By some measures the Facebook advertising platform and Google Adwords are the two largest ad networks available. Their easy to use systems, and zero minimum budgets, make them appealing to almost any business. They certainly have similar claims to being able to reach the most people on the planet. However, as you examine them side by side, there are few other similarities.
Facebook’s platform appears far less transparent than Google’s. With a range of analysis options, including integrations with Analytics, and extensive documentation, Google Adwords leads the way in metrics. Facebook on the other hand provides very basic information about how and why ads are served. Adwords gives the formula for bids and the reasons for serving up front, Facebook does not offer any explanation, and when we asked one of Facebook’s own advertising reps why one particular creative was served over another identical one, he could not provide any more details.
Facebook has also been criticised for not doing enough to prevent fake or dummy clicks. Although their terms state that they are proactive with fraud prevention, almost every large campaign seems to receive a percentage of clicks from accounts that are inactive otherwise.
It is clear that they are two very different beasts, however there is a lot they could learn from each other. A lot of these issues are what hold back traditional advertisers from using either platform.
Time sensitive display
With Adwords you can schedule a campaign or adgroup to run within certain time periods. Facebook has ads either running or not running, and it is up to the advertiser to manually turn the ads on or off. The main benefit of time sensitive ads would be that advertisers could have more specific targeting. Within our own campaigns we know we get a particular type of user interacting at 10am on a weekday, compared to 8pm on a weekday, or 1am on a weekend.
Right now, Facebook has no automatic conversion tracking. If you want to track the best ads for conversions outside of Facebook, you have to combine Analytics and URL tagging, which isn’t such a big issue, but it does mean more manually handling, and less real time data. Serving ads that generate revenue, rather than just likes or clicks, would be a big step forward for Facebook. It would allow advertisers to fairly compare two different campaigns on different networks.
At the moment, it seems it is unlikely to happen because almost all of Facebook’s support is towards their own platform and is away from allowing you to objectively measure any performance outside of Facebook. Almost all of the options available to advertisers are for keeping users on the site, so measuring conversions off it seems unlikely to suit their model.
Easier to understand ad serving rules
Once we ran a campaign for a client that involved serving multiple very similar ads in one location. Within a few hours two ads had the lions share of views, and the rest had none. As we were working with a Facebook account manager, I asked him why one ad would have far more clicks than another. He replied that it was because once one ad has more clicks, that ad will be served the most. We pointed out the circular logic, saying that at some point, all ads were on zero clicks, so how does the platform decide which one to serve most. He had no reply.
Google Adwords have clear bidding and serving information. If you want to know why your ads are being served, or why they are not, there is plenty of information for you to use to get your ads up and running, or increase the number of clicks one ad gets over another. There is no such thing on Facebook.
Facebook certified partnerships/advertisers
This may be a contentious issue, and a lot of people may disagree with the way Google have created their “Professionals” program. However, right now anyone can run an ad campaign on Facebook for you, and claim to be a Faceook advertising professional. This is ultimately to the detriment of Facebook and the companies wishing to advertise. There are huge benefits to be had from integrating timeline posting apps, analytics and good Facebook ad campaigns. Yet most companies never use this, or don’t know how.
A large number of companies claim to be able to run Facebook ad campaigns, yet have no idea about URL tagging or social apps. A professionals program would promote continual education on the Facebook platform, and it would set the casual operations apart from those who want to improve performance for their clients.
More detailed analytics
Facebook Insights isn’t a bad way to look at a campaign to see which of your posts has been shared. If you are interested, you can download more information from insights in the form of a CSV file. However, there is a lot of information that is missing, even just in a graphical form. Right now we can’t find an easy way to show how individual posts/ads performed (with likes, shares, interactions etc,)on each day. You can see how they performed overall, within a time period, or you can see how they performed day by day on a graph. However it is difficult to see how two ads performed against each other on a particular day, or hour.
As a user of Facebook this might not be such a great idea. Video advertising could easily become the most annoying thing about Facebook, even though you can already do this using a third party App. As an advertiser though, having native Facebook video advertising would be a big plus. The reach and interest based targeting is perfect for branding, and would be great for serving 30 second ad spots. The spend for Facebook would be huge, and advertisers would be given more flexibility and information on who is playing the videos, how they are shared etc. At the moment video ads rely on posting the ad, and sponsoring the post like any other news item
Expanded session based targeting
Right now, Adwords have broad session based targeting that allows you to target people who have been searching for your keywords, even though they may not have actually searched for that keyword at that instant. Google Adwords already tracks which websites you view, by using Adsense ads and remarketing tags.
It would be great if the Adsense ad platform could be combined with the keyword targeting, so that the sessions based targeting could be more specific. For instance, an advertiser could say that if they have visited any of a range of websites, the ads are served.
This would allow for more targeted advertising, as you could remove people searching for news about a topic (by selecting people who have visited news.com.au etc), and add people who are searching for competitive pricing (by selecting people who have visited shopping.com.au etc). Facebook already have something like this by allowing you to target people who have not liked your page, but have liked topics similar to your product.
Again, this is something that Facebook do well, but it isn’t clear if Google already do this. With their Google+ and +1 platforms, it would be great if Google could allow you to target groups of people by what they have already liked. At the moment, Google allow you to target display ads based on the website or the keyword or the subject of the website.
Images on keyword ads
This is probably a direction that Google don’t want to go in specifically, but they are already pretty much there. At the moment you have images on Google search pages because of Google+, Google Places and Google Shopping. However the standard keyword ads don’t allow images, and the display network is a separate program. Pictures of products or brand imagery would be a massive step forward for Adwords, as it would allow advertisers the flexibility to convey a lot more.
It would also increase the flexibility of the ads, allowing you to focus on your brand, a special offer, a product or allow you to differentiate your ad on a new dimension.
Social news based advertising
This is obviously Facebook’s forte, and is something that Google are possibly attempting with their +1 program. It would be massive for news outlets and advertisers to have a feed posted directly from your website, served as an ad, and available to be shared.
This would boost Google+ users, advertisers, and the relevance and timeliness of ads. Users could see who in their circles had shared content from an ad, which would increase the likelyhood that someone would click. News outlets could promote their latest news without having to rely on SEO or their readers sharing the article from the second it is posted.
It may be the direction that Google are going in, but for now it is something that is glaringly absent from the program.