A Dummy's Guide to Advertising on Google vs Facebook

By Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | July 22, 2013
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This article is aimed not at digital experts but at those of us who wish someone would explain the essentials of choosing between advertising on either platform.

Advertisers in the online world are spoilt for choice. They can use large sites or a whole bunch of specialised websites, both large and small, to reach consumers with every conceivable interest. However, few media plans are complete without including either Google or Facebook - or both - because the two are so dominant on the web. In India, they are estimated to take in about two thirds of the total advertising rupees.

Advertising on Google vs Facebook

In 2012, Google earned nearly $44 billion from advertising worldwide as opposed to just over $5 billion for Facebook. The latter is much smaller but it plays a special role in India which has the second highest number of active Facebook users, less than only in the United States. In Google's case, roughly 70 per cent of its revenue came from ads on its own sites while the rest was generated from advertising on network member sites (basically websites which run contextual Google ads under a publisher programme called AdSense).

The two come under the 'search' and 'paid social' categories respectively and, in GroupM parlance, would fall under 'biddable media'. While search includes Google, Yahoo! and Bing, paid social includes Twitter and YouTube other than Facebook. YouTube is unique in that besides being the second largest search engine it also has a social leg given the vast quantity of user generated content it attracts and the platform's sociability.

What choice advertisers make depends on their communication objective for the brand.

Brand Objective

On Google, advertisers could play it in one of two ways. If the aim is customer acquisition, the click through would lead to a destination where he can complete a transaction. If, on the other hand, the aim is brand communication, the visitor would be led to a case study, video, or a brand engagement-based mobile or social app.

Advertising on Facebook, on the other hand, is similar to the targeting practised on television. A marketer on the social media site could target, for example, males older than 25 who live in Mumbai and like scuba diving. The big difference as opposed to Google is that the audience may be right but that does not mean that the person intends to buy a related product at that point in time.

Advertising on Google is focused around the click and what happens after that rather than just the impressions. Facebook, on the contrary, delivers a lot of value through engagement on the platform itself. Sessions tend to last long unlike on Google search, which makes Facebook the preferred medium to build brand awareness or send a message.


So what kind of brand should choose which platform?

Many say that both the platforms are complimentary to each other. One allows advertisers to target intent while the other lets them reach the audience based on their profile. While search is great for pure customer acquisition, Facebook works better in the traditional Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA) cycle.

Categories that are hot on Google include real estate, financial services, telecom and gadgets, automobiles and travel. Facebook has attracted large marketers of fast moving consumer goods who have been hesitant to advertise online until now. It is also popular with ecommerce players in the apparel and lifestyle area because they would like to, ideally, create a community online.

A big plus for Google over Facebook: a large array of ad formats.


The grapevine has it that during festivals, Facebook works better while during admissions, Google does a great job for institutes that advertise. So how important is timing while advertising on either platform?

Facebook in India has about 60 million active users while Google reaches probably 90 per cent of the internet population of India and all these users use both the platforms on a regular basis regardless of the month of the year. Having said that, seasonality impacts search more than it does in social media.

Google works well when you know for sure that intent based searches will happen - for example, for a brand of woolens during winter. Facebook, on the other hand, can capture the different 'seasons' - as it were - in a consumer's life. It could help property or paint companies target users who have just got married. A big plus for festivals on Facebook: people tend to log on to wish one another or check out pictures.

Click Through Rates

If getting a surfer to click is the sole objective, how do the two platforms compare?

Click through rates (CTRs) can vary widely on the Google network. It really comes down to whether or not the advertisers is bidding for the right intent with the right keyword: for example, it makes little sense to bid for a term like "rent a car" if the purpose is to sell car insurance to an owner. And, of course, the ad copy must say it all quickly and directly. Surfers hate to leave a page and will not click on an ad if the message is vague.

Similarly, on Facebook the CTRs would climb based on whether or not the audience is defined sharply. Facebook sees higher CTRs when youth is targeted with a sale- or entertainment-oriented ads.

Size Matters?

Since both Facebook and Google are result based, all brands regardless of size can use the platforms. However, the strategy followed by a larger brand will be quite different from that of a smaller one. A large brand selling term insurance can afford to bid on a generic term because Google charges more for generic keywords, as they increase the possibility of being searched. Similarly, a large brand could target just the gender and age on Facebook, while a smaller brand might just have to shell out more for this and disturb its budget.

Google can be tough to master for small brands if they are competing with lots of big brands who have already optimised their ads.

The Takeaway

Google works well for the low hanging fruit by converting them into buyers: these are people who are looking for a brand because it is being written about or discussed.

Facebook should be looked at from the community building standpoint: once a community is built, one can keep marketing to this group.

Experts believe that brands must not have an either or strategy between Google Search and Facebook Advertising. Also it is critical to measure the value one platform delivers to the other. For example, a search may have taken place on Google because of awareness created on Facebook.

Offline advertising makes a big impact on search. For example, if Nokia advertises the latest model in the Lumia series in print and on television, there would be a surge in the search queries and of people looking for more information across relevant sites.

Facebook's popularity has grown as its power as an influencer medium has come to be recognised. However, this has to be aided with compelling and differentiated content - for example, text, image or video - which has high social connect and is likely to be shared. Paid social should be used to spread social word of mouth quickly and relatively less expensively.

Morover, a marketer must consider mobile devices while reaching to the user through both these platforms. Mobile has indeed proved to be a catalyst and with India being one of the fastest growing markets in the world.

Advertising on Google vs Facebook

Based on interviews with Vivek Bhargava, CEO, iProspectCommunicate 2, Shekhar Sharma, national director, GroupM Interaction and Rajiv Dingra, CEO, WatConsult.

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