Google Adwords v. Facebook: One Ad Platform to Rule them All

Google and Facebook are the Athens and Sparta of modern digital advertising. On the surface it might seem like these two companies have little in common, yet the competition is fierce and the stakes are high. One may be a search engine and the other a social network, but both companies deliver a staggeringly large audience that marketers desperately need to reach.

The scope of these audiences can be difficult to comprehend.



  • Owns 33% of all digital marketing ($38.6 billion in 2014)
  • 1.2 million businesses use the Google ad network.
  • YouTube has the monthly viewership of 10 super bowl audiences.
  • Over 300,000 mobile apps serve ads from Google’s mobile advertising network.

Those are some pretty staggering statistics. There is only one company on earth that can rival those numbers.


  • 1.28 billion active monthly users.
  • 1.5 million businesses are currently spending money on Facebook ads.
  • Twice as many people watch videos on Facebook compared to only 6 months ago.
  • 60% of Facebook’s traffic is mobile.

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What do these stats tell us about which ad platform is better?

You know that your target audience is somewhere in the vast ocean of Google and Facebook users (even my grandparents are on Facebook and they “like” every single one of my status updates). But how can you find them? Like most things in marketing, it all comes down to targeting.
There is quite a bit of overlap between Facebook and Google’s targeting options.

Both allow you to segment audiences by:

  • Visitors to your website or landing pages (remarketing to tagged audiences)
  • Interest (Google uses search terms, Facebook uses “liked” pages and information from user profiles)
  • Location based targeting
  • Keywords
  • Demographic targeting (age, gender, etc)
  • Email addresses (more on this below)
  • Many other standard targeting options

The differences between the two platforms are significant though. For instance: Facebook allows you to target individuals by their email address by simply uploading a list of your contacts. Even for B2B campaigns, a match rate of 30% on your newsletter list is a very valuable audience to be able to serve a specific message to.

Google has a similar offering on the way.

Targeting affinity segments by email domains is already a feature Adwords offers, but Google is still rolling out additional products and targeting options built around email addresses. Until we see these new options being used by a wide range of companies, it is tough to tell how effective they will be.
Both of these companies have data on your audience that the other doesn’t have. Google knows more about what people search, how they use mobile devices, and how they behave on the internet than any other organization in the world (other than the NSA of course).

Facebook has an edge.

Facebook is the platform where hundreds of millions of people are constantly and voluntarily giving away information about themselves every day. Favorite movies, TV shows, musicians, the brands they follow, relationship status, major milestones in their lives; all of these things are Facebook’s to own and use to help your ads get clicks. Facebook shows us the structure of how humanity is connected to one another on a level civilization has never seen before.
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So who is the winner?

This is the point in an article like this where you probably expect us to say that the argument of Google Adwords vs Facebook just comes down to who you want to reach, what your marketing goals are, and how targeted you need your audience to be. All of that is true.

That doesn’t mean we can’t pick a winner.

It isn’t often that the plucky underdog in a battle between two online platforms has over one billion users. But Facebook is the newcomer in this fight.
Before Facebook went public their advertising services felt like an afterthought. But over the last two years Facebook has built a powerful interface for advertisers and has given marketers significantly more flexibility to format and place their ads however they need to. They have also given us arguably the best ads on the internet: Facebook newsfeed ads.

So who wins?

In this writer’s opinion, Facebook comes out on top for aggressively innovating, consistently delivering (generally) cheaper clicks, more dynamic ad formats, and robust targeting options.
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What does this mean for you?

Take a hard look at how your marketing budget is allocated. Experiment with paying per conversion, per “like”, and per click in all of the various formats Facebook allows for. Use contact lists of phone numbers and email addresses to target your advertising at highly specific audiences that will respond to a specific message. Should you stop advertising with Google? Of course not. Google provides a lot that Facebook doesn’t, but at least for the moment, Facebook seems to be standing just a bit taller than it’s competitors.
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