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Google AdWords vs. LinkedIn Ads: Choosing the Right Ad Platform


At BusinessOnline, paid media is one of our (many) specialties. Whether that’s paid search via Google AdWords, or paid social media across sites like LinkedIn, many of us spend a good amount of our time building and optimizing various ad campaigns. A majority of our clients leverage us for at least some sort of paid media management, and we often run campaigns across quite a few different channels.

While we’d like to believe every channel works for every company, this is not always the case. Each has their own purpose, and a number of different factors must be considered when evaluating what channels will see the best results for any given company. In particular, we often find ourselves weighing the benefits of Google AdWords vs. LinkedIn Ads, and while they each are great platforms, they serve very different purposes.

Google AdWords

It’s no surprise that AdWords is one of most consistently used ad platforms. Google represents anywhere from 65%-70% market share of desktop searches (depending if you look at a comScore search market report or a NetMarketShare search market report—though we see more like 90% of our organic traffic from Google), and up to 95% of the mobile/tablet search engine market share (again from NetMarketShare’s numbers). People search—a lot—and being able to target very specific search terms with very specific ads is one of the many benefits of using AdWords.

In most cases, this is great. If you sell a tool used for mass notification, you can target very intent-driven searches, like ‘mass notification software’, ‘notification system’, or ‘best mass notification platform’ with your ads. When people know what they’re looking for, AdWords is a fantastic platform to deliver relevant advertisements to users at the exact moment their search process begins.

Unknown Unknowns

But what if they don’t know what they’re looking for? What if it’s more of an ‘unknown unknown’, where the individual doesn’t know that they ever wanted it until it’s put right in front of them? We’ve all been there before—didn’t want that soda until we saw the Coke commercial before the movie, or didn’t know we needed that pair of basketball shoes until we saw Jamie Foxx and Steph Curry promoting them. It’s something that marketers and advertisers have always been on to, which is why you see billboards and display ads all over trying to remind people that they need things they probably never thought they needed.

The historical problem with this kind of advertising, though, is targeting. You can try to advertise to your target audience in the places you think they are, but it’s hard to get granular enough to go after the exact people that are most likely to buy your product. For the B2B marketer in particular, this has long been a struggle, as reaching a concisely defined audience is no easy task. Enter LinkedIn Ads.

LinkedIn Ads

With LinkedIn Ads, it’s all about the targeting; the ability to deliver very specific ads to a clearly defined audience that meets the exact buyer criteria that you’re looking for. Marketing Managers and above located in Mississippi? Done. Chief Technology Officers in the Software Industry? Got it. If you have a general idea about your buyer personas, you can target the exact people that have historically purchased your product or service.

Is it perfect? Of course not. But the benefit of LinkedIn Ads that you just don’t get with AdWords is that you can catch people before they’ve shown intent; before they even know that they need whatever it is you’re offering.

For example—say you offer a cool dashboard that centralizes all of your reporting (maybe something like what we put together for clients using Data Weld and Tableau). And say your target audience is marketers, particular in the hi-tech space, that handle reporting for their company. In most cases, they probably have a way they already report, pulling lead charts from this place and costs from that, never realizing that there’s a better way to do it. They’re not searching for ‘data visualization software’ or ‘marketing analytics tools’. They’re just doing it their own way, oblivious to the fact that a better way exists.

And this is where we find that LinkedIn Ads provide more value—when the audience might not be to the point where they’ve shown intent because they know they need your product. It’s still an unknown unknown to them. But with refined targeting on LinkedIn—and across other sites like Facebook and Twitter—you can make it known to them; you can tell them they need something that they might have never known existed.

Bringing it all together

For us at BusinessOnline, it’s all about finding the right mix. We have some clients in markets where people are already familiar with their offering, where AdWords works fantastic for capturing the attention of people showing intent to purchase. I can think of one B2B software client in particular where we shifted nearly all of their budget away from LinkedIn after we saw the CPL on that channel jump up to nearly 5x what it was on AdWords. We took the time to better understand their target audience, and this strategic shift paid huge dividends for them.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve seen clients that are still in emerging markets, where it makes more sense to go after a defined target market to help educate them about offerings they might not be aware they need. For example, we have a B2B services client that we were running industry-specific ads for that were seeing little to no response on AdWords. We adjusted our strategy and developed awareness-focused creative on LinkedIn for them, using refined targeting that resulted in us seeing 10x the Leads for the same spend we were getting on AdWords. We then used closed loop reporting to verify these were indeed the right people the client was looking for, and continued to let our data analysis drive our future strategy.

When it comes down to it, the bottom line is that these are not one size fits all platforms. Every advertising decision needs to be strategic, and every campaign plan should not always start with “Let’s set this up in AdWords.” It’s important to evaluate the market, understand your buyer personas, and make educated, data-driven decisions about what platform is best to help achieve defined goals.

So in the battle of Google AdWords vs. LinkedIn Ads, is there a winner? Let’s call it a draw. They both have their place, for sure. But one thing we do know is that if you want to make sure you’re using them effectively, it never hurts to have an award winning digital marketing agency on your side.