Google Ads vs Facebook Ads: Which Is Best for Your Company?

For every business, the marketing mix will undoubtedly look different, be that the composition of digital vs more traditional marketing efforts, or the composition of activities and channels that make up a digital marketing strategy.

In this article, we’ll give a comprehensive introduction to two of the largest paid advertising platforms, Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) and Facebook Ads, with the ultimate aim of helping you decide which of these channels may be most appropriate for advertising your business.

Before we get started, it’s worth noting that many businesses effectively utilize both platforms as part of their digital marketing strategy, to achieve maximum visibility and target users at different stages of the conversion journey.

Both Facebook and Google Ads fall into the broader marketing of PPC (or pay-per-click advertising), where the advertiser pays for each click (or thousand impressions). Therefore, both channels require you to pay for results, so the first thing you need to consider before choosing to advertise on either of these channels is whether you have the budget available.

It’s nearly impossible to suggest an advertising budget, as, in the case of both channels, an appropriate advertising budget will vary hugely, depending on the industry in which you are operating, and the audience that you are targeting, among other factors. For this reason, it’s worth doing some projections and forecasting before you get started. Both Facebook and Google have built-in planning tools to help you do this.

What Is Google Ads?

Google is the world’s most popular and widely used search engine, handling more than 3.5 billion searches per day. Google Ads allows you to place targeted adverts on the search results page in front of your ideal audience.

For this article, ‘Google Ads’ will primarily refer to Search Engine Marketing via Google Search and Shopping (as opposed to Google Display Network or YouTube – we’ll mention them where relevant).

In the case of Google Search, this is namely keyword targeting. Advertisers can choose specific keywords or phrases that they’d like to target based on their unique product or service offering. For example, the below yoga accessory supplier is targeting “yoga mat” as a keyword:

When it comes to Google Shopping, advertisers can’t target particular keywords, but rather, advertisers are required to upload data about any products they wish to advertise on Google. Once advertisers have provided the required information, Google will use these product attributes to match a user’s search query to relevant products. See an example below of the Google Shopping results for my “yoga mat” search:

It’s also worth noting that Google Shopping is only suitable for advertising physical products, so while it’s invaluable to showcase your product catalog as an eCommerce business, you can immediately rule out this Google Ads channel if your business is service-based, e.g offering yoga classes or yoga teacher training courses.

Advertisers also can overlay several additional targeting options on top of their keywords and product data. This includes:

  • Location targeting: the ability to target users who are in (or interested in) particular countries, cities, or even specific postcodes
  • Ad schedule targeting: the ability to control whether ads show at particular times of the day or on particular days of the week
  • Device targeting: the ability to target particular devices e.g mobile, desktop, tablet
  • Demographic targeting: the ability to target users differently based on their gender, age, parental status, and/or household income
  • Audience targeting: the ability to target users that fall into particular audiences, which can include (among others):
  • Website visitors/remarketing: users who have previously visited your website e.g all users over the past 30 days
  • Similar audiences: a type of audience auto-generated by Google, which creates a group of users with similar characteristics to your existing remarketing audiences
  • Affinity audiences: users grouped based on their passions, habits, and interests e.g fitness enthusiasts
  • In-market audiences: users grouped based on their recent purchase intent e.g in the market for fitness equipment

Based on the above, it’s easy to see why Google Ads can be an incredibly effective way to find new customers for your business. Both Google Search and Google Shopping Ads are preceded by a user search (such as “yoga mat”), meaning that the user is likely already in a buying mindset when they are served with an ad.

Combined with the wealth of targeting criteria available, strategic bid and budget management, and engaging ad copy and creativity, advertisers can reach the right users, with the right message, at the right time.

What Is Facebook Ads?

Facebook Ads Manager allows you to place ads across Facebook, Instagram, and the Audience Network. If you use Facebook or Instagram personally, you’ll undoubtedly have spotted some ads during your time browsing, whether that be in the newsfeed, stories, the Messenger app, or most recently across Facebook Marketplace.

Below is an example from my Facebook Newsfeed:

The core difference, however, is that Facebook/Instagram don’t benefit from user intent in the same way that Google does, as the user has not initiated the process of searching before being served an ad. The intent of Facebook and Instagram users at any given moment is harder to discern, while they may be in a purchase mindset, they may also have logged in to a social media platform to catch up with friends and family, read the latest news, or check out memes.

However, to compensate for the difficulties surrounding user intent on Facebook, the audience targeting options are far more detailed than those offered on Google Ads.

While Google Ads allows keyword/product-focused targeting, Facebook Ads helps users find businesses based on who they are. In addition to the location and demographics options found on Google Ads, Facebook’s demographic targeting options encompass life events (e.g engagement, marriage, moving house, getting a dog), parental status (down to the granularity of the age of the user’s children), and marital status.

Facebook also offers extensive interest and behavioral targeting options, allowing advertisers to target users based on a wealth of characteristics such as the brands they like, hobbies they have, TV shows they watch (interest targeting), as well as their digital activities, consumer classification, and travel habits (behavioral targeting).

Advertisers also can create remarketing audiences (users who have previously interacted with your website or social profiles), as well as lookalikes – an audience generated by Facebook, which creates a group of users with similar characteristics to your existing remarketing audiences.

Thanks to this huge range of targeting options available on Facebook, it’s a great platform for users to discover new brands, or to be inspired by new products and services from brands they already love.

Are There Any Similarities Between Google Ads and Facebook Ads?

As I’ve highlighted above, the biggest difference between the platforms is intent on Facebook when compared to Google Ads. However, they share some key similarities.

On either platform, once you have determined your budget and initially allocated this across campaigns, campaigns must be carefully monitored and optimized to drive your desired results, be that generating leads at a target cost or achieving a set ROI.

Both platforms reward advertisers that deliver quality, relevant ads to their audience with better ad delivery and/or cheaper traffic.

Creating these high-quality ads requires expertise to ensure these ads are delivered in the most effective way possible:

  • To create high-performing ad creative and copy
  • To effectively allocate (and reallocate) budgets
  • Strategically apply select strategies (or manually manage bids)
  • Apply appropriate targeting settings

As mentioned earlier in this article, there is also some overlap between the audience targeting capabilities across both Google and Facebook. While Facebook’s targeting criteria are more in-depth than that offered on Google, both platforms offer demographic, location, device, and interest targeting capabilities, as well as the functionality to build your remarketing lists and similar/lookalike audiences.

As a result, if you are advertising across both platforms, audience performance on one channel can be used to inform the other, and vice versa.

Ultimately, if you want to start running ads on either platform, I’d recommend taking some of Google and/or Facebook’s free training courses online before you get started, or enlisting the help of an agency. This will give you the best chance of making the most of your advertising budget and help you avoid incurring wasted spend.

Should I Choose Google Ads or Facebook Ads for My Business?

Now that you have an understanding of what Google Ads and Facebook Ads are, and are aware of some of their similarities, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of advertising on each platform.

Advantages of Google Ads

Volume – As the world’s most popular and widely used search engine, Google is widely considered to be the leader in online advertising. 3.5 billion searches are made on Google every single day, with the volume of Google searches increasing by 10% every year.

Intent – Google offers advertisers access to an unprecedented and unequaled potential audience of users, who, as we have discussed, are actively looking for goods and services. the purchase or lead intent of the user is all but guaranteed when targeting hyper-relevant, long-tail keywords (e.g. purple yoga and barre mat).

Advanced – Google Ads is arguably the most advanced advertising platform, allowing advertisers access to the greatest volume of data and technical features, such as automated bidding, responsive ad copy, and attribution reporting. Effectively analyzing this data and strategically utilizing these features can enable advertisers to drive better performance and improved results. This extensive volume of data can help advertisers not only understand their performance within the Google Ads interface but also how this advertising activity influences performance across other digital channels.

Suitable for all industries – Advertising on Google is suited better to particular industries, where Facebook may not be as appropriate, for example submitting an inquiry to a law firm, purchasing car insurance, or investing in property. A user is less likely to scroll through Facebook and decide to hire a law firm based on seeing a great ad, whereas placing an ad for your law firm on Google can help you secure a prominent position in the SERPs and win those customers who are already searching for legal services.

Suitable for B2B – Google can be a wiser choice for those offering B2B services or products. If people are tasked with making a purchase while at work, they’ll head to a search engine to do this, not for a scroll through Instagram (hopefully!). This means Google Ads is a good choice for businesses selling B2B training courses, or commercial and industrial products.

Advantages of Facebook Ads

That being said, the same principle works in the reverse when it comes to Facebook Ads.

Creating intent – if you’re a fan of luxury skincare products, you may not set out to buy any skincare on any given day. However, if you pop onto Facebook and see a particularly engaging ad advertising a great-looking brand you’ve never heard of, or if your favorite skincare brand is having a sale or launching a new product, you’re still likely to make a purchase. It’s in these spontaneous purchase scenarios that Facebook Ads trump Google Ads. Even if a user is not actively searching for a product on Google or in a purchase mindset, appropriate audience targeting and engaging ad creative on Facebook can result in a sale.

Reach – Facebook has further advantages, while it does have a smaller audience than Google, the potential audience reach is by no means small. The platform has an estimated 1.66 billion daily active users and it’s estimated that 66% of Facebook’s total audience is active every day.

Targeting – As already discussed, Facebook’s audience targeting capabilities are unparalleled, as people share so many details about their lives on Facebook – everything from engagement announcements to restaurant choices and holiday snaps – as well as engaging with content that is highly indicative of their interests, beliefs, ideologies, and values. This provides advertisers with the opportunity to be even more targeted with their messaging and content than they can be on Google.

Cost – Typically, Facebook is a slightly cheaper platform to advertise on than Google, offering lower CPCs on the whole. In particular sectors, such as finance and insurance, CPCs can be as high as $54 on Google! Therefore, if you’re an advertiser just starting with a relatively small budget, Facebook advertising may be a more viable option for you than Google. That said, thanks to the extensive range of targeting options and ad formats, the platform has the potential to drive a good ROI for both limited and large budgets.

Visuals – Facebook is also a very visual platform, which lends itself well to products and services that can be showcased in an aesthetically pleasing way, particularly those that fall into the broader categories of fashion and beauty, health and fitness, or food and dining. Ad formats such as carousel and collection ads allow advertisers to use multiple images and/or videos to showcase their products or services. In addition, story formats are interruptive, immersive, full-screen experiences that – when executed well – are guaranteed to grab a user’s attention.

Disadvantages of Google Ads vs Facebook Ads

As alluded to above, particular industries or topics that have a high search volume on Google can be very expensive and highly competitive.

Such topics include; insurance, loans, mortgages, and attorneys. If you’re operating in one of these areas and your budget is limited, or you’re a new or lesser-known brand, it may be very expensive and challenging to stand out in the SERPs.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a new brand and/or a brand offering a unique product or service, you may experience the opposite problem: low search volume.

This essentially means that nobody (or very few people) is searching for your keywords, meaning that you won’t get/enough traffic. In this scenario, Facebook Ads may be a better choice, as you can use them to raise awareness of your brand amongst relevant audiences, who will hopefully then search for your brand further down the line.

Disadvantages of Facebook Ads

While the inherently visual nature of Facebook and Instagram can be advantageous for some, it may present a greater challenge for certain industries, it’s more difficult to create a beautiful Instagram story showcasing car insurance products compared to a new lipstick collection.

In addition to this, not all businesses have creative and design abilities in-house, so producing high-quality ad creative (particularly videos) may present an additional expense. This is in contrast to Google Ads, where you only need to be able to input a few lines of text about your product/service to run an ad.

The Facebook Ads platform is also somewhat less advanced than Google Ads (Google Adwords has been around since 2000, whereas Facebook Ads wasn’t introduced until 2007). The measurement, attribution, and reporting solutions are less extensive and generally considered to be slightly less accurate, with a common criticism being that Facebook reporting frequently upweights Facebook channel performance.

So What’s Next?

For many businesses, the question should not be: should I use Google Ads or Facebook Ads? But rather, how can I utilize the strengths of both advertising platforms to maximize visibility and target users at different stages of the conversion journey?

Your existing levels of brand awareness, the industry in which you operate, and the product/services you are promoting, will impact your approach to advertising on both of these platforms. Facebook Ads can be used to raise awareness of your brand or showcase new offerings, while Google Ads are great for capturing users who are already searching for relevant products and services.

Ultimately, both Google Ads and Facebook Ads are invaluable platforms for advertisers to grow and expand their businesses.

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