UPDATED: Is Facebook’s neglected sidebar on the rise?


Facebook has been facing a problem: as the company made News Feed advertising more attractive, brands shifted more of their focus and money to Facebook’s most-visited product. Studies showed that the ROI for sidebar ads just wasn’t enough, as engagement is much higher on News Feed.

As a result, prices went up, reach took a dive and advertisers started to gripe or diversify their spending.

So now, in an attempt to maybe lighten the load a bit on News Feed, Facebook announced Wednesday that advertisers will be allowed to showcase bigger pictures in sidebar ads. This will be tested with select brands later this month, with a wider rollout later this year. Facebook hasn’t disclosed the exact dimensions of these images, but notes that they will be proportional to News Feed ad images.

Screen-Shot-2013-05-08-at-11.13.05-AMFacebook Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer Nanigans has studied the power of Facebook Exchange ads in the News Feed vs. sidebar. The verdict? In a 2013 study, News Feed absolutely smoked sidebar for these retargeted ads, delivering a 197 percent higher ROI.

Nanigans Senior Vice President of Marketing Dan Slagen weighed in to on what these changes mean for marketers who are looking to stay ahead of the competition:

The web is going more visual, an enhancement like this allows more flexibility for creative teams and gives brands a more ubiquitous opportunity to connect with their target market from the rail.

Results from another Nanigans study showed that News Feed photo ads had a 20X higher CTR than sidebar ads, while page post link ads had a 61 percent higher purchasing user rate than sidebar.

More recent results suggest show the same: News Feed is a much better value for advertisers than sidebar.

Nanigans’ Q1 2014 data (based on 5,054,228,188 impressions) shows that page post link ads deliver 200 percent greater ROI than right hand sidebar domain ads. For FBX ads, News Feed page post link ads deliver a 236 percent greater ROI than the sidebar (based on more than 3.5 billion impressions).

As we’ve written about before, many marketers feel that Facebook is failing in comparison to more visual channels such as Pinterest and Instagram. Currently, the images within sidebar ads are thumbnail sized, meaning brands have to include a call to action and grab the attention of a reader in just a few words.

Now, this change gives advertisers a better chance to get clicks through the sidebar.

Keith Trivitt, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Matomy Media Group, feels that this could make the sidebar a viable option for advertisers:

It’s a smart move by Facebook as the right-hand rail ads have been on the decline for some time, as evidenced by their low CPM rates (compared to mobile News Feed ads) and the general lack of any creativity in the ads. By enlarging these ads and making them look more like the large News Feed ad types that now dominate Facebook, marketers will have a better opportunity of visually engaging consumers and therefore increasing the likelihood of improving the performance of their Facebook ad campaigns. Ultimately, quality ad creative and content are what wins when it comes to Facebook advertising. The overhaul of the right-hand rail ads indicates that Facebook wants advertisers to put the user’s experience first and foremost.

3Q Digital‘s Senior Director of Social, Dayna Moon, told Inside Facebook that a facelift for the sidebar is a natural reaction to the current ads ecosystem:

Facebook (Sheryl Sandberg in particular) has been dropping hints for months about the dim future of right-hand side (RHS) ads. With FBX (after a short initial lift) unable to boost RHS ads’ performance to sustainably successful levels, a facelift was inevitable.

As we’ve witnessed, the only constant in social media is the number of changes on any given day. Facebook’s News Feed placement has been a “game-changer,” producing an increase in engagement and conversion rates across verticals and devices. That this momentum has completely overshadowed RHS ads is a good thing; this is simply survival of the fittest across ad types and will encourage marketers to spend their money wisely — though with everyone now fighting for the same space, CPCs/CPMs/CPIs may well be on the rise.

Readers: Do you think the changes Facebook will make are enough for marketers to take sidebar seriously?