There’s no escaping the war that’s heating up between the three giants of online advertising. Yet you as a small business advertiser need to figure out how to make the most of them to sell more products and services. Understanding how they’re different and where each excels will help you determine whether Amazon advertising or paid ads on Google and Facebook will work best for your particular business model and budget.
Amazon advertising is a direct connection to buyers
At the most basic level, Google is a search engine, Facebook is a social network and Amazon is an online marketplace. Each varies by who they reach and how those people behave on each site. On Google, people are searching for something — not always a product though. Facebook is more like a magazine, where people aren’t actively searching for something.
An ad has to grab the attention of a user first — that’s why video can be so effective there.
As a marketplace, Amazon is the only one that directly connects a buyer search to an immediate, on-site purchase. On Google or Facebook, people might see something they want but need to click to a website to complete the transaction. That begs the question, why would people search on Google first — why not go directly to Amazon? Indeed. “Recent data reveals 50 percent of people now start their research on Amazon.” I’ll get into this later.
Should you be advertising at all?
Most business models could benefit from some type of advertising that boosts traffic to a website, drives leads or increases sales. To be clear, advertising in this context is paying to put ads on someone else’s site — not to be confused with organic search or social marketing. You’ll want to put that in place first. However, new businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to rank organically, that is without paying for ads.
Advertising can put your business out ahead of competitors, whether that’s in Google or Amazon search results.
Advertising might not be an option for you, however, if you have little or no money to pay for it. Each platform has some level of minimum requirement, although small. The real issue is whether you have a sustainable budget that can deliver the messages frequently enough to make an impact. More on this later.
Another reason to hold off is if your website’s conversion rate is really low. Turning on the advertising hose to drive more traffic to a site that doesn’t convert visitors into customers doesn’t make sense. You would probably be spending more than you’re earning. Poor ROI can happen when the traffic you’re sending to your website isn’t interested in what you’re selling (decent sales, but too much unfiltered junk traffic could also be the culprit).
Fixing the content of your site could turn that around.
Know which platform is right for you
There are some straightforward ways to narrow it down. First, do I need to be selling on Amazon to take advantage of Amazon advertising? Not really. Keep reading to find out why.
Next, think about who is using each platform — your objective is to make the match between your target market and the right audience — by geographic location, demographics (age, income, education, etc.) and purchase behavior.
There are millions, if not billions of visitors on all three platforms, but there are some key differences in geographic and demographic reach.
For example, Google is available in 36 countries; Amazon just 10, and it’s strongest is in the U.S. Its users tend to be wealthier and more educated than the general population. Most consumers shop on Amazon in part due to free shipping. On Facebook, there are key differences by community type and education level, urban vs. suburban/rural, interests and age. This is just the tip of the data iceberg.
Looking beyond demographics: Buyer journey and product type
Demographics and geography alone won’t give you a complete picture. Knowing how people find products, services and websites is essential to understanding where to advertise. Sometimes called the “buyer journey,” it traces a person’s steps from the starting point or trigger event to the actual purchase of a product. In some cases, like with Facebook, people aren’t searching at all, so the trigger might be the ad itself.
Products vs. services
There are big differences in the way people research and buy various products. One of the biggest gaps is between actual products (physical or digital) and services. It’s pretty clear what a product is — I need those shoes. I can see what they are. Click.
Services can take longer to explain, and might require a conversation and an estimate before, finally, a sale. The objective of ads, in this case, is to generate leads to a website where the visitor would then make contact to initiate the buying process. By the way, home service providers can list on Amazon, and yes, use advertising to promote as well.
Products vs. solution
Some people know exactly what they want; others are just looking around for a solution to a problem. They’re researching. They’re early in their buyer journey. They’re more likely to use a search engine to figure it out. If you want to hit up buyers before they’ve made a decision about what to buy, advertising on Google makes more sense than Amazon.
Complex vs. simple products
More involved products take research (refrigerators), others do not (ice cube trays). People may start their search on Google, but convert to Amazon. If you want to catch them at the research phase, advertising on Google makes sense. If you want to catch them when they’re ready to make a purchase, and possibly get them to change their minds, use Amazon advertising.
Browser vs. buyer
Facebook users might not be in a buying mindset at all because they’re busy hanging out with friends.
This makes Facebook users passive rather than active searchers.
Facebook ads either need to grab a user’s attention or interrupt, like an ad in the middle of that cute dog video you’re watching. The latter can be particularly annoying and doesn’t dispose the viewer to a positive view of the advertiser. So do Facebook ads actually work? There’s a lot of controversy around this topic, as the comments on this Wordstream article can attest. If you decide Facebook ads are viable for your business model, you’ll need to do some testing to see if it works for you.
How they sell you their audience
The next consideration is how well each platform matches your target audience with what they know about their audiences’ purchase behavior and intent. Delivering your ad to suit a buyer’s mindset makes it more effective. Pivotal Research Analyst Brian Wieser has framed it this way:
“Facebook knows your interests, Google knows your intent and Amazon knows what you do commercially.
In addition, according to Google, “Targeting audiences based on their behavioral ‘intent’ or affinity (such as what they watch, search, visit) gives marketers a more accurate picture of their audience. Intent-based targeting also allows for more relevant and customized creative messaging tailored to individuals.”
Here’s a breakdown of how each site sells your audience:
- On Google, the ads are matched by keyword and auction, demographics, searches conducted, sites visited, geographic location, income and age.
- Facebook, on the other hand, has the most personal information about users, which could tip the balance to make even passive ads work.
- Amazon knows what people have purchased, wish-listed, returned, complained about and reviewed. Plus, Amazon knows what has led to each sale, making its algorithm even stronger. “Amazon has established a grip on more than 40 percent of the eCommerce business, eMarketer says, while Google and Facebook have no significant reach there, as much as they'd love to. That grip provides Amazon's not-so-secret weapon in digital advertising”.
What’s a good starting budget?
All three platforms are PPC (Pay-Per-Click), which means ads are displayed and you pay only when someone clicks on your text or display ad. It’s an auction system where you bid for the chance to place your ad in the selected space or on a certain page.
Average costs per click (CPC) can vary widely, depending on age range, time of year, vertical and many other factors, so trying to compare the platforms by price is almost impossible. To put it in perspective, though, here are some recent averages:
- Facebook: 27 cents
- Google AdWords: $1 to $2
- Google Display Network: less than $1
- Amazon: 35 cents to 85 cents
For product ads, Amazon requires a budget minimum of $1 per day or $100 per campaign, depending on the type of ad you choose. They recommend setting your budget at $10 per day for at least 60 days “to give the ads the chance to get measurable campaign results.”
Some experts recommend starting with a test budget, then the sky's the limit as long as you’re focused on return on investment (ROI). For example on Google AdWords, a 10 keyword test would cost roughly $1,000 to $2,000. From there you can determine what to keep and what to toss for the most profitable results.
Platform options and formats
Advertising opportunities come in all shapes and sizes on each platform. Google offers text ads through Google AdWords and shopping display ads for retailers through Google Merchant. These ads include product images, price, store, size, color and other features, which show up at the top of search results. You can also advertise on YouTube.
Facebook options range from simply boosting a post to displaying a full-on video ad on the right side of their pages. And they own Instagram, so of course you can advertise there as well.
Beyond what the others offer, Amazon advertising opportunities have some unique characteristics.
Sponsored Products and Headline Search Ads are available for Amazon professional sellers in Seller Central and retail vendors in Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). Clicks take visitors to the advertised product detail page. Ads here are particularly useful if the product doesn’t have enough reviews or other indicators to rank well organically. They’re also good for clearing inventory or running a seasonal promotion.
Product Display Ads are available to Amazon retail vendors and are targeted by products or customer interest. Ads appearing on detail pages and campaigns targeted by interest might qualify for ad placement on Kindle eReaders. To promote books, you need to be a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) author or a book vendor with a retail relationship. To advertise an app, your app must be distributed in the U.S, compatible with Fire tablets or non-Fire Android tablets and meet the Amazon Creative Acceptance Policies.
Not selling products on Amazon? No problem.
If you aren’t selling products on Amazon, “Ad Solutions for Selling Off of Amazon” allow you to advertise to their audience and link through to your website. Your display and video ads can appear in many places, from Amazon’s home page to the Select a Payment Method Page.
Amazon wouldn’t be the Big A without covering all the bases.
You can also place ads on partner sites such as IMDb, and offline locations such as lockers, boxes and more. Amazon isn’t taking ads for Alexa … not yet anyway.
The final analysis: Pros and cons
There are many, many ways to promote your products or services, and even more advertising options than these three. If you’ve done what you can to organically raise your visibility, and you have some budget and want to move things along faster than what social media can do for you, advertising can help.
When people are searching for a particular product ...
If you know people are actively searching for products like yours, your options are Google or Amazon. Choose Google if people are earlier on in their research or if it’s a more complex product, and people are still open to discovery.
If you know your audience is shopping on Amazon, your product is offered there, and the buyer knows specifically what they want, then advertising there makes sense — particularly if you’re not showing up organically. Also, if your brand is relatively unknown, Amazon advertising can help you get visibility when people search by category.
When they’re not …
If people are researching solutions or have questions about a topic, they’re more likely to go to Google. Sometimes people might not even realize what to search for — they’re not familiar with keywords that describe what you do, so Google could be the place to be. However, an ad click is less likely than if they’re searching for something specific.
If people aren’t searching for a particular product, Amazon doesn’t really make sense. It’s not really a browsing experience, like you might find at a brand’s eCommerce site.
Some people just don’t like to shop on Amazon; some would rather buy directly from a manufacturer’s website.
Your audience simply may not be searching there, and if you can catch them when they’re still considering which brand to buy, all the better. That puts Google or Facebook back in the game. However, if you have a small budget, it would be better to pick one and measure your results than spread yourself too thin.
When it’s more important to reach the right audience …
For the ultimate in customer targeting (apart from the purchase data Amazon has), Facebook can make the most sense. It might not convert as well for selling products directly, because users are there for friends, family and fun. It can also make the buyer journey longer, where you need to reinforce more steps, for example, from awareness of your business to social engagement to free download to acquiring an email address, etc., to final purchase.
Many Facebook ads will try to get you to like their page or provide an email in exchange for entering a contest or downloading something free, like an eBook. This makes it better at driving traffic to your website and driving leads. Facebook can be great for promoting a new local business, especially if it’s visually compelling.
As a passive medium, your ads will really need to grab attention.
Great images and video can make a big difference. Plus, be sure to see how well the ads result in actual sales.
Other key points:
- Amazon advertising is the only one to offer non-digital ad placement. It could be a unique opportunity to reach their buying audience.
- When advertising on any platform your products are shown side by side with competitors, making it easy for shoppers to compare prices. Of course, that’s why having more differentiated products rather than selling on price alone is so critical.
- If you’re selling services, but not on Amazon, then Google wins out again. People might not be aware that Amazon is offering services … at least not yet.
- If you want to run product or headline ads on Amazon, you need to be selling there, but you’re paying for that privilege. But that has more to do with your overall distribution strategy than simply advertising.
Does online advertising work?
Measuring ad effectiveness isn’t easy, yet the idea is to target correctly, create well-messaged ads and then measure results to see if what you’re doing is working. All three platforms go out of their way to tell you how successful your ads will be. What’s important is what works for you. That might be difficult to tell if the data you’re using is Google Analytics, ahem. However, sales don’t lie.