Guest Post: Facebook Is Now The Best Ad Targeting Platform Around

Ben 2 – SkyDriveThis is a guest post by Zazzle Media Social and Data Insight Manager Ben Harper.

Facebook’s announcement last week that Custom Audiences targeting was to be expanded to include categories based on real life purchase and preference data is the latest in a string of Facebook ad targeting developments that have put the platform in the No. 1 position in terms of targeting ability.

Facebook advertising’s precise interests and social profile targeting features have always had a slight edge on Google in terms of knowing about the users targeted, but now this can officially be combined with desire to purchase and real world data I’d expect to see the balance of power in the online advertising world begin to gradually shift.

Facebook v. Google In Ad Targeting

Google’s key targeting methods are by keyword based search query, interest categories, placement targeting, remarketing and contextual-based targeting. Until recently, Facebook could only compete with the interest categories by using precise interests and broad category targeting, but things have changed dramatically over the past 6 months.

Facebook advertisers can now use Custom Audiences to target people based on their CRM data, and will soon be able to use categories based on real life data on purchases and purchase intent, courtesy of Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom, and BlueKai.  This, combined with real-time bidding through the Facebook Exchange and the new Lookalike Audiences feature have put Facebook in a dominant position.  The argument will be made that Facebook is still not a “buying mode” environment, but the ability to influence decisions and re-prompt based on past browsing history and real-world data is invaluable as part of the digital marketing mix.

What Google still has that Facebook doesn’t is contextual and placement-based advertising, meaning marketers can place their ads against relevant on-page content or can choose exactly which websites to place their ads on. Both of these features would be beneficial to the Facebook ad system, i.e. being able to place your ad in or next to users News Feeds who have content in their News Feed featuring certain keywords, or being able to place your ad against content pop ups (e.g. when a photo is clicked) for specified pages. However, neither of these are massive game changers for Facebook as they are largely negated by precise interest targeting as if a user is clicking into a photo, or has specific content in their News Feeds then chances are they Like the page or related interest set already.

Both platforms have pros and cons, but the key area that Facebook needs to improve is reporting in their own system. As advertisers, we need to be seeing cost per fan acquired in the front end, alongside cost per conversion where conversion tracking is being used as a priority. Facebook’s acquisition of Atlas may speed this process up, and should certainly provide extra measurement capabilities over and above this in the near future. Other minor front end/Power Editor tweaks should include the inclusion of optimisation rules, and the ability to time/day schedule ad delivery.

The Dangers For Facebook

spam-centipedeFacebook has to play these changes very carefully.  Anecdotally, users seem to be more and more disillusioned with some ad placements — hardly a day goes by without seeing a sponsored post with the irritating “caterpillar” or “spam centipede” comment back from users who attempt to ruin the post after seeing it in their feed. Privacy is still at the forefront of people’s minds, especially with the recent hack attempts, and if ads appear “creepy” to users then further backlash could be experienced.

On the advertiser side, the risk for Facebook is that the Facebook advertising platform could become too complex for self-serve users who aren’t plugging in through the API. There’s also the possibility that the platform could become fragmented with too many similar options focused on remarketing based on different factors.