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Dann Albright on December 3, 2020 • 16 minute read
Google and Facebook are the biggest names in the digital advertising space.
Both platforms have billions of users and massive data sets that help companies get their ads in front of their ideal customers.
And while the audience sizes and targeting capabilities of Facebook and Google Ads are great, it can be very difficult to choose between the two platforms when you only have the budget to advertise on one.
There just isn’t a quick and simple answer to the question: “Which platform is best?”
So instead of trying to tell you which platform is best, we polled dozens of marketers to find out what they think is best about each platform.
Facebook is a powerful social media platform for individuals and businesses alike, and around 1.6 billion people worldwide are connected to a small business on Facebook.
Essentially, Facebook advertising entails creating and running ad campaigns using the Facebook Ads Manager tool to reach your target audience based on their location, profile data, and demographics. In addition to this, you can also choose where you’d like to run your ads, either Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and/or Audience Network as well as your target device type (mobile or desktop). It also allows you to track and analyze the performance of your ad campaigns in line with your business needs.
Facebook Ads are effective for increasing brand awareness and engagement, generating leads, driving traffic to your website, increasing the reach of your content, and creating awareness for your upcoming events.
Originally referred to as Google Adwords until 2018, Google Ads is a paid advertising platform that works on an auction system. This “auction system” takes place every time a user performs a keyword search.
When creating an ad, in order to “win” the Google Ads auctions and see your ad appear for the keywords you chose, you need to optimize your Quality Score and the bid amount. For better ad positioning, it’s important to optimize your bid amount and maintain a high Quality Score.
Take, for example, my search result for “books to buy”
Also, you pay for every click on your ad (hence why the name pay-per-click, PPC) or for every 1000 views (impressions) your ad gets (hence why the name Cost-per-thousand impressions, CPM). Google ads are an excellent way to drive more qualified traffic to your website or online store, especially if the targeted keywords show the prospects’ desire to make a purchase.
If you’re just looking for a quick way to determine which ad platform is best for your business, we’ve compiled all of the data and discussions below into this comparison chart you can use to make your decision immediately.
If you want to learn more about any of these points, just click the title to jump to that section.
|Facebook Ads||Google Ads|
|Buyer Intent||Better for brand awareness||Better for purchase intent|
|Audience Targeting||Granular audience targeting by demographics, interests, behaviors, and more||Broad targeting by keywords with some demographics targeting capabilities|
|Cost||Get more exposure and clicks for lower costs||Pay more for clicks, but users are more likely to convert|
|Size of Audience||1.59 billion daily active users||3.5 billion searches every day|
|Audience Engagement||52% of marketers say that their audience is more likely to engage with their ads on Facebook than on Google||45% of marketers said that their audience was more likely to engage with their ads on Google than on Facebook|
|Unique Ad Placements||Messenger ads||Shopping ads|
|Works Best For||Low-cost products and products that have a social component||High-cost products and retargeting ads|
Editor’s note: If you’re already running both Google Ads and Facebook Ads—or if you’re planning to run both—and you want to see which platform performs best for your business, grab this free Facebook Ads & Google Ads Dashboard to easily compare KPIs across both platforms.
When we asked our respondents what they believe marketers and business owners should consider when trying to decide between advertising on Facebook and advertising on Google, they weighed in on things like the costs and targeting features of each platform—and provided their own proven tips and advice for making the most out of whichever platform you choose.
Let’s dive in.
Many of our respondents mentioned that when deciding whether to run Google Ads or Facebook Ads, you should consider which part of the marketing funnel you’re targeting.
“Facebook Ads are great for building brand awareness,” says Shane Carter of WebGeeks.
Several respondents echoed his sentiments.
Dario Sipos of DWR says, “Facebook Ads are better for brand awareness because of the detailed data that Facebook collects on its users.”
Chris Yoko of Yoko Co. uses Facebook Ads for “you-didn’t-know-you-needed-this” products.
And Atlantic Health Solutions’ Morgan Rudd recommends Facebook Ads for when you need to cast a wide net: “If you’re trying to increase brand awareness or promote an event, Facebook is your best bet. You can get your message in front of a broad audience of people who are generally interested in what you’re promoting.”
For example, you can retarget people who’ve already visited your pricing page or features page on your website to keep your brand top-of-mind as they continue searching for the right solution.
When it comes to the bottom of the funnel, many of our respondents prefer Google Ads.
“Google attracts traffic from users who are actively searching with the intent of making a purchase,” says Kath Chalhoub of Web Profits.
Crystal McFerran of Velo agrees: “Google’s users have a high level of intent, so 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.”
“When consumers are looking to make a purchase, they’re more likely to turn to Google for research,” says Jason Myers of The Content Factory.
Effective advertising requires targeting the right prospects. And while you can target prospects based on where they are in your marketing funnel as discussed in the section above, there are other factors you can use, too.
“Facebook has a targeting advantage,” says Jessica Scherlag of 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 its users—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.
As Ben Huber of Breaking the One Percent points out, “Facebook has a massive database of information that has literally been given to it by consumers themselves.”
Of course, all of Facebook’s targeting capabilities won’t help you if you don’t know who to target. You can’t just hop on Facebook Ads and discover who your ideal customer is. You’ll need to know who’s most likely to buy your product to use Facebook’s ad targeting to your advantage.
Google Ads primarily target the keywords people type into Google’s search engine, so you don’t need to know exactly who your audience is to get your ads in front of interested prospects.
As Strategic IC’s Gerry Dapergolas says, “If we are dealing with a well-known brand and we have a very well-defined persona, I would run Facebook Ads. However, if the main objective is lead generation and we know we can’t find our persona on Facebook, then I would run a Google Ads campaign.”
However, if you decide to run Google Ads, Ed Marsh of Consilium Global Business Advisors cautions against spending too much budget targeting branded keywords. “Most companies waste enormous amounts of money on branded terms.”
If you’re running Google Ads for branded terms, Marsh says you may be better off “investing most of your PPC dollars in Facebook Ads targeting custom and lookalike audiences of active prospects identified with buyer intent data.”
Obviously, cost is one of the most important things to consider when deciding between Facebook Ads and Google Ads. How much are you paying each time someone sees your ad or clicks on it? How much are you paying to acquire each new customer?
The platform you choose may have a significant impact on your customer acquisition costs.
In a recent survey, we asked respondents about their average customer acquisition costs for Facebook Ads. Nearly two-thirds said that their average customer acquisition costs were $10 or less, with 28% saying their average CAC for Facebook Ads is less than $5.
“$10 can actually get you a lot of impressions, engagement, video views, amplification, or website traffic on Facebook,” says Mike Schiemer of Marketing Masterminds. “But with Google Ads, $10 might just get you 1-2 clicks to your website, depending on the keywords you’re bidding on.”
Most of the marketers we heard from agreed that when it comes to price, Facebook is the winner.
“Google Ads are getting so expensive that they are almost not worth it these days,” says Ross Palmer of Lab Society. “Quite simply, you can reach a lot more people for less money on Facebook.”
In another recent survey, we asked marketers to tell us their average cost-per-click for Google Ads. More than half reported a CPC of less than $2:
And while you might only be able to get 5-10 clicks on your ads with $10 in Google Ads, as our respondents mentioned before, there’s more purchase intent with Google Ads, so you might simply convert more of those visitors.
Edwin Plotts of Ladder.io, says that companies with smaller ad budgets often find better success on Google Ads, as higher intent often results in higher conversion rates.
Editor’s note: HubSpot Marketing users can get a complete picture of how their Google Ads are contributing to the marketing pipeline with this free HubSpot + Google Ads Top of Funnel dashboard.
Both Facebook and Google have massive audiences.
As of March 2020, Facebook reports having 1.73 billion daily active users and 2.60 billion monthly active users.
We can’t measure Google’s number of users in quite the same way because you don’t have to have a Google account to use Google’s search engine. However, we know that Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day.
So in terms of audience size, there’s not a clear way to choose between the two platforms.
However, 301 Digital Media’s Andrew Becks pointed out that Facebook’s popularity with younger audiences is falling:
“The increasing decline in Facebook’s reach among younger audiences 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,” Becks says.
YouTube and the rest of Google’s vast multi-platform ad system might offer better reach when you’re looking to get in touch with younger customers.
When running ads, you want to make sure you’re running them in places where audiences are engaged. So we asked our respondents to weigh in on which platform they see the highest engagement on. Facebook was the winner, though only by a small margin.
52% of marketers say that their audience is more likely to engage with their ads on Facebook than Google. Still, 45% said that their audience was more likely to engage with their ads on Google than Facebook. So when it comes to engaging your audience, either platform is probably a safe bet.
Google Ads, in general, are text-based ads that appear in Google Search and Google Maps results:
Facebook Ads can include media like images and videos and generally appear in users’ timelines and sidebars (on desktop):
But many of our respondents said that the real value on both platforms comes from some of the more unique ad placements.
Steve Page of Giant Partners extolls the value of Facebook Messenger ads, saying that companies can get an open rate of over 90% and a click-through rate of above 30%.
When it comes to making purchases, says Darren Schreher of INTO THE AM, nothing beats Google. “Search ads make up 90% of our revenue, while shopping ads bring in more new customers.”
Google’s Shopping results can be a huge boon to companies looking to sell products to searchers. 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.
Finally, we wanted to hear our respondents’ thoughts on what each platform was best for. Here’s what we learned.
The fact that people head to Facebook for social reasons can also influence how they react to your ads.
For example, Josh Spilker of ClickUp 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.
Spilker credits this shared nature as part of ClickUp’s success in Facebook advertising: “Teams collaborate and work on projects together, meaning the work is shared. Similarly, you share ideas on Facebook too.”
He wasn’t the only one to mention a link between the product being sold and the advertising medium. Discosloth’s Anya Gildner has found more success on Facebook with cheaper items that might be purchased on impulse.
Editor’s note: Shopify users can easily track how their Facebook Ads are driving sales with this free Online Sales dashboard. It combines data from Facebook Ads, Shopify, and Google Analytics to display your most important KPIs in a centralized, shareable view.
Google Ads, on the other hand, work better for higher-value purchases, Gildner says. “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.”
And James Pollard of The Advisor Coach recommends Google over Facebook when you’re thinking of retargeting. Why? “Google has a much wider retargeting potential than Facebook,” Pollard says.
“Both Google Ads and Facebook Ads are great online advertising platforms, and we recommend them both,” says Mark Lennon of Espresso B2B Marketing.
Several of our respondents agreed that the best digital advertising strategy is one that uses both Google Ads and Facebook Ads 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 Google Ads as a starting point for media dollars, and I suggest layering in some campaigns within Facebook, such as retargeting and mid-funnel campaigns,” Bishop says.
“However, the tables turn if the brand awareness and search volume aren’t there to support paid search.”
“In those cases—or in 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 keywords in paid search,” Bishop added.
Brian Carter of 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.”
Carter also shared that he recommends Facebook, Google, Instagram, and YouTube ads to almost every one of their clients.
And JR Griggs 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.”
Many marketers recommended testing both Google Ads and Facebook Ads to see which performs better for your business.
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 who 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.
Originally published in July 2018, this post has been updated to include more recent data and statistics for both Google’s and Facebook’s advertising platforms.
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