When Social Beats Search

When Social Beats Search
By Mike Nierengarten

Search has established itself as the dominant platform for lead generation. Search provides advertisers the opportunity to reach potential customers who have expressed intent. Someone searching for enterprise resource planning software, for example, is likely interested in an ERP company like Oracle or SAP and would be a high quality lead for those companies. Google’s nearly $60B in cash reserves has been built on the effectiveness of search advertising. In the last few years, however, social advertising platforms have improved to the point that with a number of targeting tactics, social beats search.

Demographic Targeting

Demographic targeting is the clearest example in which social advertising beats paid search. As an advertiser with a clear persona in mind, social ad networks provide the right tools to reach your audience.

For B2B companies, LinkedIn advertising is typically the most effective ad network to target prospect personas. With my clients, I recommend running multiple concurrent LinkedIn campaigns to reach their target prospects:

  1. -Title targeting
  2. -Skills targeting
  3. -Groups targeting
  4. -Role targeting

For Obility’s internal campaigns, I target titles similar to those of our current clients (e.g. Online Marketing Manager, VP Marketing, and CMO) in a title targeting campaign. I also run multiple skills targeting campaigns targeting individuals with demand generation or marketing automation skills) and a groups campaign targeting user groups of relevant tools (e.g. marketing automation software such as Eloqua, Pardot, or Marketo). Last, I run a general roles campaign targeting marketers at companies satisfying specific criteria.

Figure 1: Target the right roles, skills, groups and titles


In our LinkedIn ad campaigns, I use LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, which provide the best combination of low cost-per-click and high impressions. I also geo-target to the United States and target 25 to 54 year-olds to better qualify my target audience.

Search simply cannot compete with Social. Demographic targeting within AdWords and Bing Ads exists but is limited to the Display Network. For my clients, I recommend testing topics and interest targeting, but have not had great success with either. Search networks just aren’t yet capable of accurately targeting users with the demographic options my clients care about.

Account-Based Marketing

Have you ever tried to reach a target account with paid search? It’s tough to hit the CIO of Intel through AdWords, but social advertising makes it easy. Both Facebook and LinkedIn provide company targeting. Couple company targeting with other demographics (e.g. role in LinkedIn, interests in Facebook), and you can reach your target accounts.

In addition, there are a couple of other sneaky tactics to reach your target accounts:

  1. -Facebook Custom Audience Targeting allows you to target users in your sales database who have yet to purchase.
  2. -Target your target accounts’ Twitter feeds. More than likely, your contacts at the company will follow their own company’s Twitter account.

For Obility’s internal campaigns, we target 1,200 B2B companies who have large enough marketing budgets to support over $10k per month in paid search. I use LinkedIn campaigns to target users in a marketing role at those specific companies.

Content Marketing

My clients, bless their hearts, often give me a new white paper created by the internal content creation team and ask me to get it up and running in their paid search campaigns. Half the time the white papers are created for sales enablement or lead nurturing campaigns, and there is near zero possible use for search campaigns. Not a lot of folks are searching for how to efficiently manage innovation in your organization keywords.

While search campaigns require specific content relevant to keywords targeted, all other relevant content can be used in social. For example, I use a competitor targeting white paper in our internal LinkedIn campaigns. With a quick look at Google’s Keyword Planner, I can only see about 500 searches per month, with only 30-35 clicks for relevant keywords (see screenshot below). Running the same offer on LinkedIn alone, however, I generate nearly 1,000 clicks per month.

Figure 2: Google’s Keyword Planner generates only 30-35 clicks for relevant keywords per month – much less than the nearly 1,000 clicks per month that LinkedIn generates using the same offer.



Search retargeting exists in multiple forms, including Google’s Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) and Yahoo’s Search Retargeting, but no search retargeting is as effective or far-reaching as retargeting on social advertising networks. Through social ad network interfaces or via companies like AdRoll, you can run retargeting campaigns to your past site visitors on the social networks your prospects use every day.

Competitor Targeting

Technically, social does not beat search for targeting competitors’ prospects and customers, but social advertising is certainly far less expensive. Competitor search campaigns, where advertisers target competitor brands, typically cost around $20 per click, but because these campaigns drive qualified leads so effectively, it’s worth the high cost-per-click.

Comparatively, social advertising allows you to reach your competitors’ prospects and customers at a fraction of the cost of search campaigns. While LinkedIn may cost $4 per click, Twitter and Facebook will be closer to $1-2, and if you really want to run inexpensive competitor targeting campaigns, look into YouTube advertising. With YouTube, you can target your competitors’ videos and channels for less than $0.50 per click. For every one click you receive from search competitor campaigns, you can get 40 clicks from YouTube ads.

Figure 3: Rock bottom cost per view of YouTube video campaigns


Collectively, our internal demographic and account-based targeting campaigns at Obility generate about 1,000 clicks per month with a 20% conversion rate and a cost per lead of under $20—and these aren’t crud leads either. All of our forms require company name (phone is optional) and don’t allow personal email addresses. Over 80% of our leads from social advertising campaigns are real people with company email addresses.

By comparison, our search campaigns typically drive new leads at close to $100 per lead. While search can often make up for the increased cost per lead in client urgency, social advertising provides the lead volume and persona targeting that integrated marketing campaigns truly require.

Mike Nierengarten is the founder and president of Obility Consulting (www.obilityconsulting.com), a leading B2B demand generation company specialized in internet marketing for companies with long sales cycles. Mike founded Obility in 2011 and has helped market B2B companies since 2004. In his career Mike has helped great companies including Marketo, Intuit, Jive Software, Juniper Networks and Axway track online marketing performance through the sales cycle by integrating CRM and marketing automation platforms.