Why You Shouldn’t Forget About Facebook’s Sidebar [Research]

Facebook Ad Placement Sidebar

We’ve been hearing for quite some time now about the effectiveness of running Facebook ads on mobile devices or in the desktop News Feed. But the sidebar? “Completely worthless!” they shout.

But is it true?

It’s conventional wisdom that it is. And maybe it’s true when applied to the general population. But sometimes you need to double check conventional wisdom to make sure it applies to you.

That’s why I decided to take a closer look. And what I found is likely to surprise you.

First, Some Perspective

It’s always important to point this out from the start. We’re talking about the results for only one Page during a three month period. Sample size, industry, copy, landing pages, products and a whole lot more factor into these results.

I have decided to focus on all campaigns that I ran with the intention of one of the following things:

  • Conversion (Checkout)
  • Conversion (Registration)
  • Page Like

I eliminated any Promoted Post that was created for the purpose of engagement, but still managed to receive one of these actions.

The four main countries I target in my ads are the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. As a result, cost per action will always be higher.

I know. You can get ridiculously low Cost Per Like. But I’m focusing on quality over quantity here. As a result, costs are higher (but you’ll see results follow).

My total ad spend in this case study is $4,212.30. It is broken down as follows:

  • Desktop News Feed: $2,473.92
  • Mobile: $1,194.38
  • Sidebar: $544.00

Shortly, you are going to see why I believe I should be dedicating far more of my ad spend to the sidebar.

How I Did This

If you aren’t using the new Facebook ad reports, you need to do it now. This is how I’m able to break down what my Cost Per Desired Action is by placement.

No, I didn’t create a different ad for each placement. Facebook breaks all of this down for me, which is incredibly valuable. It now allows me to optimize and spend my money more efficiently based on the results.

Cost Per 1,000 Impressions by Placement

I took all of the ads run during the past 90 days and found the average CPM based on placement.

Facebook CPM by Placement Jon Loomer

It is as follows:

  • Desktop News Feed: $1.64
  • Mobile: $3.95
  • Sidebar: $.08

Keep in mind that this is an average covering all targeting. So when I target Fans only, for example, these will be significantly higher. But I also target large pools of non-Fans to bring the average price down.

You probably aren’t surprised that mobile CPM is the highest here, and it really isn’t close. I’ve actually seen sidebar CPM below $.05 in many cases.

Let’s think about what this means. While Mobile or Desktop News Feed may (not confirmed yet) result in more desired actions per impression, the significantly higher CPM means that you are going to pay 20X or more for each impression. So in the end, the sidebar could be most efficient.

And I have a feeling that’s what we’re going to see!

In order to analyze the results for checkouts and registrations, of course, I’ve been using Conversion Tracking. I hope you are, too!

Cost Per Checkout by Placement

Following is a chart showing the Cost Per Conversion of my campaigns that were run for the sole purpose of selling during the past 90 days. I spent a total of $520.29 on these ads.

Facebook Cost Per Checkout Placement Jon Loomer

Here are the actual costs per conversion:

  • Desktop News Feed: $9.37
  • Mobile: $24.39
  • Sidebar: $5.78

You’ve probably heard my story about getting a 35X ROI during the first month of promotion of my Power Editor training course. Facebook ads are pretty darn powerful!

Of course, I haven’t been able to maintain that ROI. But keep in mind that the following CPA numbers are going to be for products that were sold at either $73.50 or $147.

In most cases, I’ve stopped ads that go to mobile devices. While a CPA of $24.39 isn’t a negative ROI by any stretch of the imagination, it’s nowhere near as efficient as desktop.

But sidebar is most efficient? I did not see this coming!

Cost Per Registration by Placement

I’ve also been running ads with the goal of driving registrations to my weekly webinar. I have spent $576.69 on these ads.

Facebook Cost Per Registration by Placement Jon Loomer

Here are the actual costs per registration by placement:

  • Desktop News Feed: $.76
  • Mobile News Feed: $1.41
  • Desktop Sidebar: $.53

Once again, mobile is far more expensive than the other two placements, and the sidebar ends up being most efficient. Unfortunately, I was only putting $25.83 of my budget towards the sidebar (that will change!).

Page Likes

I am constantly running campaigns to increase Page Likes. I have spent $1,788.33 on such ads.

Facebook Cost Per Page Like by Placement Jon Loomer

Here are the actual costs per Page Like:

  • Desktop News Feed: $.34
  • Mobile News Feed: $.53
  • Desktop Sidebar: $.38

Mobile isn’t a complete waste this time, but these ads were still most expensive. The desktop News Feed ends up being the slight winner when it comes to generating Page Likes.

Once again, we’ve been led to believe that running Page Like ads on mobile devices is extremely effective. It’s not as effective as desktop for me.

The bulk of my spend here has been going towards Desktop News Feed. I may cut off mobile entirely going forward.

What Are You Seeing?

Clearly, I’m seeing results (sales, registrations and Page Likes) from the sidebar, and at a greater rate overall than I am on either the desktop or mobile News Feeds. But this does not apply universally, and you should check your own stats.

Are you seeing similar results? Let me know in the comments below!

  • DavidStraight

    Jon, nice lead in to the post. You are comparing your results on 1 page to the “conventional wisdom”. I like that transparency. Are you finding similar results with large sample sizes? Any industry specific data?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      To be completely frank, David, this is the first I’ve heard anyone talking about results like these for the sidebar. So I haven’t!

      • DavidStraight

        Good to know – thanks for your perspective

  • prowebinternet

    Hi Jon

    Here is my experience… totally different… and the difference is that I live in Argentina and I’m targeting spanish speaking countries, the cpm is much lower than the “first world countries” and then the news feed ads are a much better bet.

    I tried sidebar ads and spent many dollars in few minutes with no roi because facebook shows them repeatedly and the daily budget is reached in few minutes.

    I prefer to show my ads in the news feed because the cpm costs just 0,20 USD (I bid more to be sure that the ad is placed in front of as many users as possible), this way they show only once per user, and grabs more attention at a lower cost.

    Let me know if you need any help with spanish speaking clients.

    See you on Wednesday in your mini webinar!


    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      That makes sense, Gustavo! Exactly why I say you should check what you’re seeing with your own stats. Don’t like it when people take my results for gospel. So many factors at play, and country is certainly one of them!

  • http://www.socialmediamamma.com/ Gaynor Parke-Social Media Mamm

    Another great post Jon thanks. You are so generous with your info and I love how you get into real information rather than generalities. A pleasure to read and share

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks! People are very protective of their data, but I have nothing to hide.

      • http://www.linkedin.com/in/syedirfanajmal/ Syed Irfan Ajmal

        Can’t thank you enough. Ever.

  • http://www.treefrogclick.com/ Kevin Banet

    I just heard a live webinar of top FB ad expert Amy Porterfield on Friday, and she was saying dump the sidebar ads. And yet, I found the sidebar ads a lot less expensive. I don’t have exact numbers, but these smaller ads seem to get about the same results, whether for likes or calls to action.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Amy’s awesome, and what she said is what many of us have been saying for a while — whether to fully dump them or just not focus that much on them. The results I’m seeing took me by surprise.

      I will say that I think they are likely more effective if you also have News Feed ads running. It’s just like running ads in addition to an email campaign. They all help one another be more effective.

  • Ronald Eason

    Jon, how many conversions did you get from each of the placement sources? The more expensive ad placement COULD be the best bet if it resulted in significantly more conversions (i.e. cheap traffic vs quality traffic).

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Good question, Ronald. Unfortunately, I didn’t save my file after exporting and running this exercise.

  • Tim Bosch

    Great post Jon. I actually had a slide on the strength of the sidebar in a webinar I was doing on Facebook ads this holiday season. The organizer made me take it out since this does not align with some content they were coming out with.

    I find most of the time when using oCPM, “all placements” works best because Facebook can mix up delivery to optimize for conversions (let oCPM do its job).That being said– I always split test each placement if there is budget/time.

    The only time I don’t include the sidebar are page posts to fans only– although that could be a fun test for photo posts over 20% where the sidebar is the only option (do it Jon!). Just as there is massive difference in CPM from side-bar to newsfeed, there is a similar difference in CTR. Unfortunately some clients still think CTR is super important and not a lowly predictive metric to forecast the real end game: total desired actions & cost per desired action. I stole that term from you by the way and use it all the time in call with my clients– thanks!

    -Tim – long time reader, first time commenter!

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Tim. You get it!

      I’m the same way regarding reaching Fans with page post ads. I’ve typically only hit them in the News Feed. But after this experiment, I may mix that up a bit. It certainly gets pricey hitting them only in the News Feed.

      Cost Per Desired Action is where it’s at!

  • Hayley Merrett

    great post Jon! Do you ever use CPC – or just CPM? I’ve found that using CPC in the side bar produces very similar registration costs as using CPM in newsfeed ad…

    Also, how on earth do you get a CPM of $1.64 on newsfeeds? I’m targeting the same countries and paying close to $5 – $6 CPM. Do you have any secrets to share? :)

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I don’t use CPM or CPC much these days, but I may need to experiment again soon. I’ve heard of some people having success there lately.

      Honestly, I was surprised by the CPM numbers I came up with. I think a big part of that is that some of my non-Fan targeting is rather wide — reaching 1Million+ people. Reaching Fans in the News Feed, of course, can get pricey!

      • Hayley Merrett

        Hey John, thanks for your response. I’m a bit confused, if you don’t use CPM or CPC, then what do you use? Or….do you allow FB to optimize your campaigns for you…and therefore not consider this to be either CPC or CPM? (sorry if this is a stupid question!)

        • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

          Correct, I typically use Optimized CPM these days.

  • Mark Leo

    I have found the same thing re Page Likes outcomes for mobile and desktop. One account I manage is totally visual so images are the real driver and these show up best in the newsfeed vs. sidebar.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/syedirfanajmal/ Syed Irfan Ajmal

    This is an incredibly study and I absolutely enjoyed it. Surely this is no gospel as you mention but what this study proves is that no stats should be considered 100% for all situations. Test, test and test is what I hear! I have been mostly focusing on news feed ad. Going to test the side bar one right away and closely watch the incoming results. I’ll be happy to share results here if my findings have huge differences with yours.

    • Celeste Amara Finn

      What did you find?

  • Avraham Niv

    Hi, it’s a great post, thanks.
    I think I have some insight regarding the issue, the benefit of the Desktop Sidebar ads compared to the News Feed ads (both on mobile and desktop) is that each click leads to the destination you are promoting. But in the News Feed ads the headline of the News Feed actually leads to your Facebook page (not bad in itself but you lose traffic anyway). And as you always say testing is better than “common knowledge”.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I’ve seen similar results as yours. I’ve always questioned the “Sidebar is Dead” shouters… kinda felt like the old “Email Marketing is Dead” (which it obviously isn’t at all).

  • http://socialaficionados.com Karl Gerber

    Great analysis Jon. When done right, sidebar ads can be very cost effective. I have also found that when marketing to some of my local business clients, they spend very little time in their News Feed and go directly to their Personal Profile, or their Business Fan Page where all they see are the sidebar ads.

  • Rodolfo

    This is a great analysis! I’ve been trying to get good results from the Sidebar Ads, but i can’t make it. Most of my side bar ads generate a client acquisition cost that’s 4 times higher than the cost from the Page Posts.