In assessing Google vs Facebook advertising for consumer product brands, I’m going to share my experience in marketing our line of lifestyle bags. Other products and businesses may experience very different results
How and why we use Google and Facebook advertising
We primarily rely on Google and Facebook for top-of-funnel activities. In other words, this is where we first lure a potential customer to visit our site. To align with this goal, we set up all of our campaigns to prioritize click-throughs to our products.
For a full explanation of the marketing funnel and some examples of other techniques we use, see the post: How to increase website traffic and conversions
Some other context
We do not have a good way to track the ultimate effectiveness of various types of traffic since we assume that a first time visitor will make several more visits before actually purchasing a product. So, by the end of the sales funnel people may have come through one channel, been retargeted by another and then Googled our brand name to make their actual purchase.
We also use a service called Criteo for retargeting, which does offer better tracking of purchase activity. However, the majority of our “new” traffic comes through Facebook and Google. I will not be covering Criteo here but may in a future post.
I’ll start with Google because they are the incumbent, and for many years have dominated the online ad space.
The Pros of Google Advertising
1) Search Intent
Google’s unassailable advantage is that it owns the world’s most popular search engine, giving it the ability to target people as they seek a product just like yours. Someone who enters a search query tends to be a much more motivated buyer than one who happens to stumble upon an ad the you’ve served. Because of this, some businesses can build a very valuable stream of traffic off of just a few key search terms.
Google’s advertising products have the ability to reach 90+% of the sites on the internet.
3) Accurate analytics
Because it is free and extremely powerful, Google analytics has become the defacto standard for tracking your online traffic and performance. Google’s ad products integrate seamlessly with Google Analytics to provide a single dashboard for assessing your campaigns, though you will probably end up spending a significant amount of time in the Adwords dashboard also.
4) Variety of products
Google’s wide variety of products can get a bit confusing, especially as they continue to evolve under new names and with enhanced features. I’ll just cover the main concepts/products that would be relevant to indie consumer product brands.
Adwords/Text Based search campaigns
This is Google’s “classic” product: campaigns that serve up a text based ad alongside organic search results. This approach can be extremely effective if you are selling a niche product that does not have a lot of competition for keywords.
Google Shopping/Image-based search campaigns
Like AdWords, this is an ad with a product image that is served in response to a specific search query, where you control the keywords. This is best for lifestyle and fashion products, where a visual image can be a key differentiator. Since you will only pay for click-throughs to your site, it can be more cost-effective if you have a product that will only appeal to a certain segment of the audience for that keyword. For instance “Leather tote bag” – will only attract buyers who respond to your preview image in the search results.
You can use video both as pre-roll to a requested youtube video and as a banner ad. We have tested video on youtube but did not see a lot of click-throughs. I think the issue is that people are interested in seeing the selected video – not yours – so they are unlikely to leave the site unless you have an unusually novel product or video ad. I think this channel would be best for established consumer product brands, who want to reinforce their brand image without needing to drive website clicks.
Retargeting is a key component of any online marketing campaign. Once you’ve paid to get someone to your site the first time, retargeting places a cookie in the visitor's browser allowing you to continue to serve ads across numerous websites. Google has a product that can automatically serve ads for the specific products that a visitor has viewed. It can be a little complicated to set up, but if you are using Shopify, there is an app that makes it fairly seamless.
Google does offer phone support and will even assign an account person to help you optimize campaigns. My experience with their support has been mixed however (see conclusion below). The end result for me was spending a lot more money to achieve essentially the same results – despite the best of the ad words team.
The Cons of Google Advertising
I’ve found Google to be significantly more expensive than other platforms, however, we are in an extremely competitive category. Terms like “backpack” and lunchbox are simply too expensive and generic to be effective for us. This will likely be true for many lifestyle products that are differentiated primarily on the basis of style or design.
Search marketing can be very valuable to a brand targeting more niche/less competitive terms. If you fall into this category, you can use google Adwords to get a better understanding of which search terms are most valuable to you and double down on those to reach the most valuable traffic.
Part of the reason google has become more proactive whit their customer support is that their interface has become monumentally complex as they’ve layered in more products and features. (apparently, a redesign is in the works) While the AdWords is learnable with some coaching and dedication. Many people who don;t see results end up wondering if google simply ineffective for their products- or don;t know how to run them right.
I did fall into the camp who was wondering if there was something I could do to achieve better results, so when Google called and offered to help me build optimized campaigns, I jumped at their offer. Unfortunately. The campaigns Google built were a complete dud and Google’s account team came off as a bunch eager sales beavers who, while they understood the interface, did not show a good understanding of marketing. They also overspent on our assigned budget and offered poor account management to address the issue.
Facebook Advertising for Consumer Product Brands
Facebook’s advertising platform has come very far in a short period of time and continues to evolve at a rapid pace. For anyone looking at advertising online, Facebook deserves a serious look.
The Pros of Facebook Advertising
1) Ease of use
Compared to google, the Facebook ads interface is surprisingly simple. This is largely because facebook advertising is built around audience demographics, which are a predefined set of attributes, rather than keywords, which are potentially endless.
Facebook’s ad interface also allows you to reach other platforms such as Instagram and third party sites. You can easily upload videos or create ads with multiple images. Facebook’s mobile app for advertisers is surprisingly good and allows you to make quick edits to your campaigns on the fly.
2) Demographic targeting
If you have a clear idea of your audience characteristics, as we do, facebook offers powerful tools to target them. For instance, I can target women age 27 – 45 with kids between the ages of 3 and 10 who have a university degree, enjoy shopping online and appreciate fashion.
Facebook also has a feature that allows you to upload the email addresses of past purchasers called lookalike audiences. This, in turn, will scan Facebook’s database for the unifying characteristics of your audience and look for other potential users that will match with them. I’ve used this feature and, while it sounds cool, it has not delivered a lower cost per click.
For us at least, facebook traffic is much less expensive than Google’s. According to facebook, our cost per click is a low as $.35 – but in reality, only about half those clicks translate into website visits, at least according to Google analytics. However, even at twice the cost, a click from a Facebook ad (some of which may appear on sites beyond facebook) is still less than half the price of a Google ad.
The Cons of Facebook Advertising
Limited ad formats
Facebook only allows you to upload images in sizes that fit its platform’s strict format. Also, your image cannot have more than 20% of its area covered with text or your ad will not be approved. Headlines and text must confirm to facebook’s standard format.
Since our products sell primarily on visual appeal I’ve found that our lifestyle images do well on facebook. I haven’t had much issue with the limitations, whose intention is to keep ad quality high and non-spammy. Depending on
What Facebook calls traffic and what Google calls traffic are not even close. I have more trust for Google analytics then what Facebook cause a click to our side. Essentially we see a large proportion – like 50% or more – of clicks unaccounted for, leaving me feeling a little bit skeptical of Facebook’s reporting.
Facebook tracking code – or “pixel” – seems spotty and mostly useless in terms of tracking convrsions. However, we are using the old version of the pixel which has since been updated. I’m in the product process of migrating to the new pixel and may update this post if and when it is up and running
There is absolutely no way to contact Facebook by phone. Any issue you might have will require submitting an email through a standard form, to which you may or may not receive a reply. I did receive a call back from a Facebook person at one point after sending an email inquiry and she extended an offer to call her anytime I had a question – I have often a regretted not noting her number.
In the battle of Facebook vs Google advertising, Facebook has proven a more cost effective way to drive new traffic for our business. While there is no definitive across the board answer as to which is right for your brand, my impression is the Facebook is better suited to brands like ours, who are able to arouse interest with compelling lifestyle images or a catchy and novel value proposition.
If you have a very strong content strategy and are publishing regularly around your products, you might also find that Facebook is a good way to build relationships by promoting your content – this is not something we have invested much in, but I have seen other brands very successful with this approach