Facebook Ad Clicks Are Shifting to Mobile, so Why Aren’t Conversions?

New stats show potential for brand awareness, not as a search competitor

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Despite 63 percent of Facebook ad clicks occurred on mobile devices during 2014's fourth quarter, just 34 percent of the social media giant's conversions—either a sale, download or completed lead-gen form—came from smartphones and tablets.

This new stat, from Marin Software's quarterly Global Online Advertising Index, means nearly two-thirds of all Facebook ad conversions are happening on desktops even though the digital platform's usage is increasingly skewing toward mobile.

The same study found that 39 percent of clicks on paid search ads from sites like Google were via mobile devices, yet 31 percent of the paid search category's purchases came from mobile viewers. So the clicks/conversions ratio clearly favors Google over Facebook.

While it's not shocking that on-the-go consumers actively searching for products via Google is a better indicator of purchase intent than a click on a social ad, it's interesting to see a side-by-side comparison based on what appears to be thorough research. Marin Software—which says Facebook is as important to its business as Google—analyzed $6 billion worth of transactions to come to its findings.

Let's dig a little deeper into the San Francisco-based tech vendor's numbers:

In Q4, Marin found that Facebook's desktop ads got a 1.1 percent conversion rate, while its mobile ads rendered a 0.3 percent conversion rate. Conversely, paid search on Google and other engines achieved a 10.1 percent conversion rate for desktop ads and a 6.6 percent conversion rate for smartphones and tablets.

The reasons behind Google's appeal to direct marketers are obvious when looking at those numbers. But Marin CMO Matt Ackley touted Facebook's branding potential.

"The disparity points to the value in Facebook advertising being closer to television or print than performance-marketing channels," he said. "Clicks on mobile ads are greater than desktop ads, indicating Facebook mobile ads are a great way for a retailer to build brand awareness and reach consumers on mobile devices. Consumers are not device or channel exclusive. They move from search to social sites."

Therein may lie a challenge for Facebook: persuading retailers that their social ads can help search ads perform better.

"Recognizing and leveraging Facebook as a branding tool in conjunction with performance-marketing channels allows retailers to build demand and then capitalize on the demand much more efficiently," Ackley contended.

Meanwhile, there's absolutely no doubt that search is going mobile. Marin's data offers further proof, stating that as much as 49 percent of marketers' paid search budget is being manifested via tablet and smartphone.

Finally, check out the software player's chart below that shows clickthrough rates for different marketing mediums. (Social ad stats for tablets are omitted because they're included with smartphones as mobile data.) 

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.