“Where Should I Advertise Online?” Search Ads vs. Social Ads

Read Time: 5 Minutes

This is one of the most common questions we’re asked when discussing digital advertising. When people think about the real estate available to them online for advertising, they end up focusing on these two channels. In this blog, we’ll be discussing the advice we give clients about each avenue, our view on their roles in an advertising strategy, and when you should pull the trigger on a particular channel.

When deciding where to allocate digital advertising dollars, most end up choosing between search and social. In this blog, we discuss their strengths, differences, and key purposes.

Search Advertising

We say Search Advertising, but in terms of market share, we are really saying Google Search Ads 98% of the time. Search ads appear at the top and bottom of most search results pages and are the only entries on the results page that didn’t arrive there organically.

Companies bid on keywords that may show up in your search query in hopes that their ad will catch your eye first or more appropriately answer your question. In some instances, they will promote an offer. In others, they are only promoting themselves.

The Most Important Advantage of Search Ads Is:

You are throwing your hat into the ring with potential customers who are at least at the research phase of the buyer’s journey, or who may be ready to make a purchase decision now. Especially in highly need-based industries, this means Search Ad leads are typically fairly qualified.

Versus Social Advertising, We Utilize Search Ads To:

  • Reach potential customers when their need arises.
  • Leapfrog competitors who outrank us organically.
  • Improve organic rankings for a particular keyword.
  • Market expensive, niche B2B service/product offerings.
  • Leverage highly-specific search queries.

We Avoid Search Ads When:

  • Brand awareness is the ultimate goal.
  • We’re marketing a consumer good with no ecommerce.
  • The campaign is built around engaging content.
  • The value prop would be better communicated visually.
  • A limited-time offering is the centerpiece of the offer.

Search ads are more expensive per engagement, but you are reaching a more targeted audience at a point in time when they’ve expressed a need or are likely to make a purchase.


Social Advertising

Unlike Search Ads, Social Ads can be effective across a wide variety of platforms. It seems like new social media channels pop up every year, and smart brands figure out how to utilize them to their fullest. These ads are visually engaging, and targeting is built around interest categories, demographics, and other attributes.

While you can never really know if the person you’re reaching with an ad will make a purchase any time soon, social media advertising platforms are purpose-built to blast messages, grow audiences, and increase brand awareness so that when the potential customer is ready to make a purchase, your brand is top-of-mind.

We Utilize Social Ads To:

  • Rapidly increase brand awareness.
  • Showcase visual content & thought leadership pieces.
  • Grow social media followings.
  • Advertise consumer goods on behalf of B2C brands.
  • Advertise events or time-specific offers.

We Avoid Social Ads When:

  • Your product/service is expensive and highly niche.
  • You are a non-consumer-goods brand trying to reach people ready to make a purchase.
  • You are trying to directly market against competitors.
  • Your goal is increasing website traffic & search rankings.

The Most Important Advantage of Search Ads Is:

You are able to reach a large, diverse crowd based on relevant interests at a relatively low price point. And, you’re doing this through highly-engaging visual content that creates an actual dialogue with the audience you’re trying to reach. While the quality and quantity of leads will vary, the quality and quantity of impressions are high.

Versus Search Advertising

Social ads are less expensive per engagement, but you are reaching a more broad audience of people based on attributes and interests instead of immediate needs. While they may not make a purchase today, you are likely to stay top of mind when they are ready to pull the trigger. 


In Conclusion

Both search ads and social ads serve a vital purpose in a brand’s advertising strategy. In most cases, when we’re consulting with a client, the best strategy is not choosing one over the other, it’s finding the best way to affordably leverage both avenues. 

There are some cases where only one of these two approaches makes sense, but on the whole, a combination almost always gets the job done best.

The biggest piece of advice we could possibly leave you with is this:

Don’t start with a platform or strategy and work backward. Start with a clear goal and work your way forward to the platform or strategy that makes the most sense.