Facebook Sponsored Results: Facebook Ads Coming to Search

According to a report from Tech Crunch, Facebook began testing a new form of advertising last night called Sponsored Results. Based on the report, here is what is known…

1. Sponsored Results Will Appear in Search Typehead

When you start typing into Facebook search, results begin pulling down automatically. It is here that a sponsored result will appear…

Facebook Search Typehead

The “ad” will appear just like any other result, but will have a “Sponsored” label on it (likely similar to Sponsored Stories in News Feeds). It’s not clear whether any custom copy can be added, though Tech Crunch included this in the comp they created.

One important note is that these Sponsored Results will not appear on the search results page (yet, at least). It would seem that this is a very logical next step — and it’s a bit surprising that it isn’t part of the first step.

2. Targeted to Search for a Page, App, Place or Event

Here is where the report from Tech Crunch gets a tad confusing. On one hand, they say that the ad “can be targeted to people searching for any Page, app, Place, (and possibly event) without that business’ permission.” They go on to explain that advertisers cannot target keywords or phrases.

Okay, so this is unlike typical Facebook ads that allow you to target specific or general interests (I would compare this to keywords), and you can only target Pages, apps or Places within your control. Except, Tech Crunch continues, Sponsored Results are…

“…similar to how brands can currently target users with sidebar and Sponsored Story ads based on a user’s interests.”

Eh?? Facebook is rather cryptic about this stuff, but I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing here. “Interests” are related to very general mentions of a common word or phrase. When you enter these, they aren’t Pages or apps.

My guess is that Facebook said that advertisers could target specific Pages or apps, and Tech Crunch then made the incorrect connection to comparing it to interests. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

3. Other Targeting Can Be Layered On

In addition to targeting users searching for a specific Page or app, you can limit having your ad appear only to users making that search who are men aged 30-35 in Australia with a college education. That’s a nice touch.

4. Ads Will Only Be Sold on a Cost Per Click Basis

Whether this makes sense will depend on whether you can customize the ad copy. If you can, I’d like to have the option to use CPM since I use kickass copy that destroys the CPC price. If custom copy isn’t allowed, I guess it’s not that big of a deal. But again… we’ll see.

5. Ads Will Direct Users to On-Facebook Properties

You can’t use these ads to drive users off of Facebook, which makes total sense. But beyond sending them to Pages, apps and Places, you can drive users to applications or specific posts within those Pages.

Tech Crunch lists possibilities that include Facebook Offers, contests, email or phone number sign-up widget. This would indicate the likelihood of custom copy since driving people to a contest when they expect a Page would be a horrible user experience.

My Thoughts

I wouldn’t say this is a sign of desperation or panic, but it certainly reflects a sense of urgency by Facebook in the face of their poorly performing stock and an expected negative first earnings report. Facebook needs to show investors that they will make more money fast, and it may mean skipping a few steps in the process.

Next, the immediate reaction is that this could negatively impact search relevance. Maybe. Or maybe it will make Facebook search better for discovery. Additionally, ads driving a purchase could actually be more relevant while users are searching.

Of course, this is all assuming that Facebook search is relevant at all in the first place. To be blunt, Facebook search is awful. I rarely use it. When I do, I rarely find what I want. It’s flawed, buggy and pretty close to worthless.

Throw advertising on that? Sure. But I’m not convinced it will be a big money maker — yet. The logical first step would have been to take all of their user data and create the world’s greatest search engine. If they do that — or even make something that isn’t a laughing stock — and suddenly this announcement takes on new meaning.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential here. But Facebook’s kind of putting the horse before the cart.

Have you seen Sponsored Results yet? What do you think?