Shaad Hamid

Oxford SEO and PPC Consultant/Blogger

Facebook advertising isn’t the same as search advertising


A few of days ago, I received an email with a link to the BBC investigation on Facebook ads. The gentleman wanted to find out my opinion on the story and if there was any value in running Facebook ads; after all, Facebook ads seem to have a higher than normal bounce rate than other acquisition channels and with the BBC “investigation”, the ineffectiveness of Facebook advertising should be confirmed, right?

I am not going to delve into Rory Cellan-Jones’s story or his flawed Facebook advertising methodology, but you can find Facebook’s responses to the concerns raised in the Q&A piece accompanying the main BBC story here. Also, TechCrunch ran an article on this very subject and Miranda Miller on Search Engine Watch provides an excellent overview of the flaws inherent in the BBC’s investigation.

However, what I do intend to talk about in this post is the need for marketing channel tacticians and marketing strategists to stop directing their focus on the wrong things (technology) and begin to set strategies with actual people in mind. What am I rambling on about? Stay with me for a few more minutes and I promise you, this will all make sense (I hope!).

Firstly, have a quick read of this quote:

This [new technology] 
will produce forgetfulness of those who learn to use it, because they
will not practice their memory…
you offer the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom

Have a guess who said this.

This was a quote by the Greek philosopher Plato who was talking about the alphabet. I stumbled upon this quote when watching a mind-blowing presentation made by Facebook’s Paul Adams. What really hit me was mankind’s strong resistance to change and the mental inertia toward new and innovative technologies. Plato had a unique opinion about the alphabet. The alphabet to him was something that should be vehemently opposed, he saw it as a new technology that diminished memory, as he came from an oral narrative culture. Writing could lie and yet still be believed. Seems like Plato saw tabloid news coming. But I am grateful to the creation of the alphabet. I would not have been able to share Plato’s quote, nor write this blog post had it not been for the creation of the alphabet.

“What has Plato and the alphabet got to do with Facebook ads”? I hear you ask. Can I please ask you to take a moment to re-read Plato’s quote once again, but this time imagine he was talking about the invention of the printing press, or the tools of broadcasting such as radio and television. In fact, this quote could be applied to anything, including the computer, mobile phones, and social media. This quote will continue to be relevant to new and innovative media in future.

In his presentation, Paul Adams rightly points out that one shouldn’t focus on technology as it will one day be made obsolete. The real focus should be, and should continue to be, on people. The sustainability of theatre and cinema was questioned with the advent of television, the sustainability of television was questioned with the advent of personal computers, and these questions will be asked over and over again. Although the medium will evolve and take many shapes and forms, human need for interaction, communication, and entertainment will never cease. It is this need fulfilment that should be the Holy Grail for marketers. Obviously this isn’t something new, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s definition of “marketing” is:

The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. (Emphasis mine)

Sadly, some marketers put the cart before the horse and tend to be too caught up in the technology. Today’s marketers are lucky in that they have at their disposal a plethora of marketing communication channels. Facebook advertising is one such channel. A marketing strategist might include other online and offline channel tactics such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter, LinkedIn advertising, Twitter, YouTube, newspaper ads, radio commercials, house-to-house leaflet drops, television ads, and many more.

The important thing to remember is that most conversions require more than one interaction with a customer. When was the last time you bought home insurance by clicking on a Google AdWords ad? I cannot stress enough how important it is to set realistic goals with any channel you undertake. My humble plea to marketers is to stop putting too much pressure on a particular communication channel with unrealistic expectations. Also, don’t use the exact same KPIs of one channel to compare the effectiveness of another.

The strength of Google AdWords advertising is in the advanced stage of a user within the buying cycle. They clearly have a need (either informational or some other kind that they’re trying to satisfy). These people are actively seeking out something and, in the process, telling you what they want (“cheap home insurance for over 50s”). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the conversion rates and click through rates will undoubtedly be higher via Google AdWords. But does this mean a marketing manager should put all their eggs in one basket and pump their entire marketing budget toward Google AdWords? Putting that sentence in writing makes it sound even sillier.

We live in exciting times, with communication channels transitioning and evolving. However, in this period of transition, I see many people still coming to terms with Facebook’s place within the marketing communications mix. If you are a marketing manager, stop comparing Facebook’s CTRs or conversion rates to Google search. You’re not going to be happy. You need to be comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.

If Google AdWords’s strength is in its users being at an advanced stage within the buying cycle, Facebook’s strength is in its precision targeting tools. You can specify an ad to target women, between the ages of 18-25, who live in New York, who like the TV shows “90210″ and “how I met your mother”, musicians “Lady Gaga” and “Katy Perry” and the book “Harry Potter”. In fact, Facebook tells me that there are 126,900 people who meet these criteria.

As a marketer, if they were my target audience, I would want my positioning statement, my logo, and my value proposition to be seen by them. I would appreciate that the user may or may not be actively looking for my product or service, but when they do, I want them to think of my product or service.

I strongly believe Facebook’s place within the marketing communications mix is in influencing the user prior to search. Facebook gives you the opportunity to introduce your service offering to new users before they have even thought about searching for you. For me, Facebook is about people and about relationships – (isn’t that obvious? Well, not for most marketers and advertisers).

Facebook marketing is about building relationships and building relationships take time, and it takes a bit of effort. It’s like real life; you don’t go on trips with people you’ve never met before. Even with the ones you have, you need time to build a decent enough relationship to go on a trip to Amsterdam or Munich. Same with Facebook. You build relationships with your target consumers with little interactions over time. Once the relationship is built, and your users identify a need that you can satisfy, I bet they wouldn’t type “I-am-looking-for-X” in a search engine to find you. They’d probably type your brand name and engage with you directly. However, don’t expect your Google Analytics account to credit Facebook or social media to the visit, or the conversion (On a completely separate note, you should seriously start setting up multi touch attribution if you haven’t yet done so).

But with a better understanding of where your user is within the buying cycle and understanding which channels to use in order to reach users at each stage of the buying cycle, you’ll be able to set effective marketing KPIs and allocate your valuable marketing budgets optimally.

And with that can I say that I am tired of defending Facebook advertising.

Image credit: deeplifequotes

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Author: Shaad Hamid

Shaad used to be an Oxford based SEO and PPC blogger, consultant and citizen journalist. He has recently moved to Dubai and is currently working as an SEO Account Manager at DigitasLBi. He is passionate about internet marketing and is the SEO lead for numerous clients from diverse sectors such as FMCG to Travel & Tourism. Find Shaad on Google