From pricing models to the type of ads offered, Facebook , Yelp, and Google have more than a few things in common. To the untrained eye, it may even seem that there are only minor or subtle differences that differentiate them. While these superficial similarities can easily make it confusing for small businesses to determine what network is right for them, it usually takes little more than a simple comparison of these platforms to help make these apparently small differences glaringly obvious.

Yelp

Yelp’s service has risen to prominence in large part due to its internal review system, which allows customers to submit off-the-cuff and enthusiastic reports on their experience with the business. Although the reach of the Yelp network isn’t nearly as great as behemoth networks like Facebook and Google, more than 71 million unique visitors in the first quarter of 2012 alone clearly demonstrates that people have come to trust it as one of the best ways to identify and vet local businesses.

Unfortunately, Yelp is not for everyone. Apart from its emphasis on regional business, advertising with Yelp typically involves a minimum annual contract, and there may be limited support for tracking your leads. In addition, clicking on a business on the Yelp page brings you to that business’ profile rather than to their website. While a URL is a part of that profile, this intermediary step between Yelp and your site could be a significant concern for anyone who is concerned about getting the most out of their ad dollars.

AdWords

With billions of Google searches happening every day, AdWords is one of the largest advertising networks available. Like you might expect, AdWords allows advertisers to purchase ad space for specific keywords on a pay-per-click basis, and anyone who clicks your ad is redirected to your website. However, where AdWords really excels is in its targeted advertising. Because people use search engines to solve specific problems, AdWords is able to connect businesses with consumers that have demonstrated an interest in their niche, which makes for some of the most lucrative lead generation possible.

Unlike Yelp, AdWords requires no contract and comes packaged with metric tools that make it easy to fine tune your future advertising for even greater effect. From comprehensive budget control to powerful filtering options that can keep your ads from appearing in the wrong places, it’s hard for any advertiser to ignore AdWords for long.

Facebook

Like AdWords, Facebook is a pay-per-click advertising channel with an incredibly vast reach. With more than a billion users worldwide, the only website more popular is Google. Unlike Google, though, Facebook isn’t a search engine. The usage habits and expectations of the people who use Facebook are drastically different. For instance, advertising on Facebook is an excellent way to develop brand awareness. Paired with the fact that nearly one out of every two US consumers claim that friends and family are their leading source of brand awareness, it should be clear how Facebook offers a fundamentally different service from the other two networks on this list.

Furthermore, advertising on a social network allows you to take advantage of social proofing in a way that is all but impossible with advertising networks like AdWords. While word of mouth is a potent influence in driving sales, it’s no secret that consumers strongly prefer these recommendations to come from close friends, family, and acquaintances. Facebook’s consumer targeting practices may be largely commensurable to those of AdWords, but the ability to utilize social elements to your advantage is what gives advertising on Facebook an edge that’s hard to compete with.