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Every small business has a sweet spot when it comes to digital ads.

But to pick the right online platform for your offer, you first have to understand how they work.

So what is the difference between Facebook and Google advertising?

Google Ads serve a proactive audience that shows intent to solve a problem. Facebook Ads serve a reactive audience that resemble your ideal clients, but need you to make the first move.

It’s less about which is “better”, and more about your industry and your offer.

I’ll break this down in more detail so you can make an informed choice to get the most out of your ad budget.

Paid Search VS Paid Social

Let’s be clear about the context of proactive and reactive.

It’s unlikely that someone searches for “emergency tow truck” until they drive into a ditch or lock their keys in their car.

Yes, they may be reacting to their situation, but they are being proactive by asking Google to find a solution (typically right now, or as soon as possible).

Those types of people are what old school salesman like to call Hot To Trot.

So if I ran a tow truck company, and my offer was focused directly on consumers in need, I’d probably want to advertise on Google.

Now, on the flip side, let’s say my main offer was to sign people up to an ongoing roadside assistance plan. There’s not a lot of urgency there. I’m going to have to do some convincing to get people to part with their cash before they necessarily “need” to.

It’s easier to do that when my competitors are not around.

In that case, I’d probably want to advertise on Facebook, get in front of my audience at a time when they are in a social mood, and try to make them react.

Take a minute to put yourself in the head of your potential customers.

An ad that caters to a proactive searcher must make the case that their solution is preferable to all other offers.

But an ad that caters to a reactive socializer must make the case that there is a need to be filled in the first place. It’s more about agitating them to take an action, rather than presenting your company as the best choice.

The Google search results are a battleground of competing services.

The Facebook social feed is a battleground of attention and awareness.

Let’s get into some specific strengths and weaknesses of each.

How Google Ads Work (Paid Search)

Google Ads show at the top of the search results, when the search words relate to the keywords of the ad.

When someone sees your ad, and then clicks on it, they will be taken to a page on your website.

To sum up Google Ads, they:

  • target by intent/action and location
  • satisfy an urgent desire / ease a pain
  • drive traffic to your website
  • require a landing page (the specific page where the ad leads)
  • rely on convincing headlines and relevant keywords

Google Ads are the right choice for you when:

  • you are not sure about the exact customer demographics, but you are sure about the words they use to describe the problem/desire they have
  • you know there is a lot of web traffic but you just can’t crack the top results organically
  • you want to test the appeal of a headline or certain keywords

Google Ads may be a poor choice if:

  • very few people search online for the type of solution you offer (ie. Google Ads are NOT for building awareness)
  • there is very little (or no) difference within the industry in terms of offer and price, and most business is done based on relationships
  • your website already ranks in the top 3 organic results for your target keywords *

* I’m not saying that ads wouldn’t help in this case, but if you had limited time and budget it would be better to tweak/test your landing page to get more conversions first

How Facebook Ads Work (Paid Social)

Facebook Ads mainly show up in the Facebook news feed. But they can also show in the right side column, as well as Instagram.

They are wedged in between posts from friends and family, weird videos, political rants, and memes.

Someone sees your ad if they match the audience profile you have chosen to target (sex, age, location, interests, even an exact email address).

If they click on your ad, they can be taken to your website, or get a form to fill out right on Facebook, or start a chat with you in the Messenger window. *

* there are a lot of options, and these are the main ones

To sum up Facebook Ads, they:

  • target by interests, locations, and demographics
  • create a desire / agitate a pain
  • drive traffic to your website or start an online conversation
  • require either a landing page or Facebook Messenger
  • rely mostly on visuals, but also on headlines

Facebook Ads are the right choice for you when:

  • you have very detailed customer demographics, or an existing list of contacts to target
  • you need to build awareness, reach an audience earlier in the sales cycle, or just want to stay on people’s minds
  • you don’t want to rely on your website
  • your offer is social in nature (events, restaurants, bars, the arts, etc)
  • you want to test the appeal of content or the effectiveness of an image

Facebook Ads may be a poor choice if:

  • your offer relies on an emergency or urgency to motivate a decision
  • you are unwilling to offer samples, freebies, giveaways, or trials… or you are unwilling to wait on a longer timeline while running
  • multiple ad campaigns in order to warm your audience up
  • you are unwilling to keep your Facebook Business Page active

The Constant Behind All Online Ads

Of course, Google and Facebook ads have some similarities.

Both target by location. And both allow for retargeting/remarketing to your website visitors. Finally, they offer ad placement on networks beyond their own platform (that is, other websites).

So everything I said before is a starting point. There are a ton more options.

But it’s important to know the foundation of each platform before you begin the ad process.

Budget permitting, you could use both Google and Facebook ads. But they should be geared to unique audience segments at different stages in the buying cycle.

And then, that’s not even getting into how to create or run an effective ad. For that you should consult a professional.

I’ll leave you with one final pitfall to avoid:

Too often, the new, trendy platform is seen as some kind of cheat or hack or magical power.

For example, you are on Facebook and then a friend tells you about Twitter Ads or LinkedIn Sponsored Content, and you immediately want to jump ship to those.

Look, without a clear and compelling offer, without a firm call to action, and without enough patience to run a campaign and test and tweak it over time… the platform does very little.

There was a period when Google Ads were starting to cost more per click. Facebook Ads were just catching on (less advertisers), for roughly the same attention at a cheaper price.

So did that mean drop Google and go all in on Facebook? Maybe.

But if you didn’t have a carefully crafted offer, and you didn’t take the time to understand that the Facebook audience was in a different state of mind from the Google searcher, then that “cheaper price” became a giant waste of money.

So trying to time your ad platforms is sort of like trying to time the stock market.

It’s going to end up badly for most people.

Anyway, if you are ready to make the plunge into online ads, go back through the information here.

Ask yourself when it is most viable to approach your customers — when they are proactive or reactive.

Ask yourself if your service is simple or complex. If it has a social or visual aspect. If there is a lot of online demand already, or if you need to build awareness and expand reach first.

Ask if you need a megaphone or a walkie-talkie (just don’t ask me to tell you which is which in this example).

They are all just tools.

Good luck with your online ads!