We’ve been testing the performance of Facebook advertising on our Facebook optimisation platform, and how it performs against search for a test sample of brand clients.

We did this by running two simultaneous campaigns across search and Facebook for each client (both campaigns are designed to work together, with a similar message and content). We’ve measured the impact of each on conversions (predominantly sales and registrations) on each brand’s website.

The first step was to build and optimise the brands’ search campaigns across Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Then, we built and optimised Facebook campaigns designed to achieve the same goals. This lets us look at how Facebook and search campaigns perform together, and against each other, and what the different benefits are of each.

Our goal for these test clients was to distribute spend across each channel in the most efficient way possible, to effect the most conversions at the lowest possible cost-per-conversion.


Of course, each campaign is built to the specifications of each client. For example, search keywords relate to the types of deals that the client offers. If the brand is a retailer; the keywords will reflect this season’s offers, sale prices, limited offer availability and so on.

This is done using our Advanced Campaign Management system, which connects the search campaign to a data feed provided by the brand, so that the information in the search ads is always up to date with the latest inventory or deal information.

The most effective use of Facebook is to focus campaigns on a handful of specific deals (ads are created using our Facebook Ad Builder, a tool we have developed to create ads in bulk.

We use an ‘auto-split’ function to divide the ads to show different versions to individual groups of Facebook users – by demographic, interest or geographic region, for example.) Our automated bidding technology assesses the performance of each group and then bids an appropriate amount to target it.

Initial test result: how the two campaigns perform against each other

Once the campaigns are up and running, and optimised to the most efficient level, we can analyse the spend distribution across the two channels. A simulation model shows the performance of each campaign at various spend levels, based on the models that our bidding technology creates, for each campaign.

This examines how each campaign measures up against its original objective (in our test cases, to get the most effective cost per acquisition, rather than maximising the reach of the campaign).

We are then able to compare the CPA results for a number of different spend levels (for example, how each campaign performs on 20 different spend levels between £100 and £5000, depending on client budgets).

We use our optimisation technology to calculate the CPA across each spend level. The test results so far have been interesting:

  • For brand advertisers spending around the £1,000 mark, the CPA for Facebook campaigns is marginally lower than it is for search.
  • For higher-spending brands (those spending more than around £2,000), Facebook starts to give a lower CPA rate, and so becomes the more effective channel to meet the CPA goals.
  • At this level, the optimum spend ratio between the two channels is between 60 and 75% Facebook, and 40-25% on search. 

These are initial tests, and we need to do more to establish whether they will be reflected across all brands, but they do show that Facebook is, for the first time, starting to perform as an acquisition or sales channel, and is a real challenger in performance marketing.  

Jonathan Beeston

Published 7 April, 2011 by Jonathan Beeston

Jonathan Beeston is director, new product innovation, EMEA at Adobe Media and Advertising solutions,and  a contributor to Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments (11)

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Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

Interesting blog Jonathan - thanks for sharing the stats.

In terms of the Search campaigns you ran across Google, Yahoo and Bing, what kind of keywords were you bidding on? Were they terms that could only relate to the brand itself or unique deals they were running?

And then on Facebook, in terms of the types of users you targeted, was it just purely users already affiliated with the brand's Facebook page, or did you select demographics which you felt best represented the brand's target market to try and look for new business?

I just wondered if the above stats purely relate to a comparison of those users already affiliated or familiar with a particular brand, or if any other users were targeted?

over 7 years ago

Luke Szkudlarek

Luke Szkudlarek, Head of Digital Marketing at E-scape Interactive Limited

Interesting debate, it would be more appropriate to compare Google Search/Display network to FB.

If the product is right proactive targeting on search engines should always perform better than FB. At least this is what we see in Jersey, on average search is 50% more cost effective.

over 7 years ago

Jonathan Beeston

Jonathan Beeston, Director, New Product Innovation, EMEA at Media & Advertising Solutions, Adobe

@Peter Good questions, of course this is always going to be something of an apples to oranges comparison. The search campaign had a wide spread of keywords, but included brand keywords. The Facebook campaign started with broad audience targeting which we then refined and optimised, but it wasn't solely aimed at users familiar with or with affinity to the brand.

The key to it is understanding the marginal CPA of each channel at a given level of spend. At low levels, you would expect search to win hands down, especially when brand keywords are involved. However, as investment levels rise, Facebook does start to give competitive marginal CPAs compared to search. Of course, that tipping point will vary widely according to the brand, offer, audience etc.

over 7 years ago

Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

@Jonathan Thanks for the follow up response - I was more intrigued if this a direct Brand on search v. Brand only on Facebook comparison more than anything.

It is interesting to hear that Facebook starts to win as investment levels rise. I would suspect that a large factor in this is that with search, once you reach say, position 1 for certain high converting terms, there's not a lot more you can do to drive further traffic from these spots (your advert copy could be the only influence really).

With Facebook, from what I've experienced, their ad delivery is largely similar to Google's Standard delivery. So as you start to increase your daily budgets, you suddenly discover there are even higher number of ad impressions and exposure out there as Facebook elects to show your ads more often as a result of having ore budget to play with. With your conversion rate remaining the same your volume of conversions goes up in line with this.. Is that similar to what you saw for this test and how Facebook was able to offer more competitive CPAs over time, as there wasn't a cap on the level of impressions as you saw in search? Or was it the case that the more you spent and the greater exposure your ads got, the conversion rate actually dropped on Facebook?

over 7 years ago



Very interesting article it could be very useful to have more detailed information of products, segments, sale o other type of commercial actions.

over 7 years ago


William King

That means the more you invest on advertising on Facebook the better your search stats are. If it is so, why don't we prefer a fan page on Facebook. Recently I read an article that Google search results will also include fan page popularity and will show in results. So if developing only good relations with your fans and followers you can bring you in the top ranking of Google then why to invest.

over 7 years ago

Graham Hansell

Graham Hansell, Head of Strategy at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user


Very good of you to share some real stats here, as they are hard to find.

Can I ask how do the two channels compare on volumes? CPA, is all well and good as a campaign metric but if the volume is there then it's like comparing Bing & Yahoo to Google (which often have better CPA's just not enough volume).

I can obviously infer from your modeling that volumes should be the same at any given spend level but are they?

Thanks again for the stats, very interesting stuff.



over 7 years ago

Karen Wiskin

Karen Wiskin, Consultant at Growth Marketing

I have ran some test in Australia and have found that the volume on Facebook (if targeting an Australian market)can not compete with Google search. I would like to know what the product was that was being advertised - I think this also impacts upon the CPA performance of Facebook vs Google.

over 7 years ago


Philip Reynolds

Interesting stats on CPA but out of interest what are your findings re CTR and have you compared Search and Facebook to Mobile Ads yet?

over 7 years ago


London PR

Very interesting article. Thank You!

over 7 years ago

Chris Matenaers

Chris Matenaers, Head of Digital Marketing & BI Systems at brightsolid Online Publishing

Mmm, I am surprised and a bit sceptic...
Are you comparing post-click with post-click stats or is one of them, the facebook one, post-impression?

about 7 years ago

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