The first question you’re going to ask yourself when you step into online advertising is going to be where you put your money. The top two platforms in this nice (by far) are Google and Facebook who overwhelmingly dominate the online advertising industry – for better or worse.

Which leaves new marketers, advertisers, startups and business owners asking the same thing: Should I be advertising on Google Ads or Facebook Ads? So this is precisely what we’re going to answer in this article by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms – plus why you probably want to be using both of them.

Google Ads vs Facebook Ads: the pros and cons

Before we get into the specifics, let’s quickly look at the pros and cons of Google Ads and Facebook Ads. This will give you a rough idea of their strengths, weaknesses and what we’ll be looking at in this article.

The good and bad of Google Ads

Google Ads pros:

  • Instantly generates traffic
  • Keyword targeting generates high-quality leads
  • Users are actively looking for what you’re selling
  • Ads fit seamlessly into the search experience
  • Short path to purchase makes deals easier to close

Google Ads cons:

  • Competitive keywords are expensive
  • A lot of settings to deal with
  • Limited targeting options
  • Time-consuming

Google Ads is an incredible platform for generating high-quality leads that are ready to buy now. It all comes down to the fact you’re targeting keywords, which is completely different to what you’re doing on Facebook.

The good and bad of Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads pros:

  • Facebook targeting options
  • Engaging ad formats
  • Excellent platform for visual ads (product images, travel ads, fashion, etc.)
  • Excellent for branding and awareness campaigns
  • A powerful tool for inspiring purchase ideas

Facebook Ads cons:

  • Interest targeting generates a lower quality of lead
  • Facebook users aren’t looking to buy when they open the app
  • Ads are somewhat intrusive upon the social experience

Facebook Ads is a different kind of platform entirely. Instead of bidding on keywords, you’re targeting social users based on their interests and online behaviour. This generally results in a lower quality of lead than you’ll get form your best performing keywords in Google Ads but you’ll often find Facebook is the better platform for branding and awareness campaigns.

Facebook has another trick up its sleeve, too: inspiring purchase decisions in people who weren’t even in the market for what you’re selling before they saw your ad – something you’ll struggle to do with Google Ads.

So what does this all mean? Well, there is no winner in this competition because Google Ads and Facebook Ads fill different roles in your marketing strategy. In most cases, it’s not a question of one vs the other but figuring out how to use them together and we’ll be looking at this in more details throughout this article.

A closer look at Google Ads vs Facebook Ads

The first thing you need to understand about Google Ads and Facebook Ads is that they’re fundamentally different. These aren’t like-for-like alternatives that more or less do the same thing. You’re going to get very different results from these two platforms and it’s important to understand this before you delve into PPC.

Search vs social

Google is a search engine and Facebook is a social network. This might sound like a painfully obvious statement but it’s crucial you keep this in mind with everything you do. Understanding why and how people use a platform is vital to every marketing strategy and all of the core differences between Google Ads and Facebook Ads comes down to this search vs social idea.

People turn to Google because they’re actively looking for something: information, product reviews, products to buy, services, buying advice, etc. In the case of Facebook, people aren’t actively looking for anything at all; they’re scrolling down their feed, looking at photos, watching videos, sharing content and engaging with friends or brands.

When you advertise on Google, you’re able to pinpoint search queries like “second hand cars in Manchester” and “best Indian restaurant near me”. You can target people who are clearly looking to buy now or in the near future and this is a big deal.

No other advertising platform offers this.

With Facebook Ads, you’re doing something very different. You’re targeting people with ads based on their interests without really knowing how close they might be to making the purchase.

High intent vs low intent leads

At the risk of oversimplifying things, there are two key types of leads in online advertising: high intent and low intent. You can add all kinds of intermediate types of leads (eg: medium intent) if you want but we don’t need to get into that now.

High intent leads are people who demonstrate a strong to buy now or in the near future. If we think about Google search terms, these would be queries such as “where can I buy cheap Nike shoes,” “last minute flights to Edinburgh” and “weekend plumber in Leeds”.

Then we have low intent leads, which show a general interest in the products or services you’re selling but don’t necessarily suggest a purchase is coming any time soon. For example: “best widescreen TVs 2019”, “cheapest tropical island getaways in the summer” and “how much does a GoPro cost?”.

Now, Google is very good at helping you target these two types of leads because you’re able to show ads to people based on the keywords they type in. As long as you’re able to identify the intent behind these search terms, you can target people who are itching to buy from a brand like you right now and capture leads that might require a little more convincing.

When it comes to Facebook, you can also target high intent and low intent leads – but there’s a key difference. These users aren’t actively looking for anything when they open the app and they may not even know they’re interested in your brand until they see your ad.

Capturing ‘passive’ leads on Facebook

As mentioned earlier, Google users are actively looking for content – they’re physically typing in what they want to find. However, Facebook users are passively scrolling down their feeds looking at whatever content is shown to them until they find something of interest.

Back in the early days of Facebook advertising, this led a lot of marketers to use Facebook for branding campaigns and rely on Google Ads for the real power-selling. This strategy makes a lot of sense, too, as you can target people who are literally about to pull the trigger on a purchase with Google Ads – something you can’t really do with Facebook.

The problem is you can only capture leads that at least have a vague idea of what they’re looking for with Google Ads. On Facebook, you generate leads from people who didn’t even realise they were in the market for what you’re selling and this a powerful thing.

Imagine someone scrolling down their feed at work and all their mates’ holiday pictures are coming up. They look outside at the cold grey weather, let out a sigh and stare back at their phone to continue scrolling – and then it happens.

They see your ad for cheap winter getaways and suddenly they’re checking how many days of holiday they have left.

The answer: Use Google Ads and Facebook Ads together

For the vast majority of brands and marketers, the answer to this question is incredibly simple: use Google Ads and Facebook Ads together. Sure, there are some exceptions, depending on your marketing objectives, but this is the case for most business formats.

We’re talking about two of the most powerful advertising platforms here and they both target different user bases, generating different types of leads – all of which are valuable to your brand.

Let’s go back to our holiday example for a moment. That user has just seen your ad on Facebook and the first thing they do is turn to Google to search for your brand or the locations featuring in your ads. Without your initial Facebook ad, this user would never know your brand even existed and you’d be leaving that opportunity open for all of your competitors.

People don’t see an ad on one platform and make a buying decision on the spot; the consumer journey continues with research and a whole bunch of other online activities across various platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). You need to be present in the right places when these interactions take place and the combination of Google Ads and Facebook Ads gives you a huge amount of real estate space across the two biggest online platforms in people’s lives.