Facebook ads vs Paid Search

For some time now, Facebook ads have been all the rage. Practically every company is looking to capitalize on the Facebook phenomenon. This is especially true of businesses who are new to the digital world and unaware that there are other options.

The fact is that Facebook ads are not the only way to go. Take these numbers into consideration: in 2015, digital advertising revenue reached $60 billion. While Facebook ads did account for $8 billion of that number, that still means a full $52 million went to other paid search providers. Clearly, Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love FB ads. They are great, really. But it is important to examine and understand the fundamental difference between paid search and Facebook ads.

Ultimately, the difference is pretty big. It’s like the difference between being the hunter or the hunted or being the starting player versus sitting in the stands watching.

And it all comes down to the psychology of the target audience.

Intent and Why it Matters

When a user is conducting a keyword search on Google, several conditions must be met before they even start typing in the search box:

  1. They know that they want.
  2. They know or assume that the information/solution/product/service already exists and can fulfill his need/wish.
  3. They are ready to see results … Now!

If all these pieces are in place, then the user will proceed with their search and see what comes up.

Not All Search Terms are Created Equal

If a user is looking for information on “dental implants” they may not be as far along in the process as someone searching for “dental implants dentist new york”. The latter search indicates that the user is more ready to take action and actually call a dentist to make an appointment. They are in a different mindset. They are actively on the path to making a purchasing decision.

Even if they are still at the “top of the sales funnel”, they are more likely get to the point where they make a purchase faster than someone using more general search terms. For businesses, looking at search volume can be an important indication of demand and search habits can show an active intent to make a purchase, which is the perfect time to start nurturing that lead.

Social Media and Facebook? Well, That’s a Whole Different Ball Game

Facebook, Twitter or other social networks are probably not going to be a user’s first choice when they are looking for information or a service provider.

Social network users are there to engage with posts, browse their feeds, find new friends, chat and watch videos of kittens being kittens.

Social media users are not very goal oriented or active. Based on their behavior, we can’t say for sure what’s on their minds.

For instance, if we target someone who showed interest in dental implants, does this mean they need or want dental implants now? Does it mean that dental implants are still a timely topic in their lives or are we serving ads based on a post they liked and shared 3 years ago?

We can’t tell, so the chances that they are ready to act now on what we are offering are far lower than if a user is actively searching for specific keywords through Google or another search engine. 

But Facebook Ads Are So Much Cheaper!

That is a common refrain among businesses looking to cut corners, but there is a difference between cost and value.

When you look at Cost Per Click (CPC) numbers, sure Facebook is usually going to be cheaper. The average CPC for a Facebook book in 2016 was $0.28 while the AdWords CPC average was $2.32. That means that, on average, Facebook ads were 88% cheaper, making it easy to understand why businesses are drawn in by the allure of a lower price tag.

In fact, Facebook will probably also be cheaper when it comes to cost per lead. But when it comes to cost per acquisition (CPA) now that’s where things get trickier…

The lead-to-purchase conversion rates are usually much lower if your main traffic source is social ads compared with paid searches. This means that the actual CPA can be much cheaper with paid search!

So with Facebook and social ads, the CPC is cheaper but the CPA is expensive? Tricky, huh?

It doesn’t help that the numbers don’t always play out that way. The actual costs will depend on a variety of factors, including how well you educate and nurture your leads and what kind of brand authority you have been able to establish. Ultimately, regardless of the traffic source, ad performance relies heavily on having solid sales funnel in place.

That being said, it is wrong to assume that Facebook will always be “cheaper” than paid search.

Logic 101: Designing a Strategy that Works

When it comes to finding the right balance between Facebook ads and paid search, this is the logical approach we use:

If a keyword has proven demand and we can identify solid search volumes for it, we will first test its performance in Google Adwords with paid search. We consider properly managed search traffic to be the best route because it is connecting with customers who have clear intent and are ready to get in the game.

If the conversion rates simply aren’t there with paid search, then it may be time to rethink the funnel. In these types of cases, we will not expand to any other channel until conversion rates and CPAs make sense.

Essentially, we will only expand when we get solid conversion rates from paid search, because if somebody didn’t convert through paid search, he will not connect through social, where the intent is less or non-existent.

No Demand? No problem!

There are certain instances when social ads are clearly the way to go. In many cases, companies are advertising a revolutionary product that has never been seen before. This means that there won’t be any search volume numbers. Take the fidget spinner, for example.Before the fidget spinner was invented, nobody was going on Google searching for it … Obviously, in these cases, social ads would be the first choice for building recognition.

The PPC Bottom Line

Choosing the best PPC platform is not a trivial decision and certainly shouldn’t be made based on the latest fad. Remember: cheaper doesn’t always mean better or that you are actually getting more for your money.

Your Turn

What has been your experience with Facebook ads? What advice do you have to offer when it comes to social ads and paid search?

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