Facebook has really been stepping up their ad game since they went public earlier this year. Just this week, they rolled out a new advertising format: Facebook Sponsored Search. This new ad format allows advertisers to have their Facebook pages or apps (but not their external sites) appear at the top of the results when a user types a specific query in the Facebook search box. The placements look like this:
While this is certainly and interesting development (and merits some testing to see if it’s effective), I remain skeptical that this is a good deal for advertisers. First off, when was the last time anyone ever used the search function in Facebook to find anything other than a friend of theirs? Maybe I’m just weird about this, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used Facebook search over the years I’ve had an account. And even if someone does search, what are the odds that they’re going to look for something they want to spend money on. This might work for some categories like dating sites or free games, but I don’t really see this as a viable lead generation or e-commerce advertising strategy.
I do applaud Facebook’s willingness to innovate, but I think that they’re fighting an uphill battle on monetizing their customers. People go on to Facebook to socialize, not buy stuff. And the trouble is, the free features that Facebook offers companies (specifically Pages) are much more effective at driving revenue for advertisers than any of the paid advertising options that Facebook offers. Facebook CPC ads are pretty weak in my experience, although Sponsored Stories seem to have some potential (more on this next week). And let’s just say that I’ll believe that Facebook Sponsored Search is viable when I see it.
I really shouldn’t rain too much on Facebook’s parade. The truth is, for some advertisers, Facebook ads work really, really well. But I would bet that those advertisers are in a pretty small minority of companies in general. Compare that performance to AdWords and AdCenter which work pretty well for most companies that can afford them (assuming you have a competent PPC pro at the helm). Combine Facebook’s unengaged audience, ad formats that are essentially dressed-up display ads, and then add in the fact that a lot of the time you can’t even send a click to a customized external landing page, and you get the perfect recipe for a crappy ad network. Facebook has the audience numbers and some truly kick-ass demographic targeting, but I am concerned that they may be cursed to ad failure. I’m interested to see how Sponsored Search affects their bottom line, but I remain skeptical that it’s a game changer.