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook, retailers would be foolish not to take advantage.
As with any marketing tool, be sure to know your target audience – and your competitors – like the back of your hand to ensure your messaging is effective.
Focus on creating eye-catching, shareable content to persuade your customers to pay attention. Video is always your best friend for increasing engagement on social channels. Every shooting sports brand should have a content creation budget in 2020, or should be outsourcing those needs directly to influencers or a full service marketing agency like Fidelitas.
That said, there are some major loopholes in Facebook’s advertising regulations for Facebook and Instagram. Marketing leaders at accessories brands and ecommerce sites can run ads if they meet a strict set of standards, including not linking to any page that sells firearms or ammunition. If you’re interested in navigating these murky waters, contact Fidelitas today.
BONUS CONTENT – Podcasts
Podcasts represent a great content marketing opportunity for shooting sports brands and retailers alike. Podcasting is booming, with over 51% of Americans having listened to a podcast and over 80% of podcast listeners listening to all or nearly all of every episode they download. This trend is only going to increase, meaning that there’s no time like the present to jump into the world of podcasting.
If your firearms or ammunition brand (or budget) isn’t big enough to merit producing your own podcast, consider partnering with podcasts that already have an established audience that would be lucrative for your brand to reach. Similar to an influencer marketing campaign, podcast pricing is all over the place and many hosts and show producers would be happy to work out a trade agreement. Promo codes are one way to track the ROI on a brand’s investment into podcasting, but we recommend simplifying everything down to a cpm (cost per thousand impressions) rate in order to truly gain an apples-to-apples perspective in comparison with your other marketing efforts.
Update: January 2023
Firearm Marketing Laws To Consider
Firearm marketing laws are a complex issue. While it’s generally permissible to advertise legal firearms and accessories within a given state, things can get murky once you start advertising across state lines. If a product is not legal in a state, then it’s best that you do not advertise that product to individuals within that state.
If you do, then you could be opening yourself up to civil lawsuits. Back in July 2022, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against two Florida-based firearm retailers for advertising and selling large-capacity magazines to New Jersey residents. Since those products were prohibited in New Jersey, the state sued the retailers for violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The lawsuit was successful, and the dealers paid a combined $325,000 in civil penalties.
The New Jersey Attorney General even plans on going after manufacturers and retailers who manufacture, distribute, and market LEGAL firearms under the state’s public nuisance laws.
As more states adopt some such measures, advertisers will need to decide whether advertising in those states is worth the risk.
Unlike most states, California is taking steps that many believe could lead to an outright ban on gun advertising. On June 30, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB2571 into law.
This new law states,
“This bill would prohibit a firearm industry member, as defined, from advertising or marketing any firearm-related product, as defined, in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to minors.”
The law also explicitly banned firearm retailers from using minors in firearms marketing, collecting data on minors for advertising purposes, and engaging in gun advertising using colors, sizes, or designs made to appeal to minors.
Each violation of the advertising law will be met with a $25,000 fine and would open the advertiser up to civil lawsuits.
The law went into effect immediately and was met with pushback from gun-right advocacy groups within the state who claim the law violates their 1st, 2nd, and 14th amendment rights.
So far the law has survived legal challenges.
Will The FTC Regulate Firearms Marketing?
Not long after California passed its controversial gun advertising law, 12 senators petitioned the acting FTC Chair, Lina Khan, to investigate and potentially regulate the firearms marketing industry. The senators who signed the letter were from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York.
The complaint took issue with the use of marketing ploys directed at children. This included using “video games, musicians and television shows, and even Santa Claus.”
The FTC Chair has yet to release a statement on the matter.
Publisher Regulations On Firearm Advertising
While most states have banned gun advertising, most major publishers have.
Twitter has a blanket prohibition against weapons advertising; this includes not only firearms but also firearm accessories and ammunition. It’s unknown how long this policy will stay in effect now that Elon Musk is changing the rules at Twitter.
Pinterest also prohibits users from advertising guns, gun accessories, or ammunition. This blanket policy even applies to airsoft, paintball, and firearm replicas.
TikTok takes a more aggressive stance toward gun advertising. It is against TikTok’s community guidelines to post, upload, stream, or share content depicting firearms. There are several exceptions to these rules, but retailers shouldn’t try running ads on the platform. Meta also has a strong stance against promoting firearms, attachments, and ammunition. The platform prohibits ads from promoting these types of products on both of its platforms. Meta’s guidelines go so far as to state that users cannot advertise business entities whose main trade is firearms.