Revenue & Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
January 22nd, 2020
When it comes to paid media, Google Ads and Facebook Ads are the biggest players in the market. If you’re just starting out, how can you know which is the best for your business’ needs?
According to paid ads experts Ali Parmelee and Jason Linde, a blended approach is the way to go because it can take advantage of both platforms’ strengths — and it allows you to shift budget and strategy between platforms as needed.
In other words, it should not be Google or Facebook, it should be Google and Facebook.
However, a head-to-head comparison can yield important insights into each platform. And it was in this spirit that I sat down with Ali and Jason to hear their thoughts.
Before we begin, it’s important to remember that each of these giants is an umbrella company that includes important subsidiaries.
When we talk about Facebook, we’re also talking about Instagram, What’sApp, and Facebook Messenger. Google also includes YouTube, the second-most trafficked site in the world (behind Google itself).
John: Let’s start with the question on everyone’s mind: Cost per click.
Google expert Jason Linde: I would say, with this particular topic, there is no real definitive number, but there is a process.
There are some resources available for benchmarking, like AdStage, which will give you Q1, 2, 3, 4 benchmarks. They're a big organization that has access to a lot of accounts, they take those accounts and then they just average them out, so you have a base stat.
Then there are also some tools that can help you get there. There's Keyword Planner, which is inside of the Google platform, which will give you some average cost per click (CPC). You can put your core keywords in and get some feedback and see what Google has to say.
Google Keyword Planner:
There are also other ones like Keywords Everywhere, which is a Chrome extension. If you purchase that and you turn it on, and you open up Google.com, you put a keyword in, you're going to get real time results.
What's nice about these tools is they also will look at local, national, and international — and also sprinkle in Amazon and YouTube.
So having said all of that, coming up with an average CPC, it's really about supply and demand.
We work with the client and understand what core keywords are, and get a benchmark and say, “Okay, this is roughly on average what we should expect to spend.”
Most verticals are pretty obvious. If we're talking to a lawyer, or in a field that's high competition, you're looking at $50 to $100 CPC.
If we're looking at super small space, with not a lot of competition, we could be looking at pennies to just over a dollar. So it's going to vary, so we help clients know what to expect.
This helps with pre-budgeting and planning.
Once you have some data, you can see. We say, okay, we planned on a max of $5 CPC, hoping for $2 per click.
If you find you’re not getting anywhere, and it's costing $10, we'd go back and rework or retool budgeting.
Facebook expert Ali Parmelee: It’s the same on Facebook. It depends, because every industry is different. There are some general rules of thumb, but you have to look at a company's metrics, their benchmarks — and remember these are going to shift, because you're going to have seasonality.
But with that said, your CPC should be anywhere from $1 to $3 for Facebook, if it's over $3 you're doing something wrong. That is a general truth for us.
But that's just a cost per click, that's not a cost per acquisition, impression or conversion.
For example, you could see the CPA for leads could be $50 to $100, it's just entirely different based on industry (this is a handy guide from WordStream if you’re looking for details for a specific industry).
John: But what if you were in the same industry comparing one platform to the other, is CPC going to be higher for the same company on Facebook or on Google Ads?
Jason: It’s going to be higher on Google Ads. I think Google is always going to ultimately lose that battle to Facebook.
John: What about getting started? Is one platform easier than the other?
Ali: If you are just getting started in Facebook Ads, you need to give yourself a little bit of time to get your house in order. You need to look at how strong your Facebook page is. If it's anemic, you need to get some love there, or Facebook is going to think that you're fake news trying to spam people.
This is a pretty healthy one:
There are also some basic technical things that need to happen so that you're actually advertising correctly, and not just wasting your money.
The most important thing to do is install your pixel, which is easy if you're on HubSpot, WordPress, Shopify (any of the major platforms), it's pretty much turnkey at this point.
Also, make sure you set up the standard pixel events like Complete Registration and View Content. This will let you set objectives when building your ad targeting.
Once you get your pixel properly installed, you need to keep building your foundations.
Next up are audiences. The pixel lets you retarget website traffic, but don’t stop there. You need to build audiences to find net-new people, and the best way to do that is through lookalike audiences.
If you have at least 2000 people in your email list, you can start building some lookalike audiences from your opt-in list.
Technically, you can create a lookalike from a seed audience of 100 people, but I never do that unless I have at least a couple hundred. The more data in the seed audience, the better your lookalikes will be. You can also create lookalikes of your site traffic too.
Once you have your pixel installed, you've got your standard events on your pages, you've got your audiences, you've got a good database of assets to work off of, you’ve got engagement on your Facebook page, you’re consistently posting content, you’ve got an editorial calendar in place — then you can start moving forward.
Assuming that you've met the first set of criteria, you can develop your plan and start developing a full-funnel strategy.
John: Say you are a business that has a healthy Facebook presence. How much time would it take to start getting your ads up?
Ali: It takes about two to three weeks to get all of the background stuff done, and then get your strategy built out properly, and then by the fourth week we can start launching your ads.
Jason: Ali’s right: there's always like a checklist that should happen before any client, including ourselves, should jump into building the ads out and then spending the first penny. That holds true no matter what platform.
Google makes it so easy that a person could in theory quickly be up and running with an ad within minutes.
The problem about that is that we've given the keys over to Google, we've given our budget, and it's just doing things. It’s too easy to move quickly and not totally be in control.
That's the only caveat I would say.
Ali: Facebook does that also with boosting (but don’t get me started on boosting). Facebook and Google have made it be like buying a new laptop. Just follow the setup wizard to get everything running.
But are you wasting your money? Yes.
Jason: Google's a little sneaky about it because the last piece in order to complete your set up is to launch a campaign. And they do a fantastic job of helping, but unfortunately, it spends money.
It can spend money really quickly if people are not careful.
Ease of use
John: Can you both talk about ease of use, once you’re up and running?
Jason: Google Ads Express is super easy because it's just a dashboard and it’s easy to understand what you're looking at. But that's the Express version, not the Advanced.
In the advanced, it’s a lot more difficult, with multiple areas to dive into.
So I think that in terms of ease of use, Express super easy. In Advanced, it's going to take some time to understand where to find the things, and which levers are you able to turn on and off.
It can be pretty complicated.
Ali: For Facebook, you have ads manager, and that's where you're running ads from, regardless of whether you're doing a simplified version, or doing really a comprehensive version. Any money that you're spending in ads shows up there.
To me it's really simple and straightforward because I live and breathe in it, and it seems so intuitive to me.
But I think it can be very intimidating for clients and general users because they realize that you are in the window view of your media buying, and if you touch anything you could actually break it.
Jason: Ali makes it look so super easy!
I think both platforms make it easy to get started. What you do afterwards — that's the daunting part.
For one of our clients a couple of years back, Ali got in and put the framework together, and they rolled it out a whole set of nice ads. And the client went in to turn off one of the ads.
Sounds pretty simple. They literally deleted the whole entire campaign, and it was something that could not be brought back. All that data was gone, the ads were gone.
So that client was like, I'm not touching that account ever again!
Reach and targeting ability
John: Can you talk about reach and targeting ability?
Ali: Whenever we're working on our strategies, we're looking at how do we attract ice cold new people, and how do we nurture the people who are in our funnel? Then how do we just help people get across that finish line if they're interested in something, but haven't pulled the trigger yet?
This is where it comes back to, the better your brand is, the easier it is to reach and retarget people. Because we use all of your engagement as seed audiences for our lookalikes for top of funnel.
Think of it this way: If you've saved a post, I can target you, if you've interacted through direct message with me, I can target you, if you've been on the site, I can target you, if you've liked or engaged with page post or ads, I can target you. And that's not even getting into more complex stuff.
So I can create my lookalikes off of those actions and Facebook helps to find people who behave like those people.
You also get an added benefit with Facebook; you can do interest-based targeting.
But without a doubt, as long as you have good data, lookalikes all day long are going to be better for you than interests.
If we're on a tight budget, we don't even get into interest until phase two or three, because we know the lookalikes are going to do better faster.
But with interests, you can go after any kind of category.
People who are about to move, people who are parents of a nine-year-old, people who follow specific brands, people who read certain magazines, people who are traveling to a place right now but don’t normally live there. It’s crazy.
I think the powerhouse that Facebook has built in collecting data opens up amazing opportunities on the platform.
The thing that I think that Google has the slight advantage of is, while Facebook is siloed to a couple specific channels, I can now go after google.com, I can go after YouTube, I can go after Gmail, I can go after shopping ads.
YouTube Ad - Circle Furniture
The reach is pretty vast. Wherever and whenever you want it, we can put an ad. There is the opportunity to prospect. Google has gotten really good at opening up customization of audiences. We all have our patterns of behavior online. If you fit my client’s needs, we can target you.
Ali: This is how the pixel is so powerful. Google's going off of what it's seeing you do for the sites you visit.
Facebook sees that you just clicked on a dog photo, you just liked that athletic wear ad, you just typed this word — and it's pulling all of that in to build data around you.
Also, the pixel is attached to your username, so it doesn't matter what platform you're on, you could be on an iPad, you can be on your phone, you can be on your desktop. To use Facebook and Instagram, you have to be signed in.
It knows who you are, where you are, and what you're doing at all times, whereas you might have different logins for Google.
Local business application
John: How do these platforms serve for local businesses?
Jason: This is a bit of a gray space, but I will say this: Express is well built for local businesses. The brick and mortar that wants to get foot traffic in the door, Google Ads is great because it plays well with Maps, and with Google My Business.
Google Ads Express for Local Business: Credit WordStream
Outside of that, it's the same principle as other platforms: we could drop a pin, we could do a radius, we could do the targeting from your business location.
If you're two blocks away from my store, and you're googling a product I sell, we’ll make sure that my ad gets there.
Ali: This sounds bad, but I don’t work with many small businesses because they can't put enough ad spend into Facebook to get any real learning.
They only want to spend $500 a month, which is fine, but you're going to need like eight months to get any benchmarks in place to know what's going to work.
John: You’ve previously said that businesses should expect to spend $3,000/month on the platform. If not, then it's not the platform for them.
Ali: Facebook is trying to make some headway competing for local brick and mortar-type businesses, but they're going after businesses with multiple locations.
For local businesses that don’t have a big budget, you can always produce great content, and if you have a post that’s doing well, you can take that and turn it into an ad.
Jason: The problem with any local ad is attribution. How do you know if your ads are driving foot traffic?
Google recently dipped its toe into this water by creating beacons. The idea is that these beacons sit in a store, and when a person physically walks in the store, it beeps and knows you are in the store.
So, you can push ads out, supposedly, when someone is in proximity.
John: Let’s talk about engagement — click through rate (CTR) and conversion rate.
Ali: Similar to CPC, you have all of your standard benchmarks that are industry-wide. I know for a click-through rate, I want it at 1% or better. If it's not at 1%, then there's something wrong with the messaging, with the imagery that we're using. That's mostly for cold audiences.
If you're retargeting, you should definitely expect a higher CTR. You should be seeing 3-4% for CTR.
On a side note, I always look at outbound CTR as opposed to regular CTR.
John: Can you explain the difference?
Ali: CTR includes any clicking actions on an ad, which could even be as simple as clicking to “show more.” Outbound CTR means you're clicking the link in the ad to go somewhere, and I want to know if I'm driving you to the site, so that's more important.
So click through rates always look for a minimum 1% for cold and around a 4% for retargeting.
And return — well, that also depends on the stage of your funnel and what's going on. If you’re talking about top of the funnel and you get a one-to-one, you should be thrilled.
Middle of funnel? Two, would be great. Bottom of funnel, hopefully well over a three. You have to think of your top of funnel as prospecting.
John: Can you explain what those numbers actually mean?
Ali: I'm looking at your return on ad spend (ROAS). This is where you're specifically looking at exactly how much you spent, versus how much revenue it generated.
It can sometimes be higher. For one of our clients, we actually have right now 2.71 at the top of funnel, which is phenomenal.
John: So, if they are spending $1, they're getting $2.71 back?
Ali: Exactly. I usually advise people to not turn off top of funnel, even if it's not converting revenue. This is where I'm looking at soft metrics— how many ‘add to carts’ I am getting. How many ‘initiate checkouts’ am I getting? How many people are sharing? How many people are saving the post?
I look at all those things, and if those numbers look good, and my raw ads still aren’t at a one for top of funnel, I'm cool with it, because I need those soft engagement metrics to eventually get enough people in the middle.
John: In terms of the rates that Ali mentioned, do you agree for Google?
Jason: Yes. The only difference is with display ads, because these are the Wild West of the internet. If you can get a 1% with a display ad, you're a rock star. The expectations are a lot lower there.
John: But it's cheaper, accordingly, right?
Jason: It is.
Why a blended approach is the best approach
John: Why does an omni-channel approach make sense to each of you?
Jason: I think that in today's atmosphere, all the devices, all the availability, everybody's going online to make their decisions, learning, and absorbing content.
I think that it is just silly to silo yourself to one channel. I think the way Google and Facebook hand off to each other and complement each other is incredible.
When we talk to clients about this, there's this big a-ha moment, and it's a visual.
There's a conversion path in Google Analytics that literally shows touch points, from feels to buys. And I say, “let me just show you your current conversion path” — and sometimes it can be 15 or 16 touch points in a user's journey to make that purchase. Their minds are blown because they think it's only one or two touch points.