Facebook Ads vs. Google Ads: Where is Your Audience Likely to Engage?

Databox polled dozens of marketers to learn which ad platform delivers a better return on ad spend, the best use cases for each, and more.

Avatar Dann Albright on July 11, 2018 (last modified on July 13, 2018) • 14 minute read

There are few names bigger in the digital advertising space than Google and Facebook.

Both platforms give companies access to billions of users and seemingly limitless targeting capabilities.

So, which ones are marketers seeing better engagement in?

According to our research, 52% of marketers say that their audience is more likely to engage with their ads on Facebook rather than Google. [Tweet this stat.]


Still, 45% of marketers said that their audience was more likely to engage with their ads on Google over Facebook, hardly the disparity someone looking for direction needs.

Since most businesses rarely split their advertising costs down the middle, but rather allocate resources based on performance, we polled dozens of marketers to learn which ad platform has delivered a better return on ad spend, and why.

We wanted to know: when you’re launching your ad campaign, which platform sees better engagement? Where do you see a better return on ad spend?

Here are five questions they said you should ask before you commit to your ad buy, as well as a few other factors to keep in mind.

Editor’s note: Want an easy way to measure the ROI of all of your ad spend? Browse our library of free templates for Google Ads and Facebook Ads and visualize your ad data in seconds.

Which performs better?

Many marketers recommended testing both Google and Facebook Ads to see which performs better.

“Both AdWords and Facebook are great online advertising platforms and we recommend them both,” says Mark Lennon, co-founder of Espresso B2B Marketing.

Using Google and Facebook together

Amy Bishop from Cultivative suggests focusing a company’s marketing spend on Google Ads if the target market already knows about the product, and then bringing in a few Facebook campaigns.

Conversely, if the market doesn’t have the brand awareness to support paid search, she recommends starting with Facebook to build awareness and then adding Google Ads later.

“Typically, if consumers are aware that the brand/product exists and they know to search for it, I tend to recommend AdWords as a starting point for media dollars and I suggest layering in some campaigns within Facebook, such as retargeting and mid-funnel campaigns, “said Bishop.

“However, the tables turn if the brand awareness and search volume aren’t there to support paid search,” Bishop added. “In those cases, or situations where there is too much competition in search and it becomes cost prohibitive, then I suggest frontloading other channels such as Facebook and saving back some budget for the most cost efficient terms in paid search.”

Brian Carter, founder of the Brian Carter Group, also recommends starting with one and building into the other.

“We recommend getting the profits from optimized Google ads to pay for expanding into Facebook,” said Carter. “What makes this question hard to answer is that Facebook and Google ads are so complementary.”

Carter also shared that he recommends Facebook, Google, Instagram, and YouTube ads to almost every one of their clients.

Which part of the funnel are you targeting?

Many marketers pointed out that your choice of Google or Facebook Ads is determined by which part of the marketing funnel you’re targeting.

Facebook for brand awareness

“Facebook Ads are great for building brand awareness,” says Shane Carter, digital marketing specialist from WebGeeks, “while Google AdWords are excellent at driving qualified leads who are actively searching for your service.”

Most respondents echoed his sentiments.

Chris Yoko, president of Yoko Co, uses Facebook Ads for “you-didn’t-know-you-needed-this” products.

Atlantic Health Solutions’ digital marketing specialist Morgan Rudd recommends Facebook ads for both products and events that you want to cast a wide net for—people might only have a general interest in what you’re advertising, but you can reach a huge number of them.

“If you’re trying to increase consultations for Botox appointments, AdWords would be your best bet as you can get in front of people specifically searching for botox in their area rather than casting out a wide net on Facebook to people that may be interested in Botox,” said Rudd. “However, if you’re trying to increase brand awareness, trying to promote an event, etc., Facebook would be your best bet as you can get in front of a wide audience to spread the word to people that are generally interested in whatever the event/brand may be.”

Google for purchase intent

When it comes to the bottom of the funnel, though, most prefer Google Ads.

“Google has defined four micro-moments,” says Chad Pollitt, founder of Relevance. “I want to know,” “go,” “do,” and “buy” moments allow marketers to understand searchers’ intent.

“Google AdWords attracts traffic and interest from users actively searching with intent to purchase,” according to Kath Chalhoub, digital marketing lead at Web Profits.

Edwin Plotts, director of growth at, says that companies with smaller ad budgets often find better success on Google Ads, as higher intent often results in higher conversion rates (though companies with larger budgets may find that Facebook Ads have better scalability).

Targeting this part of the funnel is important; as you’ll see, Facebook gets a lot of love in many areas. But a very large number of our respondents told us that if they had to pick one ad platform, it would be Google.

Crystal McFerran, Velo’s VP of marketing, says “Google Adwords, hands down. The viewers have a high level of intent, meaning you can get in front of people who are actively looking for your product/service and are ready to take the next step in the buying journey.”

“Despite Facebook’s obvious dominance in the social media realm, when the majority of consumers are looking to make a purchase they’re more likely to turn to Google for research,” says Jason Myers, senior account executive at The Content Factory.

Interestingly, Steve Latronica from SL Development finds that “Facebook often works best when you are working with segmented audiences for middle- and bottom-of-funnel campaigns,” running counter to much of what we heard from other organizations.

It just goes to show that your company needs to experiment with different platforms. You may find that Facebook is great for converting your audience, or that Google Ads work well for generating awareness.

However, Dario Sipos from DWR makes a good point about Facebook: “For building a brand awareness, Facebook Ads are a better choice due to more detailed user data that Facebook collects.” Which brings us to our next point…

How specifically can you target your audience?

Effective advertising requires that you target the right potential customers.

You can target viewers based on where they are in your marketing funnel, but there other factors you can use as well. Most of the marketers who mentioned targeting were singing the praises of Facebook.

“Facebook has a targeting advantage,” says Jessica Scherlag, Performance Marketing Lead at Compass. “With its precise, granular targeting options, you have more control over who is going to see your ads. . . . Facebook has a wealth of data and knows an impressive amount about you—life events, interests, behaviors, and more.”

All of those things help Facebook build up a very detailed demographic profile of users, and companies who understand their target market can take advantage of those profiles.

Of course, Google is collecting a lot of data too. And they know your customers. But in the end, as Jessica says, “Adwords doesn’t know you like Facebook does.”

Facebook’s reach is also impressive. Ben Huber from Breaking the One Percent points out that Facebook had 2.19 billion active monthly users at the end of Q1 2018. And while Google has a huge user base as well, it doesn’t have a “database of information that has literally been given to them by the consumers themselves.”

Of course, all of this targeting functionality won’t help you if you don’t know who to target. You can’t hop on Facebook Ads and discover who your ideal customer is. You’ll need to go into the process of knowing who’s going to buy your product.

“If we are dealing with a well-known brand and we have a very well-defined persona (demographics, interests, etc.), I would probably pick Facebook Ads,” said Strategic IC’s digital marketing strategist, Gerry Dapergolas. “However, if the main objective is lead generation and we know we can’t find our persona on Facebook . . . then I would suggest an AdWords campaign.”

Ed Marsh of Consilium Global Business Advisors says it’s important to consider the intent of your audience rather than waste dollars on either platform.

“Google AdWords is a great tool for tactical campaigns, but most companies waste enormous amounts on branded terms,” said Marsh. “They’re better served by focusing on the CTRs for organic search terms and investing most of their PPC dollars in Facebook ads targeting custom and lookalike audiences of active prospects identified with buyer intent data.”

What’s your budget?

If you’ve run an ad campaign before, you know that cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is an important metric.

How much are you paying for each customer you acquire? The service you choose may have a significant effect on your CPA.

Most of the marketers we heard from agreed that when it comes to price, Facebook is the winner.

Mike Schiemer from Marketing Masterminds gave us a great example: “$10 can actually get you a lot of impressions, engagement, video views, amplification, or website traffic on Facebook. But with Google AdWords, it might get you just 1–2 clicks to your website depending on the keywords you’re bidding on, with no amplification potential.”

He also pointed out that there’s the potential of amplification: Facebook users can share and comment on your ads, providing you with further reach for free. “If somebody clicks on your AdWords ad and doesn’t convert, then it’s over.”

“Google Ads are getting so expensive that they are almost not worth it for text ads these days,” said Ross Palmer from Lab Society. He did note that his company disagrees with some of their methods and business practices, but said that “you can, quite simply, reach a lot more people for less money on the platform.”

Jean Ginzburg, freelance digital marketer, phrased it in a way that brooks no argument: “The average CPC for Google Ads is between $1 and $2. The average CPC for Facebook is $0.29.”

One of the words we saw in several responses was “underpriced.” Google Ads might be better for targeting people with intent to purchase, but if you want to get the most views for your ad dollars, you can’t beat Facebook.

What retargeting capabilities do you need?

Several marketers discussed the ability to retarget your ads to people who have visited your website or otherwise expressed interest. By combining effective retargeting practices with the choice of the right ads, you can find the perfect balance to convert.

Retargeting is so important, in fact, that HealthJoy’s CMO Rick Ramos says retargeting is the first thing that marketers should test on both Google’s and Facebook’s ad platforms.

JR Griggs, founder of Red Wall Marketing suggests retargeting from both services: “Maybe someone clicks your ad when searching on Google. You can then advertise to them on Facebook with retargeting. You can do the reverse as well. Start with Facebook and retarget on Google.”

Google casts a wider net

Interestingly, James Pollard, founder of The Advisor Coach, recommends Google over Facebook when you’re thinking of retargeting for one simple reason: “Google has a much wider retargeting potential than Facebook.“

As you might expect, marketers continued to emphasize the importance of experimentation here. Which retargeting strategies earn your company the best ROI? Where are you most likely to find your potential customers when they’re receptive to retargeted ads?

The decisions continue to build on each other. Your audience’s location in the funnel, the original targeting you used, and the cost of retargeting to those potential customers all play into your retargeting strategy.

Unique points for both platforms

The question of Google Ads vs. Facebook Ads brought up a lot of interesting ideas that we weren’t expecting, and though they don’t fall into the categories above, we thought they were still worth sharing.

For example, 301 Digital Media’s COO Andrew Becks pointed out that Facebook often makes changes to their ad platform, and that the platform’s popularity with younger audiences is falling. YouTube and the rest of Google’s vast multi-platform ad system might offer better reach when they’re looking to get in touch with younger customers.

“The increasing decline in Facebook’s reach among younger (Gen Z) audiences (juxtaposed against the success among these audiences found by Google’s YouTube) means that some businesses and brands may find Facebook doesn’t offer them the audience they’re looking for to the same extent as Google’s multi-platform advertising ecosystem,” said Becks.

Google’s stability is certainly something that’s appealing. While their ad platform also gets regular updates, Facebook’s significant algorithm changes have been quite notable. And the recent push to combat disinformation plays into their ad system, as well. So there’s some uncertainty as to how Facebook Ads will behave.

Facebook does open up some interesting possibilities, though.

Steve Page, VP of digital strategy at Giant Partners, extolled the value of Facebook Messenger bots, saying that companies can get an open rate of over 90% and a click-through rate of above 30%. Those are impressive impressive numbers.

Social ads for social products

Because Facebook is a social platform, messenger bots are likely to work well there. But the fact that people head to Facebook for social reasons can also influence how they react to your ads.

Josh Spilker, ClickUp’s marketing manager, has found great success in advertising project management software on Facebook.

Why? Because project management is also an inherently social field. Social networking and project management are all about sharing ideas. And Josh credits this shared nature for part of ClickUp’s success in Facebook advertising.

“Teams collaborate and work on projects together, meaning the work is shared,” said Spilker. “Similarly, you share ideas on Facebook too. But even if that weren’t the case, I’d still choose Facebook. The lookalike audience tool for advertisers is powerful, especially when you’re just starting. AdWords has become very expensive for the ROI. It’s not worth it unless you have a brand-new industry where the competition isn’t steep.”

He wasn’t the only one to mention a link between the product being sold and the advertising medium. Discosloth’s cofounder, Anya Gildner, has found more success on Facebook with cheaper items that might be purchased on impulse.

Google Ads, on the other hand, works better for higher-value purchases: “you can pick the best time to be visible. The initial cost is more expensive, but the conversion rate is much better for high-value products.”

Shoppings ads for shoppers

When it comes to making purchases, says Darren Schreher, digital manager at INTO THE AM, nothing beats Google. “Search ads make up 90% of our revenue, while shopping brings in more new customers.”

Google’s Shopping results can be a huge boon to companies looking to sell products to searchers.

As we saw earlier with YouTube, Google’s other search platforms (Images, Shopping, YouTube, Maps, and so on) can change the game. It all depends on where your market is and what they’re searching for.

Test and analyze to find your best advertising avenue

We got a lot of helpful answers on this survey, and a surprising number of people who were confident that one platform was better than the other.

Those that supported Facebook generally touted its ability to generate brand awareness and its low cost.

The marketers who suggested Google are fans of the ad giant because no matter how popular Facebook is, customers with purchase intent still head to their favorite search engine for research and buying. Its retargeting power and the ability to advertise across wider web properties also made it a favorite.

So which should you choose? Take a close look at your audience and your budget, then test both platforms to see which works for you.

We’d love to hear from you about which ad platform you prefer. Are you a fan of Google, Facebook, or both? Let us know in the comments.

And make sure to check out our analytics templates for both Google Ads and Facebook Ads. They’ll help you stay organized, track your successes, and maximize your ROI for whichever platform you choose.

About the author
Dann Albright Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.
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