Facebook vs. Google Ads: Understanding Algorithms

Google and Facebook are two of the largest advertising platforms for online consumer and business marketing. In the B2B realm, these two platforms serve very different purposes and provide very different results for most companies’ online marketing programs. Most B2B marketers and their companies find Facebook and Google advertising difficult for three primary reasons:

  1. They lack the knowledge to know WHEN to use which.

  2. They are uncertain about how to use them or execute them.

  3. They find effectively understanding the differences in the audience behaviors challenging.  

Because of this, marketers often see limited results, if any; the results they do see are often at astronomical costs that they can’t justify in budgeting. By taking the time to understand the three key differences between Facebook and Google ads, most marketers will find much better success, almost immediately. This understanding boils down to looking at how each platform’s algorithm functions at the root level.

Google Is About Intent, Facebook Is About Awareness

The first thing marketers should understand is that the user intent is wildly different between Google and Facebook. When a person inputs a search on Google, they’re looking to “acquire” something (knowledge, goods, services, etc.); they’re also often looking to “discover” new information. With Facebook, people are usually looking for social connection and or get recommendations from their peers, they’re not actively searching for information or looking to learn. Because of the different levels of intent, the actions taken from/via ads are vastly different as they fall into different levels of consideration in a traditional “decision” funnel.

Ad Targeting: Google = Intent

When a user types a search query into Google or visits a website and is cookied, their intent is to fill an immediate need. Usually, they are seeking to gain information, learn how to do something, find out where to buy something, or take an action that will allow them to become a part of something (like register for an event or trade show). Google ads target users based on keywords and key phrases within these queries; the algorithm pulls data from these searches and matches them to keywords, terms and phases within the ad copy created by the advertiser. It then triggers the ad to serve.

The goal is to show an ad that is directly related to exactly what the user is searching for. For the advertiser, these search queries are considered “incoming” or hard leads. Incoming leads will tend to have a lower cost per acquisition (CPA) due to the user’s intent to fill an immediate need, yet a higher cost per click (CPC) due to the much higher competition. Incoming leads have the highest conversion rate of all ad types (In the case of trade shows, these also have the highest verification rate).

Ad Targeting: Facebook = Awareness

Because Facebook ads don’t use search query matching, users get ads served directly into their Facebook feed (and other locations like the right side rail and Instagram) based on any number of personal preferences. Typically, someone on Facebook is not seeking to fill an immediate need, they’re usually looking to connect with friends and family. Because of the social aspect present in the behavior, Facebook share similarities with Pinterest as users are discovering products, services or events versus actively seeking them out. Facebook ad targeting uses demographic, personal interests, user behavior, prior purchase history, etc. to match users with ads.

This is the ad strategy that marketers can’t use with Google. By, placing ads (targeting) in front of users that aren’t necessarily searching for your product or service, the goal of Facebook ads should be to generate awareness; that means classifying these ads as a way to build interest and engagement from new potential customers vs. expecting immediate action taken as these are softer and/or even cold leads if and when they do convert. Because of this, soft/cold leads tend to have a higher CPA, yet a lower CPC. Cold leads also have a much lower conversion rate (and lower verification rates for trade shows).

NOTE: Remarketing (Google) and Retargeting (Facebook) efforts also fall into these classifications. There are some differences in campaign tactics and performance that go along with this strategy (which we’ll discuss at a later time). With Facebook, the level of familiarity with a product, service or company is higher so remarketing tactics always perform better across the board. With Google, the intent factor is highest, meaning someone is farther along in the consideration funnel and is closest to taking an action.

Facebook and Google Algorithms Operate Very Differently

Both Google and Facebook algorithm’s function in a very different manner.

Google Algorithm: Quality and Ranking Are Developed Over Time

The Google algorithm is inherently driven by the text present in search queries. To properly set up Google search ads (these are not banners run on the display network), many factors are taken into consideration. Each time a search query is entered into Google, your ad is put several factors of the search algorithm that main focus on the quality and continuity of the text that you’re using. The quality score of matched keyword(s) or phrase(s), the ad rank of ads and the dollar amount maximum bid for that particular a particular keyword or phrase are all taken into consideration. The key quality ranking factors build over time, and if ads are paused (which is why it’s best to run monthly campaigns) it can have a negative effect on ad placement, costs and ranking.

Facebook Algorithm:  Relevance and Bid Are Key

The Facebook algorithm is based on how relevant an ad is to the audience it is to target and how much you’re willing to pay for it. The goal of these ads are connecting certain types of customers with products/services/events that they may be interested in. Facebook ads are inherently driven by images and video, with ad copy playing a role to inform the viewer of what’s being advertised. Ad relevance is based on how well the ad copy and landing page match to the interest, demographic and shopping habits of the target user.

The more your target audience is familiar with you, the better your ad relevance score will be. For instance, serving ads to a remarketing list will have higher ad relevance than serving ads to a list of users unfamiliar with your brand. This means that you can start and stop campaigns and ad sets with little depreciation of ranking.

Going A Little More Granular  & To Summarize

Verification vs. Discovery.

The results of Google ads vs. Facebook ads is clear: Google fills an intentional need, Facebook allows for a more passive discovery.

Google: Intent + Quality = Verification.

All historical data shows Adwords providing the highest verification rate than most other advertising efforts. This is directly attributed to the intent of the user combined with quality and ranking within the algorithm. The higher quality ads get served to the most qualified users, making the ultimate conversion almost a foregone conclusion. The number of new and returning users that convert in Adwords and then attend a show is exponentially higher than converters in Facebook.

Facebook: Awareness + Relevance = Discovery

Facebook ads support Google by driving new brand awareness. There is an immediacy to Facebook ads that when used during an active trade show cycle can reach new potential trade show attendees and exhibitors. While the verification is a fraction of Google’s, the value of bringing new users to related content, the website and related business is invaluable for future growth.

Because of this, the general performance formula we see is that Facebook should get half the budget of PPC as it usually leads to half the verification.