Facebook has more than 400 million active users who collectively spend more time on the platform than on any other website in the world, sharing detailed information about their likes, dislikes, and preferences.
It's no wonder advertisers are salivating at the chance to reach Facebook users with precisely targeted ads. A recent survey of advertising executives by Myers Publishing LLC named Facebook the No. 1 website in providing "valuable targeted audiences" to advertisers, and marketers are expected to spend upward of $1 billion on Facebook advertising this year.
Despite the hype, Facebook advertising is still in its nascent stages compared with the paid-search market, which was worth nearly $14.6 billion in 2009—and is still rapidly growing.
Few organizations have figured out how to leverage Facebook Ads effectively. However, smart search marketers should have a leg up on the competition in getting results from Facebook.
On Facebook, advertisers target users based on their "likes" and "interests" as opposed to targeting ads to users' search queries. Yet most of the skills and techniques of a successful search marketer can be translated into the skills required to build winning campaigns on Facebook.
That's because, despite differences in targeting methodologies, Facebook and paid-search advertising share a common bond: Their ad platforms fundamentally rely on targeting specific user segments based on keywords.
With a large set of potential keywords to explore, Facebook marketers have to balance expanding their audience with refining their traffic quality, and they do so with a keen eye to the impact that factors such as creative and landing pages have on conversion.
That plays to the search marketer's strengths: analyzing conversion rates and return on investment down to the creative level, building out multiple campaigns with similar targeting parameters, refining campaign targeting, testing ad-copy and landing-page effectiveness, bidding on audiences, and managing campaign quality.
You can leverage your current paid-search skills on Facebook in many ways, but how do you get started? Below are a few best-practices we've discovered from helping search-marketing clients jump into the world of Facebook Ads.
Repurpose keywords into Facebook "Likes" and "Interests"
Facebook targeting relies heavily on keywords to target users based on their Likes and Interests, and users have voluntarily identified millions of those things on Facebook, from Vietnamese food to Doritos to Mad Men to wakeboarding and beyond.
Identifying your highest-performing paid-search keywords will give you a head start in determining relevant keywords to use as Likes and Interests on Facebook.
When beginning with a set of search or content network keywords, focus on terms that represent topics and themes rather than extremely narrow, product-specific keywords (unless, of course, your product is well known enough to be "liked" by a significant number of people on Facebook).
For example, if you sell tents, consider Likes and Interests such as "backpacking," "trail running," "rock climbing," "s'mores," "campfires," and other related activities.
Images are more important than text
Paid-search marketers are immersed in the religion of text. Search ads are typically limited to a 25-character headline and a 75-character description, making testing and tweaking ad copy a snap. On Facebook, things are a little more complicated. You have more copy to play with, but—more important—you can use images in your ads.
Moreover, Facebook users scan images and text quickly, and they are inundated with updates and content, so your ads need to grab the viewer's attention.
The most successful ads include colorful, engaging images—and, of course, a relevant offer. Adding borders to your photos in colors such as orange or yellow, which contrast with Facebook's blue and white interface, is a simple way to pull the user's eyes your way.
Make sure to test early and often here, as the results will surprise you. We frequently find that winning images are not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing; rather, they are the ones that grab the most attention.
Keep your ads fresh
Users spend an average of more than seven hours a month on Facebook, so they will be exposed to your ads much more frequently than to paid-search ads. Because a Facebook ad can be served to the same user multiple times, it doesn't take long for Facebook users to become "blind" to an advertisement.
In addition, if your ad has low click-through rates, Facebook may serve the ad less frequently than newer ads that have no performance history. As a result, continually updating ad images and copy is important to keep Facebook Ads fresh and quality scores high.
Draw insight from the performance data for each creative, but also recognize that there is no one answer: With display advertising, change is simply part of the equation.
In the end, advertising on Facebook, much like search-engine marketing, is an iterative process.
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Advertisers that invest in Facebook early will build skill sets and institutional knowledge that result in higher returns over time. Paid-search marketers have a leg up in the race for social-marketing success, and by making the right adjustments they can easily expand their marketing programs to include a new and growing channel for acquisition.