Slaying Goliath: How Social Will Defeat Search for Ad Dollars

Relying on search advertising for bottom-of-the-funnel action is a tried-and-true strategy, but ignoring the spectrum of what social advertising can offer is a recipe for disaster.

Relying on search advertising for bottom-of-the-funnel action is a tried-and-true strategy, but ignoring the spectrum of what social advertising can offer is a recipe for disaster.

Social channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have grown from being top-of-the-funnel awareness magnets to powerful conversion platforms.

Many marketers are starting to increase their total spend and share of spend on social, while investment in search isn’t growing so quickly.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, Kenshoo found that marketers increased spend on search 8 percent year-over-year. Facebook ad spend was up 50 percent year-over-year.

A look at click-through rates shows why marketers are more excited about social ads. CTRs for search ads rose 17 percent year-over-year—and 64 percent year-over-year on Facebook.

It’s not just Facebook. In November, eMarketer released a study showing that users felt that sponsored social deliveries via Periscope, Snapchat and Instagram were the most effective marketing tactics. General search results ranked No. 15; search ads No. 18.

So what does social have to offer that search lacks?

Detailed targeting

The targeting capabilities of Facebook ads are mind-boggling. You can target exactly the audience you want, going far beyond chasing demographics. If you want to aim ads at your competitor’s employees who like Coca-Cola, you can do that.

As Facebook incorporates more advertising capabilities into Instagram, that will become a powerful platform, as well.

Pinterest has already grown in leaps and bounds with features such as buyable pins, generating the kinds of conversions you’d want on search. Much like on search, people go to Pinterest to find things they want to buy—but with a highly visual display. It recently ramped up targeting capabilities, as well, allowing advertisers to target promoted pins based on interests, keywords and customer databases.

Twitter and Snapchat are also growing as advertising platforms, giving brands a spectrum of options for reaching people.

While search advertisers can target specific keyword searches, Facebook has the power of the social graph. In a Facebook ad, users can see that their friends like the brand, giving more cachet to that advertisement.

Cross-channel powerhouses

More than 1.5 billion people access Facebook at least once a month on their mobile phone—894 million of whom never see the desktop version of Facebook.

Facebook, built for a desktop experience, quickly pivoted into a mobile platform, acquiring mobile apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram. Through Facebook, you can target specific smartphone users–or even those who access Facebook on feature phones.

While mobile is key for both search and social, social is excelling thanks in large part to retargeting. People who look for a hotel room on a travel website (but don’t book) or add a pair of shoes to their mobile shopping cart (but don’t buy) can be a major hindrance for traditional search and display. Now businesses and brands re-engage these shoppers through retargeting, promoting a product ad on desktop, mobile and tablet—increasing conversions by following users where they are.

Businesses using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are able to learn more about customers not just on one channel, but all of them.

Attribution tracking

For many years, the common knock against social channels was the inability to prove that a post or ad led to a conversion—especially on mobile, where cookies are basically nonexistent.

To become a viable platform, Facebook needed to not only provide value for the Coca-Colas and Nikes of the world, but to the corner coffee shops. Small businesses have driven much of the social ad innovations over the past few years, looking for ways to not only engage with fans, but reach larger audiences efficiently at scale and empower transactions.

Advertisers can turn to Facebook to drive specific offline actions, such as increasing in-store traffic or raising attendance at an event. While search ads are great for generating online sales, many small business owners are still looking for in-store solutions. Facebook (and other social channels) can help with both.

As Facebook opens up Instagram to more advertisers, small business owners can grow their presence on the platform that beats all others for engagement.

And yes, Facebook can help you tell if an ad led to an online purchase. Via the conversion tracking pixel, Facebook can break down reporting into one-day, seven-day and 28-day windows, illustrating the customer journey.

As social continues to grow, look for Google to adapt in the future to try to keep up—or for social advertising to even outrank search.

Steve Hibberd is the co-founder and CEO of Tiger Pistol, a Facebook Marketing Partner. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.