For a newer article on this topic visit: 5 FAQs For Marketing on Facebook


Maybe you’ve traditionally run PPC campaigns with AdWords, and you aren’t sure how Facebook Ads compare. Or maybe you’ve run Facebook Ads in the past, didn’t get good results, and don’t understand how Facebook advertising has changed over the past couple of years.

Regardless, it’s helpful to know the key differences between Google and Facebook Ads so you can leverage each platform to get the best results for your business.

The Biggest Difference: Search Intent vs. Awareness

One of the biggest differences between Google and Facebook Ads is search intent. Google searchers are specifically looking for something while Facebook users are shown ads based upon their interests. Whereas Google has a pull marketing strategy, Facebook is about brand awareness.

When it comes to Google, searchers are on a mission. They’re looking for something specific and want to find what they’re searching for. In the example below, the searcher is intent on finding a good deal on UGG boots.

Image of Google Search results

It’s in the best interest of advertisers to show an ad that matches the search intent. In this example, you want to speak to deals and direct the searcher to a page with special offers and UGG boots on sale. Why? Because the searcher is specifically looking for a deal on UGG boots.

Experienced PPC advertisers understand this principle and make sure they match the ad and the landing page with the search intent. Rookie advertisers on the other hand frequently make the mistake of advertising for terms that are loosely related to their product and not closely matching the search intent, which is a mistake.

To summarize, when it comes to Google search, the goal is to show an ad that matches exactly what people are searching. By doing so, you match the search intent and will hopefully increase your click through and conversion rates for your ads.

Facebook Ads

But Facebook Ads are different. Facebook enables you to advertise to people who aren’t necessarily searching for your product. They’re minding their own business, looking at cat videos and kid photos on Facebook, and happen to see your ad when it passes through their news stream. They weren’t searching for your product, but they still get exposed to your ad.

This means that Facebook Ads are a great way to generate awareness and interest for your product. If people don’t know you exist, they can’t be interested in what you have to sell and they won’t be searching for your product or brand.

As you’ve probably already picked up on, search ads are great for targeting people when they’re specifically searching for your product, and Facebook Ads are a great way to generate awareness for your product with people who may not even know you exist.

Facebook’s #1 Strength: Powerful Targeting

Moving on to another key difference, one of Facebook’s biggest strengths is the powerful targeting options it has available. Facebook enables you to target users based on a myriad of factors such as age, sex, interests, and more.

At iSpionage (the company where I work), if we were looking to advertise on Facebook and knew our best customers read MOZ, Search Engine Watch, and Search Engine Land, then we could target people who’ve liked those pages on Facebook.

This targeting can be as tight or loose as we prefer and allows us to only show ads to people who fit our targeting profile. It’s really powerful and provides a lot of control over who sees our ads.

AdWords Strength: Search Intent

AdWords strength, on the other hand, has to do with what we talked about earlier—search intent.

With AdWords, you bid on terms that allow you to target people at a specific place in the buying process. You can advertise for an article about web analytics to people who search for “web analytics tips,” or you could advertise your product to people who search for “best web analytics platform.” The first search indicates a user in research mode while the second shows a higher buying intent. With search ads, you can advertise accordingly and target people who are really interested in what you’re selling and get the right offer in front of them to match where they are in the buying process.

The Difference in Cost Per Click

Another difference between Facebook and Google ads is the cost per click on each platform. On AdWords, advertisers can spend more than $100 per click in really competitive industries, but on Facebook, you can pay as little as $0.25 per click depending on the CTR and targeting factors for your ad.

Based on my experience, the cost per click tends to be lower on Facebook than AdWords. I’ve consistently seen the CPC for campaigns on Facebook to be under $1.00 per click, but not on AdWords.

So as a general rule of thumb, you’re probably going to pay less per click on Facebook than you are on AdWords, but there is a tradeoff to keep in mind.

The metric you need to measure is the cost per acquisition. If the CPC is five times less on Facebook than it is with AdWords (let’s say $.50 compared to $2.50), but AdWords converts at a 10 times higher rate (let’s say 10% compared to 1%), then in this scenario, the cost per acquisition on AdWords is $25 and the CPA on Facebook is $50. Thus, even though you pay less per click on Facebook, AdWords is a better advertising platform due to the cost per acquisition.

In the end, you need to measure both channels to make sure you’re getting the best return for the money you spend on advertising. Facebook is a great platform for many businesses due to the lower cost per click, but you always want to measure the cost per acquisition to know where you’re getting the better return.

A Few More Benefits of Using Facebook

Before we conclude, there are a few more benefits of advertising on Facebook.

The first is that it gives you access to more customers. Let’s say for example that you have a slightly better cost per acquisition on Google so you spend 100% of your budget there.

But after a few months, you realize there are only so many customers you can reach because only so many people are searching for your product. Your industry is pretty small, which means not that many people are searching for what you have to offer. The return is good and your campaign is profitable, but you’ve got leftover budget that isn’t getting used because there are only so many searches you can bid on per month.

What should you do?

At this point, a good idea is to spread out your marketing dollars with Facebook Ads. This gives you access to another audience and allows you to reach more people. This is one reason why a lot of people talk about having a mix of advertising channels when it comes to marketing. At some point, you’re going to max out a channel or reach a point of diminishing returns at which time it’s a good idea to test other channels so you can reach even more customers.

A final benefit of Facebook is the power of their retargeting ads. Google also has retargeting, but some agencies are reporting that they’re getting a better return with Facebook retargeting which happens to be really easy to set up and use.

Summarizing the Differences

Here’s a quick summary of the differences between these two powerful advertising platforms:

  1. Google ads are great for reaching customers at the point when they are showing a high buying intent or to advertise content at a point when they’re conducting research. You’ll probably pay a bit more per click, but you know exactly what’s going through the searcher’s head whenever they see your ad.
  2. Facebook Ads offer powerful targeting capabilities and allow you to reach people who don’t even know your product exists which means they’re not searching for your solution or brand. This is great for generating more awareness, interest, and desire for your product. And last but not least, Facebook offers access to a very large audience at a very competitive price, and they’re retargeting option gives you even more control over who sees your ads and in at least some cases have been outperforming Google retargeting campaigns.

If you’ve traditionally only used search ads, I highly recommend giving Facebook a try. Lots of advertisers are seeing really good success, and it’s a great way to stretch your advertising budget further.

On the other hand, if you’ve only used Facebook Ads, you may want to give AdWords a try. AdWords let’s you reach people right when they’re searching for your product, something you don’t want to miss out on. You’ll pay more for these clicks, but it’s worth it if you can convert at a high enough rate.

What’s your take? Now that you’ve read this post, are you ready to give AdWords, Facebook, or both a try? Leave a comment!