Facebook Ads Versus Google Ads – One Better Than The Other?

by Toby

January 9, 2017

facebook ads vs google ads

The numbers are staggering – billions of people log onto Facebook daily, and Google sees more than 3.5 billion searches per day!

No other online platforms see anywhere near these kinds of numbers. The sheer volume is partly what makes each platform so valuable to you as an advertiser – your customers are on both of these platforms. Between Facebook and Google, you can market to almost anyone.

But which one is better – Facebook ads or Google Adwords? Which one is more effective? And which one should you use?

This post is ideal for those people struggling to understand which ad platform is better than the other – Facebook or Google – and why.

I will outline the differences between both, when perhaps you should use one or the other, and when to consider using both. There are no hard and fast rules here, and everyone’s business will be different. A lot depends on your goals and marketing budgets as well, but this post will help you understand both platforms better and perhaps give you additional ideas for targeting potential customers.

Read on to find out more.

Let’s look at some of the core differences between each, and which situations are better suited for each.

How do Facebook and Google work?

While both platforms are very effective advertising channels, each targets your customers in very different ways.

How Google Works

Google targets based on search queries or micromoments. Micromoments are those points in time when someone needs information immediately and they pick up their mobile phone or go to their desktop and start their search using keywords.

Google searchers are “warm,” pre-qualified leads.

Why do I say this?

Because Google is primarily search-based (i.e. people have to type in a query using keywords or phrases), we know that the people searching are interested in your product or service. You could qualify these searchers as “warm” or pre-qualified leads because of their search intent; this is one of the most important distinctions with Google. Also, since these leads are often “warm” leads, the cost per lead to acquiring a customer from a Google search is often the lowest out of any marketing channel (digital or traditional marketing).

Combine this behavior with Google’s dominance in mobile phone operating systems (Google produces the Android operating system which runs on the majority of mobile phones), and its dominance in desktop search along with YouTube and you have a very effective platform for finding lots of your customers that are interested in your products or services.

Potential Drawbacks To Using Google

For the beginner, Google campaigns are difficult to set up and implement well if you do not spend your days working on campaigns – it is very easy to shoot yourself in the foot and waste your ad dollars.

There are many technical aspects to using Adwords and even aspects of campaigns that need to be implemented on your own website to be effective (e.g., retargeting and conversion pixels).

Google Adwords competition is another factor that in some niches can make you take pause with Google Adwords – this is often the exception, but in some niches (e.g. personal injury law, plumbers, senior care, etc), the competition can be heavy and in some cases, you could be going up against large national advertisers. This doesn’t mean you should not run Adwords by any means, but it does mean your campaigns will have less margin of error. You will need an efficient campaign and website that converts well to maximize value and return on ad spend.

How Facebook Works

Facebook targets your customers very differently from Google – its ad platform is based on the demographics, interests, and behaviors of your customers. Facebook has such a vast pool of information about people that its ad targeting capabilities are unmatched anywhere else.

Facebook doesn’t just only collect information about your customers from their behavior on Facebook (what they interact with, “like,” etc.), but Facebook also has extensive partnerships with offline companies as well that feed its ad targeting platform. Companies such as:

  • Acxiom
  • Experian
  • Epsilon
  • Oracle

These companies collect information from a variety of offline sources (i.e. public records, loyalty cards, surveys, and other sources), and provide it to Facebook.

As you can imagine, Facebook not only knows the demographics, behaviors, and interests of consumers while on Facebook, but it merges its partner offline data as well to deliver unmatched targeting capabilities.

Facebook knows your age, gender, whether you’re married or divorced, single, your income, job status, and title, whether you own a home or rent, what movies you like, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, what foods you like, whether you shop at high-end retail stores or Walmart, and even what TV shows you watch and more. It’s mind-blowing.

Facebook provides you as an advertiser consideration with the consumer.

However, since people are not necessarily actively searching for a product or service per se while on Facebook (they are there interacting with their friends and family), Facebook ads provide you as an advertiser consideration in the mind of the consumer – you plant the seeds of awareness. Many of your potential customers might not yet be searching on Google for you or your products/services yet.

Here’s the secret:

It’s well-known that Facebook drives a lift in conversions in Google when you are combining tactics and running both together. For example, you’re advertising your services on Facebook and the target audience doesn’t click on the ad right then and there, but you’ve piqued their interest and a day or two later they go to Google to search for you or your service – Google will get the credit for the conversion in this case. The person found out about you first on Facebook but converted on Google and Facebook gets no credit – this is called last-click attribution and is a common occurrence. Facebook got you in the game – Facebook provides consideration with your target audience.

The Big Difference

Because Facebook has so much information about consumers (demographics, interests, behaviors, purchasing habits, online and offline behaviors), you as an advertiser can be very precise in finding customers that match your target audience demographics precisely. No other platform offers this kind of laser-targeted psycho-demographic targeting that Facebook offers.

As an example, if you know your customers are female between the ages of 18 – 32, shop at high-end retail stores, are single with no kids, college-educated and live within 3 miles of your business, you can target them in Facebook.

Are you still with me?

Potential Drawbacks To Using Facebook

Just as in Google, Facebook’s ad platform is equally challenging to use if you do not spend your days setting up and managing Facebook ad campaigns.

As a side note, if you’re using “Boost Post” from the page interface you’re missing completely the real value that Facebook ads can deliver and most likely wasting much of your ad spend – you are actually not even in the Facebook ads manager, but instead, a stripped-down and limited version of Facebook’s real ad interface (a related post here outlines why you should stop using Facebook boosted posts).

Facebook also targets customers higher up in the sales funnel compared to Google so the cost per lead can be higher versus what is common in Google in most cases. I go into more details below, but because people are actively typing in what they are searching for in Google, they are considered “warm” leads and as a result, the cost to acquire that customer is generally lower compared to Facebook (your mileage will vary, and there are exceptions to this rule, but is generally true). The behavior on Facebook is very different – people are there interacting with their friends or trusted brands, but not necessarily actively searching for your product or service, and as such your ad will show to people that are not actively in need perhaps for your product or service.

As mentioned with Google ads, to be effective you will also need to implement retargeting and conversion pixels on your website which requires some level of technical expertise.

Convincing the boss and other stakeholders that Facebook is worthwhile can be harder too – Google is old enough now that most people are comfortable with it and have seen its value clearly. Facebook is a much younger platform that many people in management and business owners still do not understand. It can also be harder to measure Facebook’s true lead value if the cost per lead is the primary KPI (key performance indicator) you are monitoring. While Google operates with last-click attribution – meaning it’s the last ad that people click on before becoming your customer – Facebook is not considered a last-click attribution model. Because of this, Facebook misses out on much of the credit for delivering leads, but this in no way detracts from its value as an advertising channel.

Each Targets A Different Level Of the Sales Funnel

Because each platform targets consumers in very different ways – Google with search and micromoments, and Facebook with demographics, interests, and behaviors– each channel targets consumers at somewhat different levels of the sales funnel.

When consumers first begin searching for a product or service they are in their initial data collection mode or at the top of the sales funnel, and as they move through the process of collecting more and more information to help them make the best decision, they get closer to having enough information to make a purchase – they are then at the bottom of the funnel.

With Google, we know the person typing, “best digital camera under $200” is very close to purchasing. Or the person typing, “hamburger restaurants near me” at 12 pm is going to buy lunch and wants a hamburger. In both of these cases, these searchers are what we would describe as at the bottom of the sales funnel and ready to purchase.

These same people can be targeted on Facebook very well too, but because we are targeting based on demographics, interests, and behaviors we do not know if they are necessarily actively searching right this moment.

Sales Funnel


This doesn’t mean ad targeting on Facebook is any less effective (in many cases it’s more effective), it just means we are targeting these customers with different methods, but typically higher up in the sales funnel compared to Google. With Google, the search intent is very clear and we know what the person wants. With Facebook, often the person is a little further away from an immediate purchase.

When The Choice Should Be Facebook Over Google

There are many situations in which Facebook is clearly the more effective ad platform versus Google.

Let me explain.

Low Google Search Volume

In some situations, there might not be enough search volume in Google to drive enough traffic and leads. You may have far more budget than you can spend in Google. This situation can happen for several different reasons, a couple of examples below:

  1. The geographic area you are targeting is not very densely populated and there is a low volume of searchers
  2. Your product or service is new and people do not know to search specifically for it (imagine prior to when the light bulb was invented – people knew candles and had no idea about the light bulb)
  3. Your product or service is seasonal – perhaps people start searching for your services at specific times of the year

In the case of seasonality, with Facebook ads, you can start to create that awareness with prospects well in advance of when they need your services. For example, if you provide residential mosquito spraying services, not many people are going to be interested in your company in January when there’s snow on the ground, but come April and May that interest is going to be far higher. However, because you were reaching them in the off-season with Facebook ads to create awareness and plant that “seed” of consideration, you will have a much higher likelihood of winning that customer come peak season now that they know you.

Your Objective Is Different

There are many situations when Facebook is a more effective platform.

  • When you are focused on brand awareness
  • Have a video of your company you want to get exposure for (although YouTube is owned by Google and it too is a great platform for video – related post here on Facebook vs YouTube video case study)
  • Want email signups (while you can do this in Google by sending traffic to an opt-in page on your website, Facebook can grow lists right within Facebook without leaving the platform)
  • Need to reach your customers with a promotion – create a custom audience of from your existing customer database and retarget them
  • Google keywords are too competitive

Budgetary concerns – if you have a limited budget, sometimes rather than spreading yourself too thin it is best to focus spend on one or the other.

Integration With Other Marketing Tactics

Facebook can be very effective at making other marketing tactics even more successful.

Consider trade shows – if your company attends trade shows, you can create awareness for your booth at the tradeshow via Facebook ads targeting people that are attending the tradeshow in addition to any of your customers that are attending through retargeting. This helps increase visitors to your booth, helps maintain mindshare and brand awareness with your target audience while at the tradeshow, and overall creates a “lift” in the success of the tradeshow.

Google would not be as good of a fit for this as often there is typically not a large volume of people searching for the tradeshow, and definitely not while at the tradeshow.

Tradeshows are not the exception and Facebook ads can be used to improve “lift” in other marketing tactics as well.

Print is another example – if you are running print ads in a magazine you could target those magazine readers on Facebook as well.  Alternatively, perhaps you are dropping postcards in a neighborhood – why not run Facebook ads targeting that geography as well?

Or consider email – if you are running email campaigns, run Facebook ads targeting those same people with Facebook custom audiences of your customer database to improve “lift” and response to the email.

When The Choice Should Be Google

If you are solely focused on the lowest cost lead generation and the bottom-of-funnel, and there’s enough inventory of searchers in Google, then Google is the best channel to target.

The Best Strategies Combine Google Ads and Facebook Ads

Which one is better? Google Adwords or Facebook ads?

In comparing Google Adwords to Facebook ads, to say either Google or Facebook is better than the other, or that you should use only one over the other is naïve and misses the real value you can unlock as a business by integrating efforts across channels and using both.

Your customers do not operate in isolation on only one channel – integrated digital marketing efforts work best.

Look at the table below – this shows actual paths that customers went through to becoming a customer with one of our clients. Each row is a different customer path to becoming a customer moving from left to right.

As you can see, the customers took several different steps and covered multiple platforms before finally becoming a customer.


Both Facebook and Google have unique benefits that deliver value to you as an advertiser. There are tactics that you can do in each that are not possible on the other, but combining them will make your advertising efforts far better since it better aligns more closely with how actual customers behave.

And do not forget your sales cycle for a customer purchase, which could be a couple of days or perhaps a week or more depending on your product or service. In either case, retargeting a customer that came in on a Google ad over on Facebook and vice versa while the customer is pondering the purchase is an extremely valuable tactic.

Finally, if you are using traditional media like radio or print, make sure you have an effective Google campaign to capture the searchers that will certainly go to Google to find you after hearing you on the radio or seeing your print ads. At the same time, layer on Facebook ads to target listeners of the radio station you have radio spots airing. Or if you are blanketing a neighborhood with postcards or direct mail pieces, layer on Facebook ads too covering those same zip codes.

The options of integrating efforts Google and Facebook together are many and combined you will be far more successful versus using one or the other.

Would love to hear your comments or questions below.

And if you liked this post, I would be very thankful if you shared it on Twitter or Facebook.

[Tweet “Google ads or Facebook ads? Which one is better? Details on when to use one or the other.”]

About the author 


Toby is the co-founder of 39 Celsius. He has over 20 years of digital marketing experience and has started several companies throughout his career. He's an expert in SEO, Social Media Ads, Google Ads, Marketing Automation, and more. He has a BA in Chemistry/Biochemistry from UC San Diego and an MBA from SDSU.

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