‘No keywords’: Media buyers are testing Facebook’s search ads product

Facebook is allowing more advertisers to buy ads in search, stepping deeper into the search market dominated by Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

The development, first reported by MarketingLand, is a further roll-out of a test Facebook began at the end of last year. Some advertisers can now choose to run ads in search results with Facebook’s main search bar and within Facebook Marketplace. Two buyers with access said these ads can be within the same targeting group as other News Feed ads. But there’s no ability to bid for specific search words, unlike buyers would on Google and Amazon.

“We continue to test placing ads in Facebook search results and are evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to roll them out more broadly,” Jason Rudin, product manager at Facebook, said in an emailed statement to Digiday.

For Facebook, search ads are another way to get ad dollars by positioning themselves within search, not just social. That’s especially important as Amazon’s ad revenue continues to grow and Google still dominates the search market. Indeed, Facebook has been exploring more intent-based behaviors on its platforms such as shopping on Instagram and Facebook Marketplace.

Ad buyers said search ads are a welcome addition to Facebook’s ad ecosystem as traditional News Feed ads become more competitive and therefore expensive. Facebook advertisers have been investing more in the Stories format, especially Instagram Stories, over the last year due to increased usage and cheaper pricing. Search ads could be the next place to find cheap ads targeted to Facebook’s massive user base.

“When there are more competitors on the platform, it’s good to open up these other pockets of inventory. From a buying perspective where we might have really performance-oriented goals knowing there’s an opportunity for the targeting overlay to happen and if that person happens to be searching on Facebook is great,” said Kieley Taylor, global head of social at GroupM.

But Taylor said she won’t necessarily be advising her team to move ad dollars from other search portals like Google and Amazon to Facebook’s search ads — for now. Unlike Google and Amazon, Facebook doesn’t have the same reputation for intent while shopping and the details behind the current placements are unclear.

“What’s someone intent in search on Facebook is very different than search on Amazon or Bing. I try to counsel the team to think about what we should be buying rather than what we can buy, not just because it’s a new surface. We should see where we’re getting efficiency,” Taylor said.

The effectiveness of Facebook search ads is unclear. Unlike on Google, buyers can’t optimize for where a Facebook user is in their customer journey or understand what share of voice the client has for a particular term.

“I was expecting to add keywords based on our competitors who are more established in the market just to educate landscapers about our new brand,” said Steve Johns, digital marketing consultant at Door4, who recently gained access to the feature.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that advertisers do not select specific keywords or phrases and added that these ads may appear in search terms that have commercial intent, such as related to e-commerce, retail and auto.

These search ads look similar to News Feed ads, with a headline, image and copy text. But it’s unclear where the search ads appear on the mobile or desktop screen. That’s quite different from Google, where search ads are the first result.

“The placement itself may or may not appear above organic search results. The ads are seemingly somewhere for some underdetermined term,” Taylor said.

Johns said he had “mixed results” in his first initial test of £50 ($61). The test had a 2% click-through rate and a few conversions at double the cost per acquisition of his current campaigns, Johns said. He said he plans to test the placement again in a few months.

Going forward, Johns said the effectiveness of Facebook’s search ads could provide valuable insight for campaigns across Facebook.

“It would be nice to create custom audiences of people who clicked on our ad via the Facebook search placement, but that option doesn’t seem to be there yet,” Johns said.