insights | 08.02.2024

Paid search or paid social: which is right for your business?

Article topics
  1. What is paid search?
  2. What is paid social?
  3. The benefits of paid search
  4. The disadvantages of paid search
  5. The benefits of paid social
  6. The disadvantages of paid social
  7. Paid search or paid social: which one should I use?
  8. Xigen: Your paid search and paid social specialists

You’ve built a fantastic website, SEO-optimised your product pages, and set up and segmented your email marketing list.

But what other marketing channels can you use to promote your business?

If you have the budget, pay-per-click advertising, or PPC, is a fantastic way to reach new audiences and persuade them to convert on your site using highly targeted ads.

Paid search and paid social are two of the most popular PPC options. In this article, we’ll investigate the pros and cons of each and see which is the right choice for your business.

Paid search ads are adverts that appear at the top of the search engine results. This means they appear above the organic search results, increasing the chances of potential customers clicking on them.

Here’s an example in Google search for the keyword ‘wedding dresses’. You can tell these websites use paid search as each result is ‘sponsored’.

Here’s another example on Bing, for the keyword ‘office refurbishment companies’. Unlike Google, Bing does not specify if a result is paid for or not.

Paid search advertising platforms like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising use a bidding system to determine which ads are shown. Advertisers specify which words and phrases they want their ads to show for and how much they are willing to pay.

The platforms then use this information, alongside other factors, including the quality and relevance of the ad to the customer, to rank the ads in the search engine results.

What is paid social?

Paid social ads are adverts that appear on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok.

Here’s an example of a B2C advert on the Instagram newsfeed shown to someone interested in dogs.

Here’s an example of a B2B advert on the LinkedIn newsfeed, shown to someone in the marketing industry.

Unlike paid search, paid social advertising platforms don’t use keywords to determine who ads show to.

Advertisers set a maximum amount they are willing to pay for each ad impression or click, as well as who they would like the ad to target. The paid social advertising platform then uses this information, alongside other factors like ad relevance, to serve the ads to the right people.

It’s easy to get started

Google Ads is an easy platform to get to grips with as Google talks you through the process from start to finish. You can choose a campaign goal, enter your website URL to get keyword suggestions, and even use artificial intelligence (AI) to write your ad copy.

With paid search platforms, you can be as hands-on or as hands-off as you like, using automation to manage your campaigns. Although even if you automate your ads, we recommend checking in regularly to ensure your ads are delivering the right results.

It’s important to remember that while Google Ads is easy to learn, it is trickier to master. There are many tips and trips you need to be aware of to ensure your return on ad spend (ROAS) is as healthy as possible.

A good starting point is to take the official Google Ads Search course, which is free and gives you a certificate at the end.

Better conversion rates and more website traffic

Paid search ads typically offer higher click-through and conversion rates than paid social. According to WebFX, the average conversion rate on Google Ads is 3.75% and 0.71% on paid social.

Why are conversion rates better on paid search than paid social? It’s down to where your customers are in the sales process. The key benefit of paid search is that you can use it to target people who are ready to buy right away.

Let’s say that someone searches for ‘buy heated gloves’. This is a strong indicator that they want to purchase a pair of gloves right now. By bidding on this keyword and appearing at the top of the search results, you’re one step closer to making a sale.

This means that if you have a limited budget, paid search can lead to better returns for your business.

A range of advertising options

You can complement paid search ads with a wide range of different advertising options.

For example, in Google Ads, you can advertise on mobile apps, YouTube videos, and other people’s websites. If you run an eCommerce store, you can even benefit from Shopping ads.

This gives you a wide range of additional functionality and makes it easier to target the right customers.

It can get competitive

Four out of five businesses use Google Ads to run PPC campaigns. This means your paid search campaign could have a lot of competition.

What does a lot of competition mean for your business? It means less chance of your adverts being shown unless you’re willing to pay over the odds for a click.

In fact, some industries, like the online gambling sector, can cost over £25 per keyword click!

The good news is that you can take steps to reduce your costs in Google Ads:

  • Use negative keywords to avoid your ads showing to the wrong customers
  • Focus on exact and phrase match keywords for more precise targeting
  • Improve your quality score to increase the chances of outranking your competitors

People can ‘block out’ adverts

Even if you get your search ads to the top of the search results, there isn’t a guarantee that people will click. In fact, nearly 80% of people who recognise Google Ads in their search results refuse to click on them.

Why do people block out search ads? This can come down to several factors. Some people are concerned about advertisers tracking them online, while others see so many different adverts on a daily basis that they become desensitised to them.

It’s vital to make sure your search ads are engaging and relevant to your target audience to increase the odds of them wanting to click and convert.

Less chance to be creative

You have lots of customisation options with paid social ads. As well as your choice of text and call-to-action, you can add images and videos that make your advert appeal to your target audience.

Unfortunately you’re a lot more limited with paid search ads. This can make it harder to promote your unique selling points and show how you can solve your customer’s issues.

While you can upload image assets to display alongside your ads, there isn’t a guarantee that Google Ads will show them every time.

The benefits of paid social

You can target your ads by key demographics and interests

Social media networks like Facebook are well-known for collecting large amounts of data about users. You can use this to your advantage when targeting your adverts.

You can use ad targeting on paid search, but nowhere to the degree of laser precision that paid social offers.

For example, take Meta Business Suite (Facebook and Instagram’s advertising platform). As well as targeting by location, gender, age, and device, you can also target customers by life events, interests, and pages they like.

Let’s say you sell wedding favours online. You can set it so your ads display to people who have added a ‘got engaged’ life event to their profiles. Alternatively, if you want to target your competitor’s customers, you can serve ads to people who like your competitor’s Facebook pages.

You can foster engagement and brand awareness

One of the main benefits of social media platforms is that you can build a community of dedicated followers. While these customers may not be ready to buy from you just yet, you can nurture and engage them until they’re ready to buy.

Let’s say you operate a sustainable clothing brand. You can use paid social to make potential customers aware of why it’s so important to buy sustainable and eco-friendly clothing. You can then encourage these customers to follow you on social media, continuing to show them relevant ads and gaining their trust.

There are benefits to nurturing your customers before encouraging them to make a sale. Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured ones!

You can customise your ads in a variety of ways

Paid social is highly customisable, meaning you can create the perfect ad no matter what you sell.

To start with, you have a wide range of social media platforms to choose from. Once you’ve chosen your platform, there are many different ad types and placements. For example, on Facebook you can have:

  • Lead generation ads
  • Video ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Story ads
  • Messenger ads

The possibilities are endless!

The disadvantages of paid social

It’s not intended for active buyers

While paid social is fantastic for nurturing customers, it’s not so good for generating sales. This is because most social media users are there to catch up with friends and be entertained rather than shop.

Is it possible to sell directly on social media? Yes, and social commerce is becoming more of a thing on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. However, to do so, it’s essential to understand your target audience and produce highly targeted ads.

If your primary goal is to target shoppers that want to buy, paid search will drive better results.

It’s hard to create engaging adverts

Ever heard of the phrase ‘stop the scroll?’

As a paid social advertiser, it’s essential to create ads that encourage prospective customers to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to your ad, especially on mobile.

However, this is easier said than done!

According to Statista, the average social media advertising click-through rate is 1.36%. So you need to offer something extraordinary if you want to entice scrollers to check out your advertisements.

Not only this, but people can get bored of the same ads quickly, meaning you need to change your ads frequently to make them fresh and engaging.

Videos and strong imagery are the easiest ways to get eyes on your ad. If you want some inspiration, why not check out these ad libraries to see what your competitors are doing to get the clicks?

The learning curve is more challenging

Earlier in the article, we mentioned that search ads are easy to get started on. Build your campaign, identify your budget, write your ad copy, and you’re ready to go.

In contrast, getting started on paid social is more challenging, as the ads are more complex. You need to know what type of ad you want to create, where it will be featured, who you want to target, and what elements you want to include.

It can also be hard to get your head around the social media algorithm and understand how this affects your ad placements. The Facebook algorithm in particular is well known for regularly changing and being tricky to gauge.

While paid social can be hard to get started on, it’s not impossible. Most social media platforms offer free resources, and even courses, to help you get to speed with creating and optimising ads.

Paid search and paid social are both brilliant ways to enhance your marketing efforts. However, the one you should use depends on what you want to achieve.

Paid search is best if you want to target a small cohort of customers looking to buy or actively searching for your brand online.

Paid social is best if you want to reach a wider audience of potential customers and build brand awareness.

Alternatively, why not use paid search and paid social together to target people at different stages of the sales funnel?

Let’s say you operate an eCommerce store selling winter coats. You can use paid social media ads to make people aware of your brand and get them engaging with you online. Then, when they’re ready to buy, you can implement a paid search campaign using your branded keywords to drive customers to your store.

Xigen: Your paid search and paid social specialists

Paid search and paid social are fantastic ways to generate buzz around your brand and increase sales. However, to get the results you want, it’s vital to optimise your campaigns in the right way. You don’t want to burn through your annual marketing budget in the space of a month!

We specialise in PPC marketing at Xigen. Our paid search and paid social experts will work with you to create, implement, and manage a PPC strategy that aligns with your goals and drives traffic to your website.

Want to know more about how we can transform the way you do marketing? Reach out today!

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