facebookIcon tracking


Facebook vs. AdWords in Audience Targeting

Published: August 16, 2012

Author: Molly Shotwell

Today’s post is by Julie Vera, an Account Coordinator at PPC Associates. Julie has a master’s degree in sociology and has experience with both AdWords and Facebook campaigns.
In May 2012, the digital advertising world came to an abrupt reality check. It wasn’t the crash of an ad server or the effect of some internet catastrophe that had caused marketing professionals to take notice. It was a simple decision delivered by General Motors.
Facebook, the team at GM had concluded, was not an effective way to spend their advertising budget. Just days before Facebook was to IPO, GM pulled their entire $10 million dollar budget from the site.
Speculation about Facebook’s ability to monetize their site and concerns about the effectiveness of Facebook as a marketing channel were running rampant. Many considered this move by a major corporation to be a warning sign – for Facebook, the worst was yet to come.
The fiasco over GM’s decision brought to light the effectiveness of digital marketing as a whole. Still, smart marketers looked past the hype and focused on why. Some concluded that the culprit was not Facebook, but bad campaign targeting.  Others claimed that Facebook was a poor marketing channel specifically for GM and their product. (Would you buy a car from an ad on Facebook? No, but you might learn a little something.)
While we do not know for sure if campaign targeting was the cause of ineffective campaigns, this event highlights a key point in the development of a digital strategy: pursuing the right channels for the right audience at the right point in the funnel is crucial to any marketing mix.
In this post, I will highlight the differences in targeting an audience in two of the most widely used channels: Facebook and AdWords.
Identifying a digital audience for a product or service is all about fine-tuning the options you have available in your channel. How will you translate a stack of market research into a solid digital campaign?
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say I’m a guitar manufacturer. I also sell guitar accessories, such as tuners and strings. My goal for my digital advertising campaigns is to drive more sales to my online store and increase the number of subscriptions to my weekly newsletter. My monthly budget is $20k.
How can I utilize each network to get the best results?
A major difference between Facebook and AdWords lies in user intent. In Google, users are seeking out information on a product, service, or question and are met with an ad that could be a solution for their query. It makes sense to target users who are the most likely to make a purchase, especially when you’re on a budget.
adwords targetingFor AdWords, I will focus on building a keyword list that has terms like “buy,” “purchase,” “price of,” in combination with brand-name and product terms to only show my ads on queries that have the intent to purchase.
As opposed to Facebook advertising, the standard, no-frills AdWords ad is text-only and may or may not include bolded keywords, depending on the query searched. This means I will need to write extremely targeted ad copy that stands out from my competitors. With Facebook, I am free to pick an eye-catching graphic to go along with my text ad.
Ad space also comes into play. In AdWords, you have the advantage of appearing in key spaces on a page, such as the very first spot in a search engine results page (SERP). In Facebook, ads show strictly on the right, although the company has been testing different formats.
Another perk of AdWords is all the goodies that come with text ads. Ads that show at the top of a search page can have Sitelinks. These are smaller links that appear beneath my ad that lead to different landing pages on my website. Sitelinks typically help users find something closely related to my product. Since I can choose what these links are, I will display links to some related products and feature a current discount.
AdWords isn’t only for search. Across partner networks, such as YouTube and AOL, advertisers can run text or image ads.
A big advantage of AdWords is the ability to use the remarketing (retargeting) feature. By putting sets of Google-provided code on each page of my website, I can target users who have clicked on an ad, did or did not make a purchase, and ‘follow’ them around the web with one of my ads. This means that a user will periodically see my ad ‘around the web’ and on websites that are not my own. For someone who checked out my Stratocasters page and did not sign up for my email list, I can serve an ad emphasizing my weekly deals that appear on my newsletter. Facebook can only show ads on facebook.com.
Though Facebook is quite strong in its interest targeting, AdWords also has its own way of dealing with the problem of not truly knowing your user. The Display Network can effectively target users based on their browsing history. Facebook’s data on this is user-provided.
With Facebook, user intent isn’t so straightforward. Users are served ads based on their interests, likes, and other activity that is performed on the site on a daily basis. Taste, lifestyle, and demographic information are the ‘fingerprints’ of a user that can’t be translated into a query and can’t be captured via search or display in the way that Facebook allows. Facebook advertising is passive compared to AdWords.
Some would say that Facebook targeting is far more granular than AdWords. Instead of using keywords, I can target by interest (precise or broad), birthdate, college or university, and also via connections to other users.
This also means that there is no critical moment where a user is more likely than the average user to click. I may be targeting my guitar-related ads to someone who likes guitars, but this does not mean that this person is intending to make a purchase. They are no more likely than the next guitar fan to click on an ad that points to a sale on my site.

facebook targeting
Well, if a friend likes it...I'm curious.

As far as Facebook’s fit with my product – I’m not so sure that someone would be comfortable clicking an ad from Facebook and following it through with a purchase. After all – they were not intending to make a transaction. So, with the broad and precise levels of targeting I have available, I’m going to utilize Facebook as a branding and awareness platform. Instead of narrow targets and ad copy that is specific to making a sale, I will broaden my targets according to interests, such as ‘guitars,’ ‘stratocaster,’ ‘telecaster,’ ‘playing guitar,’ and focus the ad copy on new arrivals, without directly saying “Buy Now!”
Ad copy will need some modifications, too. I will need to have an accompanying graphic and write my ad knowing that the person reading it may not yet be interested in making a purchase. How can I use my products to lure the user to my store? Better yet – how can I use the graphic to my advantage? Is there a way to grab the user’s attention immediately?
Facebook is typically used as a medium for branding or awareness purposes; it is difficult to pin down who is interested in purchases, especially.
Picking between the two ad networks shouldn’t be a daunting task – and, in fact, the most well rounded campaigns don’t choose at all; they use both to attract audiences at different points of the funnel. Before determining how to target an audience, first assess who you are trying to reach. Then, consider the features from each ad network. If you’re looking for sign-ups, e-commerce, and solution-based products, AdWords may be right for you. However, if you’re looking to spread awareness of your product to contextually-targeted groups of people Facebook might be the better avenue.
As for GM – I ask again – Would you buy a car off Facebook?
julie vera ppc associates
Julie Vera, PPC Associates

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602(650) 539-4124


Want to become a client?

Contact Us decorative arrow

Want to join the team?

View Our Openings decorative arrow

Find us on social media.

Press inquiries.

Email Us decorative arrow

Expert insights for your inbox. Subscribe to our content.

Accept No Limits.

Learn more about 3Q/DEPT READ MORE