Media Planning & Buying

Facebook Makes a Play in Search with Sponsored Results

August 24, 2012

Facebook has officially released its Sponsored Results product, following a month of testing. This represents Facebook’s first foray into paid advertising in the search bar and, perhaps, a first step towards a better search experience within the platform. Facebook made the announcement to partners and advertisers via email on Thursday.

For marketers, the Sponsored Results product enables greater reach against non-fans, as well as visibility in one of the most widely used features of the platform. Brands can use this new offering to drive users to specific tabs or apps, or to send them directly to a page’s timeline.

Sponsored Results appear at the top or near top of a user’s search results on desktop searches only. Copy is limited to 70 characters, with the image and title pulled from the app or page being sponsored.

Brands can use Facebook targeting criteria to serve results to Facebook users based on demo, geography or connections, as well as appear alongside searches for their own brand, similar brand pages, places or apps or by users who have subscriptions enabled. Unlike the search experience one would have with the engines, Facebook’s Sponsored Results do not target keywords or keyword strings in the search box.

Brands can buy Sponsored Results directly through Power Editor or the Facebook API. Targeting and pricing work the same as they do for other marketplace ads. At this time, brands cannot use Sponsored Results to drive to destinations outside the Facebook environment.

Facebook Search: An Imperfect, Yet Evolving, Feature

Currently, the Facebook search experience for the user is haphazard. Results are ranked based on popularity (for pages and apps), as well as the volume of connections (for people). Beyond these basic rules, the algorithm is a bit of a black box.

A search for “Kraft” could bring up Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, as well as five people I am connected to with the last name Kraft. Move on to “Kraft Recipes” and Kraft’s corporate page comes up, along with a number of apps and two of my friends who have worked at Kraft Foods.

When I search for “credit cards,” the first result is from KRUNGSRI Credit Card Fanclub, as well as a variety of Credit Card related pages, none with a sizable fan base. The search results don’t seem to take into account the fact that I am a fan of Capital One on Facebook.

Fitting Sponsored Results into Your Facebook Ad Strategy

Challenges aside, it will be interesting to see how Sponsored Results affect the overall search experience on Facebook. If brands get on board en masse, targeted results could make the search experience more relevant or surface pages, events or apps for users. To do so, however, marketers will want to consider who they are targeting and whether or not their brand will be relevant to that user’s search.

Sponsored Results are a new way for marketers to engage users who are looking for their brand by highlighting their page or a complimentary app or event. Brands can also use it for competitive, as well as demographic targeting.

As we have seen with traditional paid search, more relevant results will drive higher interaction and lower pricing. Brands can buy broad in an effort to reach more people with an impression, but the likelihood that someone will click on the result is low.

Of important note is that appearing within the search results differs from appearing on a user’s right rail or News Feed. One can assume that users who are searching on Facebook are looking for something relatively specific, and will be more likely to respond to results that directly align with their needs.

Marketers already buying paid media on Facebook should consider testing Sponsored Results as another way to increase visibility for and traffic to their page, app or event. Similar to paid versus natural search within the engines, Sponsored Results allow advertisers to control the experience searchers have with their brand as Facebook continues to work on its own natural search algorithm.

At this point, Sponsored Results is not the best place to promote specific content — and it’s not a replacement for the Sponsored Story product — but the offering could evolve to achieve those objectives someday. In the meantime, Facebook is continuing to work on its search product to enhance the experience for users and better connect them with what they’re looking for.