Paid Search Ads vs. Paid Social Ads

If you are spending any part of your marketing budget on advertising online you should currently be in a dilemma about what baskets to put your eggs in. For a long time the formula was simple: buying media meant search and content networks and a few variations of the same. But then, along came social networking that supplied a new channel of ads to invest in. It’s not an obvious comparison and you should be paying attention to a few factors while considering the two. For the sake of convenience, let’s represent search using Google as an example and Social using Facebook (because most other social networks do not have an evolved ad platform just yet).

Every day Google struggles to perfect the art of serving relevant ads to the right audience. They have several check points to ensure this. For example:

  1. Quality Score: An estimate of how relevant your ads, keywords, and landing page are to a person seeing your ad.
  2. A keyword status: A measure of how closely related your keyword is to your ads.
  3. Approval process: They put their ads through an approval process after which a status is given to an ad based on the ad or its website content to ensure it is appropriate for all audiences.


What made magic for Google was their consistent effort to be relevant, targeted and to be present in every nook and corner of the web. The concept of search ads is so simple and beautiful. You first sort your consumer by location and then by their search query. In other words, Google tells you who is looking for your service or product and where they are! In addition to this, Google has an extensive ad network across display, affiliate, mobile and other network partners where your ads can appear and reach a wide yet targeted audience. There is a variety of settings you can control in Google Adwords, however, the focus is ad relevance.

Facebook on the other hand is a social network with 845 million monthly active users. It allows you to advertise your message to its 100 billion connections. Unlike Google, Facebook allows for you to target your ads based on their massive user information repository which includes demographics, interests, location etc. Facebook’s ad format consists of a title, image and text which allows for a more personable approach. Here are some of the interesting targeting options you have while advertising on Facebook:

  1. Audience selection: Based on location and age.
  2. Demographic targeting: Based on interests and social status (not available in Google)
  3. Interest targeting: Based on information they have provided in their profile including pages they like, apps they use, etc.
  4. Connections targeting: Based on people who have become a fan of your page, a member of your group, someone who RSVP’d to your event, etc.


Both ad formats have their pros and cons. Search is heavily influenced by social activity these days and therefore the ideal situation is to feature both search and social ads in your media mix. However, if it came down to it and you did have to choose one over the other, the things to keep in mind are:

  1. Search has a larger ad network than social
  2. The support from Google in terms of optimizing your ads is more mature
  3. Conversion tracking and setting up the conversion funnel is supported by Google
  4. Google has better ad insights that help you run more effective campaigns
  5. Despite a smaller ad network, Facebook should show better conversions because of the consumer insights. However, they’re not as equipped to help you measure your ROI, so at this point it’s more of a guesstimate!
  6. Social ad formats are more attractive than plain text ads
  7. Targeting is more granular in social than search

We will have to wait and see who wins the battle for the online ad share In the meantime, feel free to test the waters and see what works best for your business objective!

– Amrutha Sathyan

Interactive Media Manager

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