Are you on the wrong platform? Paid search vs. paid social




  • The right answer for your business depends on what you’re trying to market, who you’re trying to market to and what your marketing goals are.

    When it comes to online marketing, pay-per-click advertising is one of the most powerful tools you can use. Year after year, it gets easier and easier to reach your target market on Facebook Ads, Google Ads and the like.

    Unfortunately, with all of the features and options we now have available, it can be overwhelming to find the right way to market your business. Even on a single platform like Google Ads, you have options for manual ads, automated text ads, click-to-call ads, banner ads, video ads and much, much more. Then, throw in half-a-dozen or more additional platforms and it can simply be too much to wrap your head around.

    While the array of marketing opportunities at your disposal may be dizzying, most of them can be placed in one of two categories: paid search and paid social. There are a few other options, like display ads, but since paid search and paid social are the powerhouses of PPC, we’re going to focus on them here.

    When you look at your PPC advertising options this way, it becomes a lot easier to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and where they fit into your marketing strategy. So, in this article, we’re going to compare these two marketing channels and tell you what you need to know to make better marketing decisions for your business.

    What’s the difference between paid search and paid social?

    Before we dive into a discussion of the strengths and weakness of paid search and paid social, let’s start by talking about how each of these marketing channels works.

    Paid search

    Paid search advertising platforms show ads in response to search queries. Google Ads is the best-known paid search platform, but most search engines (Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, etc.) offer paid search advertising options.

    What makes paid search great is the fact that it is intent-based advertising. People see your ads because they are actively looking for a solution to a problem. This sort of audience is usually ready (or almost ready) to make a purchase, which is good news for you and your business.

    For example, if someone searches online for “flowers for wedding,” there’s a good chance that they have a wedding coming up and are looking for a place to buy flowers. If your business sells wedding flowers, you want them to find your business. Running a paid search ad on that search term is one of the best ways to do it.

    Are you on the wrong platform? Paid search vs. paid social

    When it comes to getting in front of people with high purchase intent, it’s hard to beat paid search. You don’t have to convince people that they have a problem…you just have to convince them that your solution is right for them.

    Paid social

    In contrast, paid social ads show up when people are on a social media platform like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or even Reddit. Unlike paid search, your audience isn’t actively looking for a solution to a problem. In fact, they may not even realize that they have a problem.

    On the surface, paid social advertising is a lot like many classic forms of advertising such as radio ads, billboards or TV commercials. Instead of waiting for customers to come to you, you are highlighting a need and offering your business as the solution. The hope is that people will resonate with your message and decide to buy from you, but that can be a bit of an uphill battle.

    Fortunately, unlike radio or TV ads, you can actually track the performance of your paid social ads. This makes it much easier to determine how people are responding and adjust your messaging or targeting.

    If you can get your paid social campaigns dialed in, you can drive business from a very large group of people, many of whom may never have bought from you otherwise.

    For example, have you ever considered decorating with fresh eucalyptus? If you’re like a friend of mine, probably not, but after seeing ads like the one in her social media feeds for a while, she eventually decided that her house needed a eucalyptus accent.

    Are you on the wrong platform? Paid search vs. paid social

    With paid social advertising, you can reach as large of an audience as you want. So, if you want to build awareness for your products, services or your business in general, it’s pretty had to beat the reach of paid social.

    What’s right for your business?

    In an ideal world, you’d market everywhere, on every platform, all of the time. However, for most companies, that isn’t very practical. Time and financial limitations make it hard to take advantage of every advertising opportunity.

    With that in mind, let’s take a look at these two marketing channels and ask the question: should you focus on paid search or paid social?

    The right answer for your business depends on what you’re trying to market, who you’re trying to market to, and what your marketing goals are. So, let’s take a look at three different scenarios to help you decide on the right marketing channel for you.

    When you need results fast

    When you’re starved for sales and need to get leads in or merchandise out, paid search is hard to beat. Your audience may not be huge, but you’re targeting a market that is ready to buy, so running paid search ads is a great way to get at people who already at the bottom of your marketing funnel.

    Most of the time, paid search really isn’t a long-term play. People see your ad and they either click…or they don’t. If they click, they either convert…or they don’t. Retargeting can help you capture some lost sales, but most of the time, people who click on your paid search ads are very close to making a purchase.

    As a quick example, let’s say your toilet clogs and starts flooding. Are you going to wait until the perfect plumber happens to cross your path? Of course not! You need help immediately.

    Are you on the wrong platform? Paid search vs. paid social

    Even if you don’t go with the plumbing service from the first ad you click, odds are that within the hour you’ll have hired a plumber. You’re going to convert, it’s just a question of which company you’ll choose.

    The good news is, most paid search platforms are well-designed to help facilitate rapid decision-making. After all, that’s the whole point of paid search advertising: to get in front of a high-intent audience and convince them to convert before that intent fades.

    In contrast, because paid social is advertiser-initiated, rather than user-initiated, the intent is much lower and it can often take longer to see results. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t get a good return on a paid social campaign, but it doesn’t always happen right away.

    When you need to keep costs down

    We all know that you have to spend money to make money, but some of us have more money to spend than others. If funds are tight, it’s natural to want to look for the cheaper advertising option.

    Here, however, is where things get complicated.

    If you look at things purely in terms of cost-per-click (CPC), paid social is a lot more accessible than paid search. As a general rule, the lower in the funnel a click is, the more you can expect to pay for it. And, as we’ve just discussed, clicks don’t get much lower-funnel than paid search.

    For example, on Google, a law firm can expect to pay an average of $6.75 per click (or higher, depending on keyword and location). By comparison, the average CPC for an advertiser in the legal space on Facebook is only $1.32.

    So, if all you care about is CPC, paid social is the easy winner. But, that’s not all that you should be thinking about.

    Think about it this way, a click on paid search might cost you $30. That hurts, but it happens. If only one-in-ten of those clicks becomes a paying customer, you’re paying $300 per sale.

    On the other hand, a click on paid social might only cost you $1.00. Up front, that feels a lot better, but because those clicks are higher in the funnel, only one out of every three hundred clicks actually buys. Once again, you’re paying $300 per sale.

    So which is cheaper? Paid search or paid social?

    Obviously, the scenario above is overly simplified, but the fact of the matter is, a cheaper CPC doesn’t necessarily make paid social the cheaper marketing channel. Since the overall profitability of a marketing channel can be hard to predict without actually running ads, focus on picking the right channel for your marketing goals, not just the cheapest option.

    When you’re trying to build awareness

    As important as sales and profitability are, there are only so many people conducting online searches that are relevant to your business at any given time. To grow beyond that point, you have to start building awareness.

    This is where paid social really shines.

    If you are selling something that people don’t realize that they need, paid social can be a great way to build awareness for that need. Alternatively, if you are trying to build a loyal following so that people will buy from you when they have a problem instead of searching online, paid social is a great way to build awareness for your brand.

    In either of these cases, you’re trying to target people further up the funnel than paid search can reach. With paid social ads, you can tell a product or brand story using imagery, reviews or video content that gets people excited about your business, products and vision.

    For example, check out this ad:

    Are you on the wrong platform? Paid search vs. paid social

    Odds are, you probably haven’t thought much about losing weight using broths and soups. But after seeing this ad, you might consider a new weight loss method.

    So, whether you’re trying to sell something people have never heard of before, want to bulk out your sales funnel, or simply want to build a loyal following online, when it comes to building awareness, it’s hard to beat paid social advertising.

    What’s right for you?

    So, should you advertise on paid search or paid social? Obviously, it’s ideal to use both of these marketing channels, but most businesses find that emphasizing a specific channel works better for their business.

    The right channel for your business depends a lot on the products or services you’re marketing, your business model, the audience you’re trying to reach and what your marketing goals are. That’s why it’s so important to understand how each marketing channel works, its strengths and weaknesses and what it can do for your business.

    At this point, it should hopefully be obvious what channel you should be emphasizing in your marketing. You’ll still need to test and figure things out, of course, but picking the right marketing channel is the first step on the road to PPC advertising success.


    Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


    About The Author

    Jacob is passionate entrepreneur on a mission to grow businesses using PPC & CRO. As the Founder & CEO of Disruptive Advertising, Jacob has developed an award-winning and world-class organization that has now helped over 2,000 businesses grow their online revenue. Connect with him on Twitter.

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