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Google AdWords & Bing Ads: Where Should You Prioritise?

19 June 2018 11:10am

If the film Rocky is anything to go by, it’s never wise to underestimate the underdog. Google clocks in as the heavyweight in this analogy, reported to dominate approximately 90% of some search markets in 2016. But as we all know, quantity doesn’t always mean quality. While the Bing Network garners around 6 billion searches a month, they also point to their generally affluent, educated demographics, with middle aged individuals taking up the lion’s share of searches (20%). There is also an argument that Bing’s smaller size can be its strength. After all, less competition can mean lower costs per click, although this may balance out if more clicks are required for conversions. But these are all relatively obvious differences between the two platforms. We wanted to dive into the not-so obvious. Why? Because we’re marketers, and the devil is almost always in the details.

How user-friendly are their interfaces?

There’s not much point pumping for one camp or the other if you don’t have the technical skill to get those campaigns launched. The old AdWords user interface is due to be phased out by the end of 2018, leaving in its wake a system that is every data fiend’s dream. With better options for bid optimisation and targeting, as well tracking campaign performance, the new AdWords edition hits the ground running. Nevertheless, that slick new interface is perhaps intimidating to the uninitiated. As a middle ground between accredited expert and total newb, Google also offers AdWords Express. However, as this automates certain processes, it’s not necessarily practical if you want total control over where you’re prioritising ad spend. Bing offers options to easily transfer your campaigns over from AdWords, meaning you don’t have to waste time fussing about those campaign details. However, this also means controversial moves – such as universal device targeting enabled by default – are incorporated to maintain compatibility between the two platforms. While it may seem a case of Google going ‘jump’ and Bing going ‘how high?’, ultimately this is designed to make things as simple as possible for users. Let’s not forget that when it’s simple, there’s kind of no reason not to. Bing also offers some nifty features of its own, such as the ability to set different time zones per campaign. Superficially, while this does seem to streamline campaign management or creation, remember different time zones may have different keyword requirements. All this goes to show that usability, as a definition, can mean different things dependent on your unique business demands. Sure, it can mean a quick and easy experience for you to use and understand – or it can mean more technical power and functionality.

How do Google & Bing handle advertising across different devices?

As champions of accessibility across the internet, it’s easy to see why Google is a frontrunner for responsive mobile advertising. Google is the brainchild behind Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), aka quick page loading that is free of clutter on mobile devices. However, Google’s foothold on the mobile circuit doesn’t mean you should discount Bing. The search engine not only provides image results for Apple’s virtual assistant – Siri – but is the default on Amazon’s Fire Kindle. However, one big issue circles around the lack of targeting options specific to different devices. While Google allows for specific device targeting on its Display adverts and Video campaigns the same cannot be said for other types such as Shopping or Search. On these, you’ll need to employ bid adjustments to prioritise your ad spend on different devices. Similarly, Bing Ads have universal device capabilities enabled by default. Therefore, just like with Google, you’ll have to appreciate how those bid adjustments will affect your advertising budgets. On the user side of things, both Bing Ads and Google AdWords offer mobile apps. This enables you both to track your campaigns – and make minor changes – while on-the-move.

Google Shopping campaigns versus Bing PLAs

Google has made great strides in the online shopping market, with another presumed rivalry currently circling around product search engine Amazon. Technically, targeting these kinds of campaigns isn’t quite so straightforward as a search or display advert (instead of opting in with your keywords and product feed, you opt out). However, getting your products positioned right next to the competition is an undeniable advantage. Plus, Google recently launched its showcase style shopping campaigns, that help your product catalogues appear in context. Google and Bing also offer their own merchant centres, and you’ll have to create a product feed. However, Bing does allow for the import of a Google Shopping feed, although some of the finer file attributes won’t quite make the journey across. Another exciting development with regards to online shopping surrounds the development of Google Pay API. By integrating customer payments across multiple channels, users will no longer have to spend time inputting card details at checkout. As checkout abandonment is still a sticking point for many businesses, this streamlined, more unified experience could encourage more conversions in the long-run. Bing – or at least Microsoft – may still benefit however, as the addition is designed to work on multiple browsers and devices.

Search campaigns

Search campaigns on Bing and Google work in relatively the same way. You type in your search term and – based on the quality of your ads and bids – you get to occupy a top spot of that highly sought-after SERP. Cramming all the relevant info in your ad description text just isn’t always feasible when you only have 80 characters. That’s why both Bing and Google offer a range of search ad extensions, including Sitelinks, callouts, structured snippets and locations. Not only do these give your interested audience more information before deciding to take a key click, it also allows your advert to take up that little bit of extra space on the SERP. Both search engines have the final say in when your extensions will crop up. However, they differ in how many extensions you can add, as well the description length you are allowed on these.

Display campaigns

Let’s hit you with the stats: Google has access 2 million websites that leverage its display campaigns network (aka AdSense). What makes this form of advertising special is it allows you to enhance your brand, with images that represent who you are amongst associated media. Google employs ‘contextual targeting’ to ensure your content is served up within organisations that fit your niche, analysing the keywords on a webpage or post, for example. You have further opportunities for focusing your display campaigns, with ‘managed placements’ where you can bid on specific webpages. While Bing hasn’t built its networks in quite the same way, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Bing employs Microsoft Audience Ads to leverage its stronghold on sites such as MSN and Yahoo. It engages with “consumer intent signals” – aka browser history, search history, page content, demographic info – to determine when its ads should appear on a webpage. Google also employs its fair share of advanced tech, most recently with ‘Auto Ads’ that leverage artificial intelligence to determine the best ad positioning on a page. As we all know how jarring ads can sometimes be when code is placed slapdash by site admins, this is subtle yet welcome development.

Audience targeting

We’ve grown to expect targeting by demographic info, location, and device as standard. However, both Google AdWords and Bing Ads offer options to target their audiences by ‘interests’, allowing for a more personalised – not to mention targeted – ad experience. The way these work is by drawing on site actions such as clicks, as well as browser history. This data can be broadly used to identify audiences with interests that may align with your niche or USP. Google allows for audience targeting based on several types:

  • Affinity - Broadly serve your ads to a large audience, similar to how television advertising works
  • Custom Affinity – You choose keywords, apps or URLs that give more clarity to the kinds of audience you are looking to attract - Life events – Target audiences that may be making purchase decisions around a key life event
  • Custom Intent – Build your own custom audience with keywords, or automate the process with Google’s own machine learning tools
  • In-market – Jump the gun with an audience that may be looking for similar services or products
  • Remarketing – Reconnect with audiences that have already expressed interest by clicking on your products or landing pages

Bing has some similar methods in beta development at the moment. These include their own in-market audiences, and custom audiences.

  • In-market Audiences – Currently trialled in the US, in-market audiences allows for segmentation based on 14 distinct niches/interests
  • Custom Audiences – Essentially Remarketing. Segment audiences based on key behaviours such as clicks on your product pages.

So, which one is top of the pile?

The question of which platform is better is a much more complex one than it appears on the surface; as the answer can differ not just by industry to industry but company to company. The question search marketers should be asking themselves is which platform provides the best opportunity for a company to achieve what they set out to do through Paid. Factors that need to be considered include overall business goals, target audience and budget whilst marketers need to also be aware that a strategy that works well with one platform won’t necessarily always garner the same results through the other.


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