Internet advertising of businesses - statistics on usage of ads

Data from December 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update of the article: February 2019.

The internet has become an essential component of communication across the globe between marketers, advertisers and customers. More specifically, websites have become customers’ first port of call for seeking information and eventually purchasing goods or services, whether online or offline. Consequently, businesses are increasing their presence on the internet and improve their advertising practices so that current and prospective customers receive ads with content that is relevant and meaningful to them. This article presents recent statistics on businesses using paid internet advertising in the European Union (EU).

Figure 1: Enterprises advertising on the internet, 2016 (% enterprises)
Source: Eurostat (isoc_cismt)
Table 1: Enterprises' internet presence (use of internet ads by type, websites, social media), 2016
Source: Eurostat (isoc_cismt) and (isoc_ciweb)
Figure 2: Use of internet ads by type and by enterprise size, EU-28, 2016 (% enterprises using internet ads)
Source: Eurostat (isoc_cismt)
Figure 3: Use of internet ads by type and by enterprises' economic activity, EU-28, 2016 (% enterprises using internet ads)
Source: Eurostat (isoc_cismt)
Figure 4: Enterprises having a website and using internet ads, 2016 (% enterprises)
Source: Eurostat (isoc_cismt) and (isoc_ciweb), see list of country codes

Main statistical findings

  • Most (77 %) EU businesses have a website and one out of four (25 %) used internet advertising in 2016.
  • Businesses’ favourite form of targeted internet advertising was to use information from the content of the webpages viewed by internet users (contextual advertising; 78 % of businesses using internet ads).
  • More than half (53 %) of EU businesses providing accommodation services used internet ads; the vast majority of those (83 %) used contextual advertising methods.
  • Internet advertising is not only used by companies that sell to consumers online. In fact, it is mostly used by companies selling offline.

Ads that reach the right audience with relevant and meaningful content

In an effort to maximise profits and the effectiveness of their ads, businesses constantly develop innovative advertising practices, embracing the most advanced digital technologies available. As can be expected, companies run their marketing campaigns on the internet and practise using targeted advertisement methods that increase the likelihood of their promotional marketing messages reaching the right audience.

For this purpose, businesses use technologies embedded in websites and apps that choose ads based on the content of the web pages internet surfers view. This is commonly known as online contextual advertising. Internet users are presented with adverts that automated systems (ad servers) have selected for them based on the content of the webpage they are browsing. Similarly, contextual advertising can be based on the specific keywords used in the user's latest query from the same device. In this way there is always a positive correlation between internet ads and users’ interests, based on either the content of the webpages or keywords from queries.

In addition to contextual advertising, businesses may use behavioural targeting. This, another targeted form of internet advertising, is based on information about users’ past browsing activities recorded by cookies. The digital trace of users’ activities on the internet over time is an important source of information on their interests, preferences and shopping activities. Businesses may use this information to determine whether an internet user belongs to a specific target audience, subsequently sending internet ads matching the user’s profile.

Browsers for accessing the internet provide geolocation services, essentially attempting to locate users’ IP address, Wi-Fi or network location. Internet users' geographic location such as the country, region, city and often zip code provide useful information for targeting suitable advertisements, for example about restaurants nearby. The use of geo-targeting advertising can be combined with using contextual advertising or behavioural targeting in order to further identify the needs of a potential customer.

Information on the use of the remaining targeted advertising practices, not covered by the dynamic ones mentioned above, was collected in a single category. It concerned the use of static internet ads on:

  • subject-specific websites (e.g. displaying ads on spare parts of car engines on websites on vehicles or automotive themes); or
  • websites such as online newspapers, magazines or blogs for a specific audience.

Use of internet ads by businesses

In the last 15 years the internet has redefined traditional broadcast media — television and radio — as well as print media, such as magazines and newspapers. It offers a number of new or extended services, particularly in marketing and advertising. In 2016, some 25 % of EU businesses employing at least 10 people reported using internet advertising. Among the EU Member States in 2016, internet advertising was used by a third or more of enterprises in Malta (46 %), Sweden (42 %), Denmark (40 %), Ireland, Lithuania and Finland (all 33 %), while it concerned less than 20 % of enterprises in Romania (12 %), Portugal (15 %), France and Italy (both 18 %) as well as Bulgaria and Hungary (both 19 %).

The use of contextual advertising was far more popular than the other types of targeted internet advertising. This is most likely to be because the technologies embedded into webpages are easy to implement. Some 78 % of EU businesses advertising on the internet used information from the content of internet surfers’ webpages or keywords from their queries to identify the audience accurately before sending relevant ads. In eleven EU countries this type of advertising was used by more than 80 % of businesses.

Behavioural targeting and geo-targeting were used by 27 % and 30 % of EU businesses respectively. Some 35 % of businesses reported using other targeted internet advertising methods than those mentioned above. For behavioural targeting, the highest shares were recorded in Cyprus (48 %), the Netherlands and Finland (both 42 %). Geo-targeting was used by more than half of businesses advertising on-line in Cyprus (53 %) and by around 40 % of them in Ireland (43 %), Malta (41 %), the Netherlands (40 %), Latvia and Finland (both 39 %).

As Figure 2 shows, for the businesses that used internet ads, their size was not the decisive factor in determining whether they used contextual advertising rather than behavioural targeting or geo-targeting ads. Contextual advertising was used by 78 % of SMEs and 81 % of large companies, behavioural targeting by 26 % of SMEs but 43 % of large companies, and geo-targeting ads by 30 % of SMEs but 41 % of large companies.

As Figure 3 shows, for companies that used internet ads, those providing accommodation services most fully embraced contextual advertising (83 %). In the specific economic sector, behavioural targeting and geo-targeting were used by 37 % and 35 % of EU businesses respectively.

The use of highly dynamic features provided by websites’ advanced functionalities and social media has allowed companies not only to embrace this new generation of internet communication platforms but also to extend the reach of their advertising. Some 77 % of EU businesses reported having a website, out of which 24 % reported using internet advertising as well. Almost all businesses that reported using internet advertising had a website. As shown in Figure 4, the points cluster in a band from the lower left to the upper right, thus showing a positive relationship between businesses with a website (vertical axis) and those that use internet advertising (horizontal axis).

Social media are mainly used by businesses to build their image and market their products. In 2016, 45 % of EU businesses used social media, such as social networks, blogs, content-sharing sites or wikis. Some 18 % used internet advertising as well.

Internet advertising is not only used by companies that sell to consumers online. In fact, it is mostly used by companies selling offline. Out of 25 % of EU businesses advertising on the internet, only 7 % also made web sales to consumers.

Data sources and availability

The data presented in this article are based on the results of the 2016 European Union survey on ‘ICT usage and e-commerce in enterprises’.

Statistics were obtained from business surveys conducted by national statistical authorities in 2016. The statistical observation unit is the 'enterprise', as set out in Regulation 696/1993. The survey covered enterprises (i.e. businesses) employing at least 10 people.

Economic activities correspond to the NACE Revision 2 classification. The sectors covered are manufacturing; electricity, gas and steam; water supply; construction; wholesale and retail trades; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles; transportation and storage; accommodation and food service activities; information and communication; real estate; professional, scientific and technical activities; administrative and support activities; and repair of computers and communication equipment. Businesses are broken down by size into small (employing 10-49 people), medium (50-249 people) and large companies (250 or more people).

In 2016, 148 000 out of 1.6 million businesses in the EU-28 were surveyed. Of the 1.6 million, approximately 83 % were small businesses, 14 % were medium and 3 % were large.

Data in tables shown as ‘:’ refer to data that are unavailable, unreliable, confidential or not applicable. Unreliable data are included in the calculation of European aggregates.

Figure 4: only countries that have reported both enterprises having a website and enterprises using internet ads are presented in the graph.

Data presented in this article refer exclusively to paid internet advertising (paid ads) and may differ from data in the database, due to updates made after data were extracted for use in this publication.


The Digital Single Marketfor Europe is a major priority of the European Commission. The strategy is built on three pillars: (1) better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; (2) creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish; (3) maximising the growth potential of the digital economy. Online platforms — parts of which are social media — play an increasingly central role in social and economic life and are an important part of a thriving internet-enabled economy.

The wider EU policy interest is to spot business opportunities for launching services based on the internet and key enabling technologies such as social media, cloud computing,use of 3D printing, etc. Websites offering dynamic features to visitors and participation in social media are an important part of the digital technologies that businesses use to increase their internet presence, improve marketing and advertising opportunities, and communicate and interact with partners, customers and other organisations. In this context, internet advertising enables businesses to market their products and services more effectively and to improve their targeting of relevant audiences.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Main tables


ICT usage in enterprises (isoc_e)
Websites and use of social media (isoc_cism)
Websites and functionalities (isoc_ciweb)
Social media use by type (isoc_cismt)
Social media use by purpose (isoc_cismp)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

  • Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 of 21 April 2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EC) No 960/2008 of 30 September 2008 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EC) No 1023/2009 of 29 October 2009 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) No 821/2010 of 17 September 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) No 937/2011 of 21 September 2011 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) No 1083/2012 of 19 November 2012 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) No 859/2013 of 5 September 2013 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) No 1196/2014 of 30 October 2014 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EU) 2015/2003 of 10 November 2015 implementing Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
  • Regulation (EC) No 696/1993 of 15 March 1993 on the statistical units for the observation and analysis of the production system in the Community

External links