The Pain-Free Way to Move from PPC to Facebook Ads

Paid search practitioners are increasingly being asked by their clients to run Facebook Ads campaigns. In addition, PPC pros who haven’t yet explored the platform are expressing greater interest than ever in learning about Facebook Ads.

What many are discovering: transitioning from paid search to Facebook is like whiplash.

It seems like it should be an easy transition – it’s just paid media, right?


Moving from PPC (e.g., Google AdWords and Bing Ads) to Facebook Ads is anything but simple. It’s like speaking French your whole life and being dropped off in a world where everything is in Portuguese.

On a new platform, the natural instinct is to cling to what you know. Apply the principles that have been your tried-and-true winners in the past. Those will get you through until you figure out the nuances, right?

But then they don’t.

Results stumble. Managers sweat. Then the PPC person backs down, afraid of torching any more cash in Facebook Ads on things that aren’t working.

Yes, the transition is painful.

The good news for you? I’ve been through the transition. In fact, I’ve been doing Facebook Ads for over four years now.

Over the past year I’ve been flooded with questions and requests from paid search pros asking how to manage this awkward transition. Some question whether they should even do so, or if they should find a trusted partner to outsource Facebook Ads to.

Here are the common mistakes paid search pros tend to make when moving from the world of PPC to Facebook Ads, and what skill sets succeed best in this transition.

Forget What You Know

It seems silly to say it but: paid search is not Facebook Ads. The two have little in common.

If you want to be successful with Facebook Ads, you have to ditch old habits.

It’s not just the targeting that’s different. Everything is different, though it may not seem that way at first.

There are things in Facebook Ads that, as a paid search person, you’d be initially relieved to see because they are familiar.

Take, for example, the ability to manually manage a CPC. This is the bread and butter of paid search, and I take over a lot of accounts where manual bid management is going on in Facebook.

The thing is, there’s a 1:1 relationship that largely exists in AdWords that doesn’t fit into the Facebook algorithm. Barring things like device, etc, user intent exists in paid search because they searched for a relevant keyword. Sure, there are differences in buying intent vs. research and things like that, but you know for sure they are interested.

Ultimately, you get data over time that helps you to know the right bid for a search query.

In Facebook, intent is a tougher thing because you’re approaching the users – they aren’t approaching you.

You may have Facebook optimize the buy towards conversions, or clicks, or video views. When you take manual bidding into your own hands, the results can be a lot less predictable than what you’re used to in paid search.

With Facebook Ads, it can take a lot of experimenting to find the right mix. I’ve taken over countless accounts that had a CPC cap on them, and the CPA did much better when it was switched to auto-optimization.

Why? Intent.

Facebook knows a whole lot about what its users are doing and, based on all that behavior, who is most likely to do what you’re asking it to optimize for. You don’t have that knowledge.

Facebook looks like this:

While paid search looks more like this:

Yes, I realize this is grossly oversimplifying, but in the end, you have more specific information about what led to conversion with paid search.

That “black box” feeling within Facebook is a difficult thing for search marketers. Paid search gives you a lot more control over individual elements, whereas, on Facebook, there’s a good amount of faith placed in their targeting and algorithms. It’s a big pain point for search marketers and one that takes some getting used to.

Facebook Ads Rely More on Classic Marketing Methods

Paid search is lower-hanging fruit, customer-wise. Users know what they’re looking for.

When you run on AdWords or Bing Ads you tailor your text ad to speak to their needs. It has a more transaction-based existence. Not that there isn’t creativity that goes into paid search, because there is, but it’s in a pretty pre-defined universe and it’s a different type of creativity.

Facebook is a dream for people who enjoy that more classic feel of marketing, where creative is hugely important, branding and messaging matters, and audience research and persona development plays a major role in success. These “softer” marketing skills play a much more prominent role in Facebook for many reasons:

  • You are approaching potential customers and have to get their attention.
  • It’s a much more visually-rich medium.
  • It’s a social environment where the language you use is important.

This is a major adjustment for a lot of paid search marketers who are used to relying on ad copy calling out sales or free this or that to drive success. There’s nothing wrong with that – it works because ads are speaking to users who are actively seeking to convert at some point.

Not so on Facebook. Frequently users don’t care if your stuff is on sale, because they have no clue who you are or why they need your product. They will when you structure your campaigns the right way, but out of the gate, not so much.

Furthermore, they’re probably in various stages of awareness and you won’t always know where they are. In paid search, there are more frequent clues based on how users are searching to know how to message them.

Paid search people that are very math and algorithm-driven struggle with the softer marketing skills. And, as noted above, you’re doing math in Facebook’s playground without their rule book, so this can be a huge turn-off for PPC practitioners who consider themselves more a marketing analyst than a marketing person in general.

The Store vs. the Sandwich Board

While the AdWords platform has grown and matured, in the end, you are dealing in the world of search with all its positives and negatives. It’s a fairly clearly-defined world at this point.

Search campaigns, display campaigns, and then the unbelievable amount of levers within each that you can pull to get results are all there. Ultimately you’re looking to convert traffic that is looking for what you offer and do it pretty expeditiously.

Facebook can be (though isn’t always) a slower burn. These are not bottom-funnel users. They don’t know your product, may not even be interested or looking for it, and that means you, my friend, are now a salesperson.

These people aren’t walking into your store – you’re on street corner, dressed like a taco, handing out flyers for Taco Tuesday.

One of the biggest mistakes is when people run a single campaign, get no sales, and declare Facebook a useless disaster.

You have to think bigger than that to survive and thrive.

Successful Facebook marketing isn’t usually going to be about a single campaign that drives a bunch of sales or leads for you (though those do exist). It’s going to be about a well thought-out strategy that leverages multiple campaigns and remarketing to drive users all the way through a planned sales funnel. It’s coordinating the campaign types you run, the messaging in each, and how you follow up via remarketing.

The overall CPA or ROAS from those efforts is your goal in those instances, not evaluating each campaign on its own.

Here’s an example of an e-commerce account that was relying solely on conversion and remarketing campaign types initially. We took on the account and implemented a funnel-based strategy that looked like this:

The results were noticeable. These are the results of the video funnel and remarketing we used versus the conversion campaigns plus remarketing they had been relying on:

It goes against instinct to bet against a campaign being optimized towards conversions – but it works better for this client.

These type of multi-touch customer journeys are what sets Facebook apart, but they require a lot of planning around not just how you set it up, but also how you message each step. Clients can sometimes lack in the assets area, which will call on those marketing skills even harder for you as their manager.

Are Facebook Ads Right For You?

PPC people either absolutely love Facebook Ads (*raises hand*) or hate them and want nothing to do with them. A lot of it depends on what you like spending your time doing and how apt you are to taking some leaps of faith you might not be used to in trusting a platform and its algorithm.

I firmly believe that despite how complex the Facebook Ads platform is already, it’s still in its infancy. I’m thankful I learned paid search when I did because it would be mind-boggling to wrap my head around if I started now with how robust the platform has gotten.

Facebook Ads will rapidly get to that point, so now is a great time to decide whether you ever want to plant a flag there.

If you do, experiment, ask for help and use a little caution. You’ll find your footing, you just need to have some love of adventure.

Image Credits
All in-post images created by the author, July 2017.