Facebook and Google have long been taking cues from each other. Earlier this year, Google+ was redesigned and looked a lot more like Facebook. Before that, Facebook introduced the ‘Subscribe’ button to allow one-way connections similar to adding someone to a circle on Google+. On Wednesday, after about a month of testing, Facebook introduced “Sponsored Results,” which is geared towards those using the Facebook search bar.
The Sponsored Results will appear along with organic results in the auto-complete box. Usually, the search ad will be the first result, displayed above the organic results. But in some cases, the sponsored result will be between a “Top Hit” and the organic results.
Unlike other Facebook advertising units, the search ads can’t be used for off-site content, meaning the Facebook search ads can only lead to other places on Facebook, such as a page, game, or app. But similar to other Facebook advertising products, advertisers can target their audience by demographic, location, likes, and connections.
It’s understandable that Facebook needs to start proving that it can generate revenue, especially as its stock continues to drop lower and lower. It’s also understandable for Facebook to want to compete with Google and Bing. But to me, there are a few things wrong with this new ad product:
- Facebook is not a search engine. – Yes, Facebook has a search bar, but users don’t use it the same way they use traditional search engines. As ClickZ points out, people search for categories of things on Google and other search engines. On Facebook, searchers usually know what they are looking for. Facebook users type a friend’s name into the search bar to go to their profile instead of typing the URL, which they probably don’t know. They probably don’t use Facebook search for discovery as much as they do with Google or Bing.
- Sponsored Results have limited visibility. – So far, the search ads are only visible in the auto-complete box on desktop searches. The new ad units aren’t shown on the “More Results” search page, and are missing from mobile. But Facebook is trying to transform into a “mobile first” company.
- Targeting only Facebook entities, not keywords. – The Sponsored Results can only target Facebook entities, meaning Pages, Places, and Apps. You cannot target individual keywords. Being able to target pages also means targeting people looking for a competitor’s page. As TechCrunch has discovered, a search for the dating site OKCupid now shows the page for competing dating site Match.com as the top result, since Match.com has bought Sponsored Results and OKCupid hasn’t. It will probably become necessary to target your existing audience.
- Autocomplete + ads purchased on a CPC basis = ? - I don’t know if it’s just me, but I constantly end up on the wrong page after using Facebook search. I type something in and, out of habit, press ‘enter’ before making sure the page or profile I’m looking for is the one highlighted. If other Facebook users do this too, I see big problems, especially as users are first getting used to the Sponsored Results. Someone may be looking for OKCupid and may accidentally end up at Match.com’s Facebook page. Frustrated, they will quickly find their way to the page they were originally looking for without even glancing at the content on Match.com’s page, even though Match.com has just spent money for that click.
Do you think Facebook’s Sponsored Results are a good model, or do you have suggestions for how to make them better?