Paid Search or Paid Social – Which PPC Model Should You Use?

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Pay-per-click is arguably one of the most reliable forms of digital marketing available. You’re charged only when your advert does its job – when it’s clicked on. Your budget is set in stone, by you, and you’re able to target highly refined audiences whom you can be confident are potential customers.

The most fundamental decision when creating a PPC marketing campaign is the mode of advert delivery. There are three primary channels for PPC adverts to appear on.

1 – Search Engine Results Pages (paid search)

Adverts that appear at the top of search engine results, such as Google

2 – Social Media (paid social)

Sponsored social updates that appear in your newsfeed

3 – Display Adverts

Adverts that appear on websites within a ‘display network’

But which type of PPC campaign is your business in need of?

"Can the appeal of adverts be condensed into simple primitive urges?"
“Can the appeal of adverts be condensed into simple primitive urges, or will the Banana Phone really change everything…”

Today we focus on the choice between numbers one and two. We’re focusing on the titans of paid search and paid social – Google and Facebook, respectively.

Why are we comparing these two and excluding display ads, such as the AdWords Display Network? Because unlike the other two, display ads generally inhabit conventional ad spaces. Both AdWords on search and Facebook Ads on the other hand can be classed as native advertising, where they inhabit and resemble the same area and form as the rest of the content on the page. They’re similar, comparable, and growing in application with the rise of ad blockers and data-driven marketing.

Paid search and paid social shouldn’t compete. They’re not a snake and a kangaroo, writhing around in vicious competition with each other. There are times when one is priority over the other, and there are times when they must be employed in unison to meet two separate objectives.

I floss my teeth with serpents.
I floss my teeth with serpents.

Why are we discussing Google AdWords over, say, Bing Ads? Or Facebook Ads over Twitter’s advertising platform? Because they are the giants. Google encompasses 33% of all online ad revenue worldwide. Facebook is the fifth most valuable public company in the world and has over one billion daily active users. That’s a lot of users in one place.

So, when should you be focusing your budget on paid search and when on paid social?

Let’s first approach some key differentiators between these two services.

The intent of the user

There is a clear difference between the intent of internet users performing a search on Google and those browsing their Facebook newsfeed. In fact, the very verbs used there, ‘perform’ and ‘browse’, hint at the level of deliberation each user base employs.

Let’s not beat around the bush, when it comes to a specific intent to purchase a product or learn more about one, Google is where the action is. While Facebook is a tailored environment of user-generated content and inter-user engagement, Google search is a tool that does nothing without deliberate input.

Search traffic has already set foot on a buying journey. Marketers need only step onto the same path.  Click to tweet

The idea that Google only puts out in relation to what the user puts in is reinforced by the traditional approach to AdWords, where marketers target search keywords and phrases that show ‘buyer intent’. With search, those who click your ads are already researching your product type, AdWords simply makes sure they see you first.

Facebook users on the other hand don’t log in to the platform intending to purchase a product. A Google user’s experience is a binary query > result affair. Facebook is an ecosystem of immediate, socially-entwined content that’s arranged by an algorithmic moderator aiming to appeal to your interests. Or, as my mum uses it as, the place with ‘all the funny videos’.

And then he said I was a benevolent god!
“And then – get this – he said I was a benevolent god!”

Google sells better, right?

Because Google traffic can show an explicit intention to purchase, you might argue that it is superior to those looking to sell…

But there’s only so many low-hanging fruit. While Google’s SERP ads may capture those who are already on the buyer journey, there is an innumerable amount of future customers out there who don’t even know they need your product yet. They won’t be Googling your LED stained-glass windows any time soon.

This is where Facebook Ads shows its power. Facebook, first and foremost, is a personal experience. Users visit the site expecting content from – or sourced by – people they care about. Any novel material is, in theory, pre-vetted by people who we’re familiar with.

This sense of the personal, combined with a sophisticated targeting system (which only exists thanks to the personal nature of the site), allows promotional material to be viewed and, when done right, considered and engaged with like any other piece of social media material. The mobility of social media content and its potential for discussion makes Facebook Ads a potent means to introduce previously unfamiliar people with your brand.

We scroll our Facebook newsfeed expecting entertainment and information based on our interests, social circles and online activity – if the audience targeting is good, then adverts should nestle right into that.

If you’re confident there is already some demand for your product range – whether it’s yours specifically or a that of a competitor’s – get on paid search. The tap is already running, you just need to jostle others out the way and put your mouth to it. That’s an awful analogy.

Yet if you’re looking to introduce new people to your brand and are comfortable adding more people to your sales funnel without necessarily increasing sales immediately, invest in paid social. Social media is a killer avenue for consumers to discover new brands. As a personal experience with a communal agenda, social media lays fertile ground for consumers to be introduced to your business on the basis of personal value.

However, if your business is in the position to start a paid social campaign, it important you have the material to create good adverts. This leads on to the next differentiator, which is the format of ads.

adwords + fb ads

Ad Formats

As both Google search ads and Facebook ads fall under native advertising, whatever the native content is should also reveal what type of format the advert can be. On a Google search page, text based results are the primary model of content, and this is how their ads look. While there are shopping ads that allow photos of your products to be promoted, it’s the text-based ads that allow the most information to be conveyed.


Facebook’s newsfeed allows for a lot of diverse material now and thus offer a much broader palette to craft your ad from.

If you’re already aware of the types of advert available on Facebook and Google, it’s understandable to think Facebook is the way to go for dope ass native ads™.

But what use is the option to post a video ad or a carousel ad if you don’t have the media to do it? As we’ve discussed, there’s great potential for introducing your brand to people on Facebook, but that’s only if you can match the native content. So you need to harness Facebook’s diverse ad format – do you have content ready to use? Are you willing to spend money creating some, without an immediate return?

Take this into account. People consume content on Facebook, so you need content marketing material to arm your ads. Facebook is no longer a stream of personal text updates from friends (no matter how much it wishes it still was). It’s predominantly rich content; you’ll be hard pressed to find Facebook updates that don’t at least feature an image in them now. If you’re going to utilise social ads, ensure you’ve got the quality content that can compete with what’s already being pumped out.

As for Google AdWords, while you don’t need a slick video or image for your ad, you will need sharp ad copy, along with a landing page that delivers precisely what your ad is offering. By the time you’re pouring money into paid search, this should be enough to capture those hot leads you’ve developed with social material.

Targeting ability

As I’ve mentioned, the in-out style of Google search means targeting is primarily based on keywords and phrases that a user inputs into their search.  As well as this, marketers can target a user’s location, language, device, and those users who have already visited their webpage (remarketing). Google’s ad framework is evolving though, and more targeting options is expected.

Focus your budget on AdWords after or during a successful marketing campaign that’s generated demand for your product. If your product is already lucrative, ensure your quality score is high enough for you to compete.

The way that people use Facebook means that there’s much more user data to work with, to the point that it can be quite overwhelming. As well as an array of remarketing options – including targeting website visitors and page likes – you can create lookalike audiences: an algorithm-generated audience of similar profiles to an existing database. This can take a list of 1,000 or so people and create one of 100,000+ from it.

Then, there’s the demographic targeting, including all that’s familiar on AdWords, plus an abundance of behavioural and ‘interest’ related targeting as well.


To truly harness the level of detail available on Facebook Ads, you need to have a thorough buyer persona drawn out. You’d be surprised at some of the common denominators that the most receptive Facebook users share. If you’re selling custom phone cases, you’re not going to get far targeting people who have already liked pages ‘relating to phone cases’. It’s not that simple – you need to know behaviours that are pre-requisites for your brand and product – iPhone screen repair services, perhaps?

If you’re not yet confident about the detailed interests of your untapped audiences, check out Ed’s video for creating effective audiences that don’t require a complex persona template.

You should invest in paid social when the need to grow and define your audience overshadows the need to increase your lead capture. For smaller businesses who are still finding their footing in the industry, Facebook Ads should be the first step.

So let’s recap: to successfully use the audience targeting of AdWords, you want to thoroughly research what leads are searching. If there are people intending to buy your product (from you or a competitor), how are they articulating that inquiry? Your best tool at discovering which search terms are most prevalent is keyword planner.


Facebook Ad targeting requires a truly detailed knowledge of the character make-up (interests, online behaviour, demographic) that are pre-requisite to considering your brand. Taking time to research your target market and creating buyer personas is a good starting point. Using Google Analytics and performing qualitative analysis of leads on social platforms should also go with this.

furl ad

Know that under the right circumstances paid social can also be effective at driving conversions. However, this wont happen until people are readily engaging with your social material and showing clear interest. At this point, a social ad with a clear CTA and purchase goal can be accepted by an audience that in normal circumstances don’t intend to make a purchase on social media.


It’s a hackneyed word, but the synergy of your marketing channels is the most effective method of truly growing your brand and increasing your conversion rate. You want to get to a point where you employ paid social and paid search simultaneously. The content that you promote on social channels should invigorate your leads to the point that a sharp text ad on Google search can seal the deal.

Want to learn more about PPC? Check out our case studies or tweet us a bizarre gif accompanied with a provocative question.



Nat Rubyan-Ling

Author: Nat Rubyan-Ling

Nat specialises in the persuasive and creative elements of content, reinforced by a long, dusty history of studying literature and a thrilling spate in the sales and retail industry where he has guided countless individuals to the frozen peas. Nat's mantra: Inbound is so fly.

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