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Social Media Ads Vs. Google Search Ads: A Quick Guide for Business Owners and Marketers

The digital advertising world can sometimes feel like a vast ocean of possibilities. Especially for small business owners and marketers wearing numerous hats, the number of choices can be downright overwhelming.

Two major marketing channels that frequently come under consideration are Social Ads (such as those on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) and Google Search Ads. In this blog post, we'll delve into the nuances of these two core marketing channels, explore their pros and cons, and help you decide which may be the right fit for your business.

small business using social ads and google search ads for online advertising strategy

Core Differences and Benefits

Google Search Ads

Google Search Ads are primarily intent-based advertisements. When someone types a query into Google, they're actively looking for a product, service, or an answer to their problem. Your ad can appear at the top of these search results if it's relevant to the user's query. The primary benefit is that you're targeting people when they are in the mindset to find a solution (what we affectionally call “shopper mode”), making them more likely to convert.

You can think of Google Search Ads as a helpful store assistant directing you to the right products after you’ve expressed a specific need, for example “interactive cat toys.” When someone searches a keyword or phrase you’ve targeted, your ads can be shown offering the solution.

Social Ads

Social Ads appear on various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Social Ads are more about brand visibility, storytelling, and targeting specific demographics, interests, or behaviors which may be aligned with your offerings. The advantage here is that you can target your ideal potential customers perhaps even before they know they need your product or service.

Imagine walking through a mall and a window display catches your eye. That's what social ads do. They're present on platforms where your audience is already spending their time (social media), captivating users with appealing content, even if the product/service wasn’t on their shopping list.

Pros and Cons of Social Ads

Social ads have clear strengths and weaknesses that can be leveraged. The following are just a few high-level pros and cons.

Pros of Social Ads

Precision Targeting

Social platforms offer detailed demographic, interest-based, and behavioral targeting options from which to choose. Honing your targeting ensures that your ads are shown to the most relevant audience. Let's say you sell handcrafted cat furniture. Social platforms allow you to target ‘cat lovers’ directly, making sure feline fanatics see your products.

Visual Storytelling

Platforms like Instagram excel in visual content, making it possible to showcase your brand in a visually appealing manner. Got a cool video of cats performing marvelous acrobatics or lazily lounging on your creations? Instagram may be your stage.


Social ads often encourage likes, comments, and shares, fostering community engagement and word-of-mouth marketing extended beyond the initial ad experience. This is reminiscent of taking a friend with you to the mall and saying, “look at this awesome cat toy I found, wouldn’t your kitten, Cuddles, just love it?”

Brand Awareness

Even if users don’t immediately click on your ad, consistent visibility can establish brand recognition. For example, every time cat enthusiasts scroll and see your products, they're more likely to remember your brand the next time their cat cunningly guilts them into buying a gift for their royal highness.

Cons of Social Ads

Ad Fatigue

Users may get tired of seeing the same ads, leading to reduced engagement and effectiveness over time. If you show someone the same cat condo ten times without them actively searching for one, the user might put you in the doghouse.

Lack of Intent

Since you are targeting users based on demographics and interests, you will not actually know if they need or intend to buy your particular product or service. You may get clicks and impressions on your ads from individuals who thought your product images were cute, but never had the intention of buying a product.

As such, it begs the question, is it better to reach the audience who loves cats, or reach an audience of people who are specifically searching for cat products today (regardless of their feline friendliness)?

Complex Algorithm

The success of your ad is partly dependent on the platform's ever-changing algorithm, which impacts the initial ad visibility, cost per click (CPC), and extended reach or engagement. No matter how cute your kitties are, you still must play nice with the social platforms’ content algorithms.

Pros and Cons of Google Search Ads

Google Search ads also have very distinct advertising pros and cons which make it a viable and powerful advertising channel.

Pros of Google Search Ads

High Intent

Users searching on Google often have a clear intent expressed via the keywords they enter into a specific search query. Via Google Search Ads, you are able to target specific keywords and phrases, which can lead to potentially higher conversion rates. For example, someone searching for “cat furniture stores near me” or “buy cat tree online” is likely ready to make a purchase.

Pure Pay Per Click (PPC)

Google Search Ads purely operate using a Pay Per Click (PPC) model. You only pay when someone takes action on your ad (e.g. clicks, calls, etc.), ensuring you're paying for potential leads. Additionally, you’re in control of your budget whether you want to spend $10 a day, $1,000 a day, or somewhere in between.

Google Ads is like renting a billboard in the prime spot but only paying for the billboard when someone actually takes action based on what they saw.

Immediate Traffic

When the keyword targeting is executed properly, Google Ads can quickly drive traffic to your desired destination, making it ideal for new businesses with a limited budget or an established business with a new service line or new branch office opening.

Release a new vegan cat food for your feline friends? Well, there are well over 1,500 searchers looking for “vegan cat food” every single month in the United States alone.

Instant Search Engine Visibility

Traditional SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can take quite a bit of time to start delivering traffic, especially when you’re competing against well-established businesses or companies with large SEO budgets. Google Ads is a way to level the playing field and instantly rocket you to page 1 (albeit with a “sponsored” label).

Cons of Google Search Ads


Popular keywords can be expensive due to high demand, driving up costs. For example, bidding for popular keywords like “best cat toys” might be pricey, just like premium store locations in the local shopping mall.


Setting up and optimizing Google Ads to perform efficiently requires a steep learning curve. Crafting both the perfect targeting plus engaging ads is both an art and a science. What Google doesn’t emphasize to you is that if executed poorly, your ad budget can be misused rapidly on irrelevant clicks.

Brief Exposure

Unlike a social media ad which might recur on a particular users’ feed for a while, Google Ads are ephemeral, disappearing once the search is over.

When to Use Google Search Ads

Google Search Ads excel when there's existing demand for a product or service. Google Ads are ideal when:

  1. You’re selling a product or service people often search for online.
  2. You have promotions or short-term deals that can entice users to click your ad vs. a competitor’s website.
  3. You're entering a market with established competitors and want immediate visibility within search engines.
  4. Typical SEO doesn’t seem to be driving the traffic you desperately need now.

When to Use Social Ads

Social ads shine when building brand awareness, hypertargeting specific demographics, or launching innovative products that your ideal market might not be actively searching for. Opt for social ads when:

  1. You're aiming for broader brand visibility.
  2. You’re targeting a definable, specific demographics, interests, or behaviors.
  3. You have visually appealing content or stories to share.
  4. You’re introducing a new concept or product to the market.

Deciding the Best Fit for Your Business

Social Ads and Google Ads are both amazing in their own respects. We use each at Igniting Business for our clients depending upon the following factors:

  1. Assess Your Goals: Is immediate high-intent traffic the aim? Or are you building a brand narrative? Your objectives will influence your choice.
  2. Budget Constraints: While both platforms can work with various budgets, consider the cost per acquisition (CPA) and return on investment (ROI) for each platform.
  3. Know Your Audience: If your target demographic spends a significant amount of time on a specific social platform, investing more in social ads might be the way forward.
  4. Examine the Competition: Just because your competition is doing social ads does not mean you have to follow suit. The more competition that uses a particular platform, the higher the cost per click (CPC) rises. Thus, sometimes the road less traveled (assuming you can still target properly) yields a more efficient ad spend.
  5. Test and Learn: Sometimes, the best approach is to allocate a small but reasonable budget to both avenues simultaneously or sequentially. Then, assess the results and optimize accordingly. Of course, you don’t want to allocate too small of a budget or too short of a test period which nullifies the validity of the test.
  6. Seek Expertise: If you’re unsure, consider working with a qualified digital marketing firm. Qualified digital marketing firms have deep experience with the ins and outs of these platforms and can offer strategic insights and potentially better outcomes.

In conclusion, both Social Ads and Google Search Ads have their unique strengths. Your business goals, target audience, and budget will play pivotal roles in determining which platform (or combination) is ideal. Taking a thought-out, data-driven approach will ensure your advertising dollars are well-spent and drive the results you desire.

Tools to Level Up Your Social Ads or Google Ads

We recommend utilizing a keyword research tool like Semrush to scope out the competition, generate target keywords, see average cost per clicks, and even spy on your competitors ads copy and assets.

If you need to create eye-catching, scroll-stopping visuals for social media platforms, try out Adobe Express which allows even non-graphic designers to easily build out stunning visuals.

Make sure your ad copy is free from embarrassing grammar and spelling errors. We highly recommend using Grammarly to make copy editing a breeze.

Finally, keep getting free marketing tips like these delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

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