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When Microsoft Ads may be the better choice than Google Ads
Given its 246 million unique visitors and access to almost 80% of the world’s internet audience, its little surprise that Google Ads is dominant in the pay per click (PPC) advertising market, as we’ve discussed previously (LINK TO PREVIOUS ARTICLE). Microsoft and its Bing search engine look in a very distant second place if judged simplistically in terms of search volume. While Bing is gradually narrowing the gap, it is still achieving less than 4% of searches in Australia and is clearly dwarfed by its rival. However, dominance comes with its own set of problems, and for advertisers the dominance of Google Ads means there is vastly more competition from rival advertisers, which drives up cost and makes it harder for you to stand out and make an impact.
That’s why canny marketers don’t overlook the potential of Microsoft and Bing advertising and are increasingly adding it into their marketing mix. As Target Marketing Magazine puts it, “diversification is vital when it comes to long-term marketing success. Businesses that rely solely on one marketing channel are extremely vulnerable.” If you haven’t already explored Microsoft Ads, consider this article your primer on why and how to do so.
The first important thing to recognize is that Bing Ads operates on the same auction principle as Google Ads, which means Bing advertisers immediately benefit from the relative lack of competition. An advertiser is able to secure cheaper costs per click and better ad positioning at the same time. PPC Protect reports that, globally, Google has a higher average cost per click of around $2, while Bing Ads is closer to $1.54.
Of course, a lower cost per click is a false economy if it generates even lower sales, which is why you need to think carefully about your advertising objectives and audiences. If you have a relatively small potential audience – let’s say people seeking Ethiopian food in a medium sized Australian city – then you may need to reach a larger proportion of them in order to have any impact, and Google is likely to remain your priority. If, however, your audience is considerably larger and more fiercely competed over – let’s say people seeking pizza in the same city – then enough will be using Bing for you to snare their attention ahead of your rivals.
As ever, it is always worth investing time in getting to know the quirks of different channels. For example, Bing is generally regarded as offering a better and more attractive interface for image searching – or as PC World put it, more simply, “Bing has image chops” – which might make it a smart place to advertise if you are offering something which will appeal to visual connoisseurs, such as an art gallery or photography equipment.
Even more importantly, you need to know the demographics each search engine attracts. Even after its many years of dominance, young people are still far likelier to use Google over any other search engine, so if that’s the audience you are after Google Ads remains your safest bet. It also skews male in terms of users.
Bing, on the other hand, boasts an almost exactly 50/50 split between genders and has a much larger audience share among older audiences – 45% of users are over the age of 45. Given that people over 45 are generally more affluent than those below, there are obvious benefits to this demographic tilt. This may be one of the reasons that Virgin Australia, on switching much of its advertising to Microsoft last year, claims it saw an 18% year-on-year growth in revenue.
There’s also the matter of functionality to consider. After a long period where Microsoft mostly seemed to be attempting to simply chase Google in terms of its features, it has recently pivoted to adding new features in a bid to stay competitive. As Search Engine Land wrote in May last year, “there has recently been an accelerated push to develop and release product differentiators” While a lot of these features will only excite those truly immersed in PPC marketing, they can make a difference, particularly being able to customize ads by audience and the piloting of 3D ads. However, most experts agree that Google still has the edge when it comes to innovation: as PPC Protect recently said “Not only are [Google] innovators when it comes to new ad types, but the rate at which they release new ad types is downright impressive.”
One area where some marketers definitely prefer Microsoft’s offering is in the targeting options. While Microsoft offers similar targeting options as its rival, and fewer of them, it does allow greater granularity because you can apply the different targeting options to ad group level. As blogger Jon Hoy notes, “you can even assign different ad campaigns to different time zones.”, something which can be valuable if you are regularly marketing yourself in very different time zones, as is the case for many Australian businesses.
A final point of difference which is extremely significant to some advertisers is that the two main PPC providers have in place different levels of restrictions when it comes to advertising. While both are increasingly cautious about political and adult content, Bing has a tendency to be more relaxed. Sometimes, Google’s restrictiveness has caused it difficulties – notably when it announced a sweeping ban on cryptocurrency ads and was then forced into a rapid uturn in the US and Japan.
One of the most obvious differences between Google and Microsoft is that the latter does allow gambling advertising from properly licensed operators in countries where gambling is legal, such as Australia. Essentially, if you have a product or service that’s banned from Google, you should check Bing’s policies – you might be surprised.
If you still haven’t used Microsoft Ads and aren’t sure if you should commit to it, our final advice would be to try it and see how it works for you. Neil Patel’s blog offers some excellent and straightforward advice on how to measure near-identical Microsoft and Google ad campaigns against each other, including a quick and automated process and a manual one which should work for anyone. His advice is worth following closely, such as making sure you properly understand your audience and your objectives before you invest cautiously in Bing. As he says, “when you’ve finally finished your homework, take the leap.”
No matter what you decide, it’s wise to reassess that decision regularly. Locked as they are in such a fierce competitive battle, both Google and Microsoft are likely to make regular changes to their policies and roll out more features in the coming months and years. As in all digital marketing, trying to keep up with the pace of change is a core part of the job and the only way you can be sure to keep delivering value to your own business or your clients. Ultimately, that matters more than the brand on your advertising, no matter how huge those brands are.

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