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

This 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

Facebook 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.

Will The New Custom Audience Features Work For Your Brand? 

The key for advertisers is to decide how they will determine success with the new targeting features. It may well be that using the new Custom Audiences features will give you a lower cost per fan if you advertise your car garage page to people who are actively in the market for a car, but it’s still worth considering what that does to your long-term engagement. Alternatively, the new Custom Audience features may push cost per fan numbers up, but we need to be looking beyond that to look at overall ROI from those targeted.

The best way to find all of this out is to A/B test the different ad targeting options and see which works best based on your goals. Set out your aims in advance and decide what success would look like, then ensure you test sensibly and in a coherent and trackable way.

Key Takeaways For Advertisers

  1. Things are about to get really interesting – Expect further iterations and developments on both sides (Google & Facebook) as the race heats up for continued dominance in the ad targeting world.
  2. Test, Test, Test – Facebook has revealed some initial results from its new targeting methods, however in advertising the rule is to always test. Whether Custom Audiences with categories is the right way to target for your goals will depend on your brand and ultimately what your aims are. It may be that precise interest targeting still works best for you, or that FBX is the way to go. Split test everything.
  3. Don’t rely solely on cost – Facebook’s examples on their new targeting products are focused on lowering costs and improving CPAs. It will depend on your metrics as to what is best for you. It may turn out that the new Custom Audience features are cheaper to acquire fans through at first, but will they be the fans that go on to provide long-term engagement for your brand?
  4. Stay ahead of the game – Getting to know each of the new options and features as they get rolled out will enable you to stay ahead of the competition and get the most out of your campaigns

Ben is a former data analyst turned social media expert having honed his skills within both major corporations and cutting edge social start ups and it is that unique mix of skills that makes him a key member of the Zazzle Media team. While left brained big data crunching is his bread and butter it is his ability to turn that into user focused strategies that powers our world-class social and content campaigns. By churning through vast swathes of data Ben is able to pull together data-led insights that then inform how Zazzle creates social and content strategies.

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