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Can Facebook’s New Search Ads Really Challenge Google?

Facebook Search Ads Now Live

Following six months of trialling Facebook has expanded the rollout of its new ‘Search’ ads.

Initially announced in December 2018, search ads are now increasingly available as an ad placement, after a successful trial in the automotive and retail sector.

The launch of Facebook search ads echoes the recent launch of Explore ads on Instagram, with both placements aiming to target social media users with higher 'commercial intent'.

Search and Explore ads are designed to target users browsing or seeking certain types of content, information or experiences. Instead of users passively consuming content in their main feeds or chatting to friends in Groups, Messenger or DMs.

Facebook ad placements are managed at the Ad Set level, in the Facebook ad hierarchy, with Search now available as a placement sandwiched between In-Stream and Messages ad placements.

How Do Facebook Search Ads Work?

According to Facebook, the ads are still in testing mode, even though many advertisers now have them (including SMK).

Search ads appear in Facebook search results, accessed via the search bar along the top of the user interface. Search ads will also appear within Facebook Marketplace.

The ad format is similar to News Feed ads, including a headline, image and copy text. On the creative front, Facebook recommends horizontal (1.91:1) images or square (1:1) videos. At launch, it is supported by traffic, product catalogue sales and conversions objectives.

The ads will appear in search results for queries deemed to have the same commercial intent, as to what the user is searching for. Therefore, ads with a reasonable amount of keyword-rich ad copy may stand more of a chance of ranking?

Although, it’s a tad early to say for certain right now.

Didn’t Facebook Try Search Ads Back In The Day?

It did yes.

Back in 2012, Facebook unsuccessfully launched search ads, when it’s share price was tanking following its IPO. Before winding them back in 2013.

Formerly they worked in a similar way to traditional search, i.e. targeting keywords or brands, etc.

However, this time around search ads will work somewhat differently, more akin to existing Facebook targeting, rather than targeting by search query, as noted above.

On the surface, this sounds quite unappealing.

The benefit of search, whether in Google, Amazon or elsewhere, is in being able to identify high performing search queries and ruthlessly allocating budget towards these. Optimising ad copy, communications and landing pages to match and/or suit.

To be fair to Facebook, the future of search, according to market-leader Google, is ‘Queryless’ anyway. Many of Google’s latest ad launches work in a similar way, ish, to Facebook search ads.

Take Shopping Campaigns or new Discovery Ads as examples. Both are powered by Google’s rich machine learning and ultimately automated.

Rather than advertisers diving into the trenches and carrying out granular keyword research, etc. An advertiser essentially uploads creative assets (these are responsive and Google crafts subject to performance), allocates a budget, provides Google with the audience ‘intent signals’ they need, and the machine learning takes over.

Will Google Be Trembling In Its Sleep?

Not yet, probably, no.

The issue for all social channels, currently, is simply the headspace of the audience when accessing social content.

Social audiences generally sit higher in the funnel, since most are accessing because they are bored, out of habit or want to interact with their nearest and dearest.

Hence the claim social audiences lack ‘commercial intent’.

However, this is likely to change in the next 12-36 months as the value proposition of social players expands with new ecommerce functions and a host of other features.

A point made clear in July by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg when discussing the new ‘Checkout with Instagram’ feature:

‘We’re not in a rush to scale this quickly. We’re always focused on the consumer experience and we want to make sure we really get this right.

If we can help people close the loop a little more, so they are looking more directly products, that makes our ads more valuable.

It also closes the loop on the data and measurement, we’re going to need going forward. So, we’re excited about these efforts for doing a lot across the board.’

It also comes at a time when Google is looking to expand out of direct response search campaigns, espousing the benefits of developing ‘full-funnel’ online marketing strategies.

Playing in less familiar terrain with new Google ad solutions crafted to build brand and to generate demand (i.e. Facebook territory), rather than simply scooping it up at the bottom of the funnel with paid search.

As the two tech giants play off against each other, smart marketers should be capitalising on uncontested, uncongested and inexpensive new opportunties opening up.

Or, you can market like everyone else does… and pay a premium.

Facebook search ads are expanding now.

 

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