Google Display Network vs Facebook Ads: which one is better?

Which one is better suited to invest my marketing funds, Google Display Network or Facebook Ads? a question that more and more frequently arises in the minds of CMO’s and Heads of Digital Departments, and that I will attempt to answer in this post. Before beginning, I will remark that this analysis is exclusive for Display channels and that there is no comparable in Facebook to “Search”,  Google Adwords No. 1 advertising channel, and reason to exist.

But let’s take a step back to approximate with more perspective. Any comparison done should be ‘apples to apples’ and with proper understanding of the stage of the customer life cycle in question. Are you looking to acquire? or are you looking to retain? The conclusions offered below are more focused on acquisition than remarketing, although very probably there are overall conclusions that apply to any stage of the funnel. A definitive answer also depends on your product and other variables so I won’t be comparing actual numbers and offering final conclusions but affording you the logic  to answer this question on your own.

Conversion Window

All digital ad serving platforms allow you to establish a conversion window, which is the time allowed for attribution to the exposure to an ad either a view or a more engaged click. By default Adwords has a 30/30 conversion window, 30 days after a click and 30 days after a view, while Facebook has a default of 28/1 conversion window, 28 days for a click and 1 day for a view. Both platforms allow customization of such conversion windows. This is important because when you are comparing performance KPI’s, first make sure the windows are set to be as close as possible between the two networks.

View Conversion vs Click Conversion

How to properly assign attribution to the different campaigns along the path of acquisition is an essential decision every digital marketing department makes. Is the view of an ad for the first time, or in other terms, a first impression, enough to assign credit to the campaign that delivered such ‘impression/view’ for the acquisition of that new customer, or does the credit belong to the search campaign delivering the paid search ad a bit later on when the prospect actually had the need, searched, clicked, and converted? The answer is that both deserve the credit, it’s a combined effort. Keep this in mind, it’s important when discerning where your funds should go.

Differences in maximum exclusion time

All campaigns at the top of the acquisition funnel – Awareness – must exclude existing customers (returning users) this is achieved by excluding people that converted in your website or app, from such campaigns. Adwords has a maximum exclusion time of 54o days, while Facebook has a maximum exclusion time of 180 days. It depends on what you decide your approach should be, to compare apples to apples you could run both networks at 180. That has not been my preferred method as I appreciate the extensive 540 day period Adwords offers as I am a lot more certain the acquisition advertising dollars are being invested in users who have not converted at all in the past.

How are performance metrics displayed?

An important aspect to keep in mind is that inside Facebook Ads Manager, by default, all “conversion” columns portray the sum of both view and click conversions, while Adwords only shows clicks in the columns labeled as “conversion”. Facebook has only a 1 day view attribution window on a view conversion by default, so I think it’s fair for the to portray results in such manner. But in my experience It’s also true that when separating both types of conversions -there is a method to do this –  click from view, almost always in my experience, and again, this is biased by the types of products I advertise, the percentage of view conversions is  higher than 90% of the total conversion, simply, total conversions are ‘90% View / 10% Click’. It’s also true that Facebook does no effort at all to explain their conversion count method to advertisers and the only way to possess this knowledge is -well through this post now- or if you are an inquisitive advertiser. Adwords, to the contrary, is more transparent as it offers conversions and view through conversions metrics in separate columns by default.

Quality of impression / Quality of click

Think about it, which impression has more quality, an ad you see in your phone in your Facebook’s news feed as you scroll down, or Banner you see while browsing a website? The Facebook impression is in a way more powerful because it’s imprinted in your psyche more directly visually plus it has a social endorsement element showing you which friends already like such product or service, while display banners are slower to load and have that negative/intrusion aspect associated with it and no social element. Regardless banners are still effective impressions, but which one is better? In my experience Facebook’s impression is better, in fact, it’s impressive how good of an impression Facebook provides.

Interestingly my experience is that at the click level Adwords has an edge over Facebook, I am seeing better click conversion rates in Adwords than in Facebook. This might be because of several reasons. We all know how engaging content can be in Facebook nowadays, there is a proliferation of uplifting content in the form of videos that just has the power of keeping you engaged, almost as if you were watching TV, it is for this reason I believe that the Facebook click is less powerful, 1st the user has already spent considerable time online and is not in the mood of transacting, and second and perhaps more importantly, today Facebook is our home page the place we go to first, therefore, we are seeing ads for products for the first time there, and the first time you see an ad is seldom the time you convert. Subsequently, probably after having heard more about the product, or having began research, you might spot a Google Display Network Banner for the same product in a website as you might be paying your bills online or you might be doing research for something you need, which then you click, as you are more in a transacting mindset, and you convert.

As you see a picture starts to form, you need to be in both Facebook and Adwords, one is not better than the other, both are needed.

But it’s just conjectures, it’s me passing along my own views and experience, mind you, based on real campaigns I run all the time.


Of course, there is overlapping, you might see the same conversions being tracked in both platforms, so if you are up to the task of counting your acquisition numbers exactly, apply an overlapping rate to your numbers. How much? Probably a 10%-15%.

Cross Device Tracking

In this area Facebook has an advantage over Adwords because as their users are logged in to Facebook 100% of the time in both desktop and mobile they can track conversions that occur in any device: desktop or phone, website or app. In Adwords such is not the case, although they have made strides and now the All conversion columns can show cross device conversion, these are only counted if the user is browsing while logged in their google account, which is a much lower logged in rate than Facebook.


In Display channels I believe Facebook has an edge over Adwords due to the very high quality of the impression, and the edge is maintained even though I have seen higher click conversion rates from the Google Display Network. However remember that Search is the most powerful form of segmentation there is as the user is acting on what they need at that moment. In that sense Adwords is a big winner. So you see? In a complete digital marketing strategy you need to be in both, Facebook and Adwords, how much of your advertising dollars will go to each will depend on your product and particular conditions.

Hope this has been useful to you, if so consider sharing it.

Blessings, and stay tuned for more engaging pieces.

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