The Facebook vs. Google Debate Is Old School: Leverage Them Both to Work for You

Posted by Wes Mills on September 17, 2013

During my first month in the “real world” of marketing one of the first questions that came to mind after reading numerous rivalry-esque comparisons between Facebook’s Ads and Google AdWords was, “Why not use both in different ways?”

(Editor's note: updated July 2014 with new information.)

Google is the Internet behemoth

In mid-2013, Google experienced downtime for four minutes that caused a 40% drop in global traffic, according to GoSquared Engineering. There’s no denying the ubiquity of Google on the Internet. But how does the typical Google experience go?

  1. A search query is entered into the search bar
  2. A user scrolls through the results, sifting through them looking for relevant content
  3. The user finds a relevant link and navigates to that landing page

We repeat the latter two multiple times depending on what we’re searching for. But the main takeaway here is we are always searching for something specific. This is is a beautiful thing for businesses selling specific products or services that are related to those search queries.

When I search for “men's button-down shirt,” below are the ads that generated with those keywords:

I’ll come back to this shortly, but let’s take a look at Facebook for a moment.

Facebook: where they do the research for you

DMR reports that Facebook has almost two billion users who spend an average of 20 minutes on the site every day.

From a marketing perspective, the most beautiful thing about Facebook advertising is that users are doing the basic market research for you by adding their age, gender, location, and interests. So when I log onto Facebook, the whole right side of my News Feed is “Recommended Pages” that are generated from the demographic information that Facebook already has about me outlined above.

Neither of the suggestions are something that I was actively searching for but are somewhat related to my interests from pages I’ve liked previously or what others from my friends list have liked.

Facebook now includes partner categories which you can read more about here. This takes targeting to a whole new level. Advertisers can get extremely creative and narrow in on their target most likely to convert. You can be as broad as homeowners and parents, or as narrow as people likely to buy a Volvo and who work in an administrative position. 

How exactly Facebook figures this out, we may never know. They are notoriously ambiguous with their answers regarding this. As an advertiser, I can't help but think this is awesome. 

So how can Facebook’s ads and AdWords complement each other, exactly?

Market your brand on Facebook. Market your offerings on Google.

Google and Facebook have advertising services that overlap. And on those fronts, they do compete for business. But there’s always an opportunity to leverage each of these networks in different ways to expand your marketing reach.

For selling a specific product or service, most would agree that Google Adwords is the best out there. When I search for button-down shirts on Google, I see ads where I can buy button-down shirts. But what about long-term investment in branding?

Facebook is where this should be done. A business page that has a large reach on Facebook has a much better opportunity for the target market to be exposed to their brand, so a thriving presence on Facebook can be incredibly valuable.

To piggyback on my Google Search example, let's say I “Liked” Brooks Brothers’ page on Facebook, and regularly am exposed their posts, advertisements, and other published content. Now when I start the initial stage of the purchase funnel, it might be in the midst of a 20-minute daily Facebook session where I just saw a blog post by Brooks Brothers.

So instead of “men's button-down shirt” I might now change my search query to “brooks brothers button-down shirt”. What happens to those Google Search results I showed earlier? 

Now the ads are only related to Brooks Brothers. Facebook put the brand fresh in my mind while now Google is showing me where I can begin my buying process. I was exposed to the brand while browsing Facebook and Google Search showed me the product offerings for that brand.

Instead of viewing AdWords and Facebook ads as substitutes for each other, start thinking about them as complementary tactics that can build on each other to maximize your marketing efforts. Combined they offer an approach that neither one could offer standing alone.

Updated July 2014: Now with Facebook's more powerful targeting option (mentioned above) and the introduction of Unversal Analytics (that gives you demographic data for the users to visit your website), I'd slightly change my outlook on this a bit. I still think Google offers the best platform for marketing your products — that hasn't changed. But now with the power of demographics in your hands, Facebook is a wonderful place to put your promotions in the News Feeds of your target audience. If you're a Facebook user, you've probably see this being done every time you log on. Regardless, it's important to do your research and understand who exactly your audience is. With Google, you may be able to get away with it. But certainly not Facebook. Unless, of course, getting a high ROI wasn't that important to you in the first place. 

[Facebook thumbs-up image: Veluben]


Get thought-provoking and actionable insights to improve how your firm makes a connection with your customers.


The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.