When Facebook jumped on board, pay per click advertising split into two distinct sectors: the regular old search engine PPC we know and love (most of the time) and social media PPC. Since they target different prospects and work quite differently, they're really only in direct competition in one sense: your limited budget.
How do you decide how to allocate budget, or if social media advertising is worth it for your business? Essentially, you're going to need to test. But if you want a little more info going in, keep reading for some of the major differences between search engine and social PPC.
Buying cycle phase. When people type in a search query that triggers your ad, they're actively interested in a product or service. Even if they're still in the learning stage, chances are good that they can be persuaded to click or even buy. In the same way that CTR drops for content network ads, which are shown to people who have not directly searched for anything, social media ads are seen by people who are not necessarily interested in shopping or learning. (At a guess, they're busy socializing.) As a result, CTRs tend to be very low on Facebook.
Targeting. Search engine PPC is driven primarily by keywords. Even in the content network in which you can target sites by demographics, the keywords you have in any given adgroup still determine where your ad shows up. In contrast, advertising on Facebook is all about demographics. Facebook uses the masses of personal data it collects and puts it to work for advertisers, who can target by keywords in a profile, age, gender, interests, and more. Is your target audience 50 year old male engineers who are also runners? Not a problem.
Competition. Facebook and other forms of social network advertising are relatively new compared to search engine PPC, which means that competition and CPC tend to be a little less intense. Do not expect this trend to last too long; 2011 should bring lots of new advertisers on board the social PPC bandwagon.
Branding. Given its low click through rates and superior ability to target by demographics, social advertising wins at branding. To start with, you'll be reaching significantly different audiences than you do through search engine PPC, so it can be a good way to extend your branding efforts. Secondly, you'll be able to pitch your company to a very specific type of user – whether that's tweens obsessed with Justin Bieber or homeschooling moms with young kids. The low click through rate can net you plenty of visibility without incurring high costs.
It's not necessarily an either / or situation. If social advertising is something you're interested in trying out, it's worth testing a campaign along your existing PPC campaign (eg advertising for branding on social media while advertising for direct response on AdWords). With branding, it's harder to measure impact, but you can get a feel for CTRs, CPCs, and (monetary at least) ROI. Remember, you do not have to be fully committed to have a foot in the door. In the meantime, do not neglect your search engine PPC campaign – it's still your best bet for driving highly targeted and motivated prospects your way.