Social ads vs search ads: key differences


Date: 7 September 2023

A women is searching for iproducts online

You might be asking yourself whether your business should be using search or social advertising. Which one is best for your business and budget? The truth is, it doesn't have to be one or the other. But you do need to be aware that each requires a slightly different approach to advertising. So, let's look at the key differences.

Social vs search? All too often we pit these two channels against one another when, for most businesses, a rounded marketing strategy will incorporate multiple channels.

It's not "one or the other" when it comes to search and social advertising, of course. But consumers use search and social channels differently, meaning our approach to advertising on them ought to be tailored.

Recent SEO statistics from Artios highlighted that 42% of UK consumers say they use search engines when actively shopping for a product or service. That's more than double the number who said they use social channels in those circumstances.

That's not to say people aren't buying on social media. The data says differently, of course. It just means that your social advertising needs to be slightly different.

Think of it as the difference between advertising to someone already in the shopping centre versus advertising to someone who has no plans to shop right now.

With that in mind, here are the key differences to be aware of when it comes to social and search advertising.

Target audience intent

If someone's on Google typing in "red woolly jumper buy online" and you show them a red woolly jumper (at a price point and quality they like) that they can buy online, you'd hope you'd have a great chance at converting them to customers.

But when someone is browsing on social media, it's a bit different. They're not shopping for a red woolly jumper right now. They're browsing their friends' photos or watching short videos. So you need to essentially interrupt that process and convince them they want to buy the red woolly jumper instead.

Now, whether you will succeed in doing so largely depends on the audience you're targeting (more on that later) but also very much to how you advertise.

Things to consider here include visuals, the media type you use, ad format and which platform you target.

Social audience targeting gives you more options

Some people may disagree, but we'd be inclined to say your targeting options are better on social than in search.

You can target by age, by interest, gender, location, education level and even relationship status incredibly accurately.

Want to sell sign-ups to your new vegan dating app? Then you can target single people who are interested in veganism and who are also interested in other dating apps already.

For some products and services, you could argue that hyper-demographic targeted social advertising has the potential to drive more relevant audiences than search.

You need to think multimedia with social

Social isn't text ads or simple product listings. We're seeing increasingly creative approaches to advertising on social media from short videos, to using user generated content and some super ad copy examples. Our advice would be to look around at as many social ads as you can, read the case studies and experiment.


Generally speaking, social advertising is a typically lower cost per click than search advertising (exceptions will apply of course). The click-through rate is often typically lower too though - which you would expect given the fact that you're almost trying to encourage impulse shopping as opposed to reaching people who are already shopping.

So when you budget for the two, you'll likely need to allow for higher costs on search ads - but potentially a better conversion rate.

Ultimately, the key thing to monitor is your actual cost per conversion/enquiry/action.


How you measure the impact of search ads vs social ads may differ too. All too often we see stats and reports that point out that conversion rate is higher from search. But again this comes back to intent so it shouldn't be a surprise.

Cost per conversion is often lower on social, despite the fact that the click-through rates are lower or that conversion rates in general are lower (owing to the typically lower costs per click).

If your goal is sales and you've got a finite advertising budget, then one of your core considerations is going to be how much it costs you to win a customer through advertising. And sometimes, you need to set different objectives for search and social and expect different metrics.

In other words, don't measure them using the same yardstick and set different objectives where necessary.

It doesn't have to be one or the other

You may find that one channel simply isn't effective for you or that the costs to acquire a customer on one channel are so much lower that you want to move budget from the other, costlier channel.

That's ok. But when you're first building out a strategy, it's important not to look at search and social advertising as one versus the other. They can work well together - but ultimately you won't truly know how they work for you until you've tried, tested and crunched the data.

Copyright 2023. Guest post.

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