Last week Facebook started to heavily promote their new Local Awareness ads on the timelines of small business owners. Oh, you thought everyone was seeing those messages? No, Facebook has DATA and they know how to use it in many interesting ways. One of those ways is to know everyone on their platform who lists themselves as a business owner. Gosh I bet that makes their in house advertising really effective (for them).
What do these new Local Awareness ads mean for small businesses? Essentially Facebook business pages can be thought of as something like the local business directories provided by Google, Bing and Yahoo. Those directories all supply local business listings when people search for a product or service on those search engines and they are within the service area that the business has specified in their profile on the specific directory service.
Google in particular has been leading the pack in making their version of their local business listings more effective for local business owners. The listings show up in a special area on the Google search results page (see image) and on Google Maps. Bing and Yahoo local business listing platforms have also adapted these features but Google was the only one of the three big search engines to have tied their listings into a social network, Google+.
In this respect Facebook seems to be mirroring Google with their Local Awareness ads. These ads are intended to target people within a certain geographic radius of the advertiser. When you set up the ads you specify this radius as well as the age and gender of the people who will see the ad (if this makes a difference to your business). According to the Facebook Developers Guide all other targeting tools have been eliminated from the Local Awareness ads.
In this image from Facebook you can see how easy it is to set these ads up. The map view within the setup tool makes it easy to see how much of your local area will be covered by the ads. The Facebook directions say that Facebook will automatically pre-select a coverage area for you so make sure you check that area to make sure it is what you want before you publish the ad.
I have seen a few somewhat high profile articles that are speculating that these ads and Facebook ads in general are going to be a challenge to Google Adwords on the web. I think that this kind of hype gives readers the wrong sort of impression as to what these ads can do.
Facebook ads are and always have been limited to appearing on Facebook. The recent talk about Facebook using more data from the web to better target their ads means target them on Facebook, not on the rest of the web. To see them people have to be Facebook users and actively using Facebook at the time. This is a limiting factor that is not faced by Google or Bing ad platforms.
Google Adwords ads can appear anywhere on the web when people visit sites that include Adwords ads or when people do a search using Google (the same is true for Bing ads). So while Google ads are somewhat limited to the Google platform in one way or another that platform encompasses the entire Internet not just one site as is the case with Facebook Local Awareness ads.
I did say that Google My Business listings are somewhat comparable to Facebook Pages or Local Awareness ads but that similarity only goes so far. Both can appear to people based on their home town information and based on their physical location at the time they see them. Google My Business listings are not ads though, they are free to use and I have seen no indication that that will be changing in the near future. While Google did tie them into the Google+ platform several months ago they are not limited to users of that platform. Anyone who does a search on Google (whether signed into Google or not) can see Google My Business Listings displayed prominently on the front page of Google Search and on Google Maps as well as searches from within Google+.
Google Adwords does offer paid ways to make your business more prominent on Google Maps and on Google Search. This can be done through the Adwords platform as Location Extensions on a search or display ad. This is an important distinction because Facebook does not offer a free version of their Local Awareness ads.
Before you let someone convince you that your Facebook Business page itself is like a Google My Business listing on Google+ because both are social networks remember that, while Google has been making it more possible for people who are looking for your product or service to find you for free through things like Semantic Search and Google+ Circles, Facebook has actually been deliberately decreasing the number of people who can be reached by posts on your page (even though they have liked your page).
Speaking of search, there are vast differences between the results that come up on Google Search for a term and those that come up on Facebook search. This is important because if someone is in your area and looking for a product or service and they do a search you would want your business to show up in search results, wouldn’t you?
I did a quick comparison between the two search engines just for an unofficial sort of comparison. I searched for Coffee Shops, Selinsgrove on both Facebook and Google. Searching for a coffee shop seems like a reasonable thing that someone might do in any area, especially if they do not live in the area and are not familiar with what is available. Selinsgrove is the name of the town I live in and I used it because I do know what is actually available in the area in terms of places to buy coffee.
The results were pretty startling. Google search provided a whole page full of results. The results consisted of Google My Business listings at the top of the page, those same listings represented as dots on the map on the right side of the results page and web listings from other directories and from the websites of the businesses involved. Facebook gave me only one result for the same search. Starbucks…
Another important distinction between Google My Business directory listings and Facebook Pages/Local Awareness ads seems to be in how and why they are displayed. As you see in the image above Google Search tries to understand the intent of each query. In this case it assumes that I am searching for places to buy coffee and gives me any options. In the case of Facebook their search engine only seems to provide listings from businesses who have actually listed themselves as Coffee Shops on their profile (as opposed to Restaurant, Market, Bistro, etc).
This same targeting ability extends to Google Adwords. The platform targets ads to people who are a: in your area and b: are actively looking for your product or service. Facebook Local Listing ads on the other hand seem to only target people in your area who are of a particular age and gender. In addition their promotional material only mentions users newsfeeds as the place where ads are displayed, not in search results.
Based on this information Local Awareness ads seem to be very similar to a billboard in the real world. You buy a billboard beside a major road near your location and hope that people see it who are looking for a cup of coffee. The only difference is that you can decide on which cars see your billboard based on the age and gender of the driver. Compared to the precise targeting capability of Google Adwords ads is like comparing a scalpel to a club.
On the other hand, if your ideal customer spends a lot of time on Facebook and they take it with them wherever they go on their mobile device, then sure, they could be useful. Here is something to think about though, if you have 10 competitors in your local service area and all of you are using Local Awareness ads Facebook will probably not put all 10 of you on the page of everyone in the area. Whoever gets the placement will probably depend on who has bid the highest for it and it could make for some very expensive pseudo billboard space on Facebook. With Google My Business listings though you will probably all show up in Google search results in one way or another.