Google and Facebook have made the headlines so frequently in recent days that news about them is beginning to sound more like salacious celebrity gossip than reports about tech companies. In fact, one recent headline claims that “Google consumes one-third of our digital minds.”
The headline was inspired by a study by Brian Wieser, a researcher at Pivotal, that found consumers spent 34.2% of their time online in June using Google products, including Waze and YouTube. That number is up from 28.6% last year.
The study also suggested that the increased time spent on Google could be cutting into time spent on Facebook, since digital consumption of Facebook dropped 10%, and consumption of Instagram (a Facebook company) dropped 6%.
If consumers are no longer spending as much time on Facebook and have migrated to Google, should advertisers follow suite?
Right on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87 million Facebook users was accessed in an attempt to sway the U.S. presidential election, the company was hit with billions in fines for failure to comply with new EU privacy rules. Then, a month after the GDPR took effect, it was announced that Facebook’s stock dropped 20%, losing $120 billion in value.
And most important for marketers, Facebook ads are getting more expensive, yet people seem to be less receptive. Merkle, a performance marketing agency, recently found that the cost of advertising on Facebook in Q2 has risen 70%. But advertisers may not be getting what they pay for, since the company also found that impressions were down 17% for the same period.
Google ads, on the other hand, are doing better than ever. Merkle also found that Google shopping ads were up 31%, while YouTube ad spend grew an explosive 189%. Google also accounted for 96% of organic search visits.
And while Google has also faced its share of scandals lately, including its own set of EU fines and user concerns about privacy, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down the amount of time consumers are willing to spend with the company.
So as Facebook struggles to shake its less than stellar reputation, should advertisers be moving to greener pastures?
Back in January, Mark Zuckerberg himself told advertisers that changes to the site may cause users to spend less time on the platform, resulting in less opportunities for reach with both paid and organic ads.
And while the drop in time spent on the platform, not to mention the soaring cost of advertising, may seem scary, according to Andy Taylor, associate director of research for Merkle, they’re not as dire as they seem. While impressions are down, users are clicking more than ever. Over the same period that saw a decline in impressions, total ad clicks actually increased by 20%, indicating that users are actually more interested in ads now that they’re spending less time looking at them.
According to Taylor, the soaring price of advertisements is a result of companies clamoring to be included in a limited space.
“Google makes changes by adding inventory and expanding ads. But for Facebook, there are only so many spots you can throw ads on a page.”
If Facebook is going to continue to grow ad revenue, it’s going to have to find a way to offer more inventory. Instagram is one channel Facebook is exploring to increase opportunities for advertisers. And while advertising on Instagram is still in a nascent stage – with mixed opinions on how much space they should fill – the popularity of the platform, which recently grew to 1 billion users, and it’s newish Stories feature provides ample opportunity for advertisers looking to experiment.
Facebook has also announced plans to focus on a “family-wide audience metric,” that unifies advertiser campaigns across all its platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.
And though it’s more expensive to advertise on Facebook than ever before, Taylor isn’t advising his clients to leave the platform.
“I don’t see advertisers fleeing from Facebook for Google,” Taylor says, “and I expect to see Facebook grow in a meaningful way over the next few quarters.
Yet Taylor also isn’t telling his clients to avoid Google. In fact, quite the opposite. While many articles and studies depict Facebook and Google as an either/or proposition, a healthy campaign should probably include both.
“It’s really about what you can afford,” Taylor says. “But the goal is to be visible on as many platforms as possible.”
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