Mike Isaac

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Another Taste of an Ad Network: Facebook Debuts Off-Site Mobile Ads

Image via venimo

Chatter of Facebook building an advertising network beyond its own Web site isn’t new.

So the company’s announcement on Tuesday that it’s in a test period of serving Facebook ads on mobile apps and Web sites outside of Facebook will most likely only fuel the speculative fire.

Right now, Facebook is working with a small number of ad exchanges which already have relationships with publishers, who will then sell those Facebook ads to third party apps and Web sites. Those ads are like the ones you see inside of Facebook, only optimized for the mobile Web or for apps which already serve ads.

It obviously makes sense for the company to beef up on its mobile monetization strategy, what with the major shift of Facebook’s user base moving to viewing the site on native apps and the mobile Web. And like Mark Zuckerberg said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last week, Facebook is dramatically shifting its internal structure and staffing organization to become a “mobile first” company (heck, they even moved longtime Facebooker and important company figurehead Andrew “Boz” Bosworth over to become head of mobile monetization).

Alongside of Facebook’s off-site mobile ad tests, Facebook also launched an update to its promoted posts on Tuesday — meaning small companies and app developers can essentially buy ads for their products directly from a smartphone. Talk about “mobile first.”

The mobile ads initiative is also an appeal to third-party app developers, a massive untapped market that Facebook could target as another source of advertising revenue. A Facebook off-site mobile ad for a third-party app, for example, will redirect those who click on it to Apple’s App Store or Google Play, where users can download apps. It’s an alternative for developers to attract users to their apps, rather than hoping the app will appear in users’ News Feeds organically.

And there’s the obvious appeal to outsiders: Facebook is sitting on a treasure trove of user data, which makes serving the right ads to the right people a whole lot easier for ad exchanges — though the company only uses some, not all, of a user’s data to target the ads, and anonymizes user data. (Not everyone, however, is convinced that Facebook has the whole relevance thing nailed down quite yet.)

We got the first hint of this a few months ago, when Facebook first debuted its ads on Zynga.com’s in-game pages, marking the first ever time that the social network has displayed ads outside of its own site.

But to be clear, it’s not a proper Facebook ad network. Right now, it’s a small test group of unnamed ad exchanges and applications. So it’s pretty much Facebook testing the waters to see what demand there is for Facebook ads outside of its own site.

Good info if — or more likely when — the company eventually does launch its own ad network.

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