Does Facebook Have a Retargeting Problem?
Retargeting is essentially the practice of placing ads in front of people who have previously visited your website. There’s no social component to these ads, just the logical — and oft-proven — belief from advertisers that it’s easier to make a customer out of someone who has previously visited your site than someone who hasn’t. The ad tech guys love it, because their clients love it.
Facebook began offering this type of ad targeting only for real estate on the right rail of its pages. But earlier this year, Facebook started allowing advertisers to target these ads to users in their desktop News Feed as well. And, in May, the social network announced that it was ramping up this type of News Feed ads.
And, boy, can I tell. Since then, the balance of ads I see in my Facebook News Feed has shifted hard toward ads retargeted to me based on sites I’ve visited away from Facebook. And the ads along the right side of the page continue to be retargeter-heavy, too.
A caveat: As a reporter covering e-commerce — one of the biggest categories for retargeting — I probably visit more e-commerce sites on a daily basis than the average person. So, perhaps I have a greater chance than most people to be retargeted on Facebook. But I’ve also heard similar observations over the past month from non-reporter friends who have noticed more ads on Facebook that seem to track them based on where they spend Internet time outside of Facebook.
Is this necessarily a bad thing for Facebook? From a short-term business perspective, of course not. If advertisers keep spending on this type of targeting, there’s a reason for it: They’re seeing results. There’s also the argument that ads targeted to a person’s Web surfing habits are preferable to any random ad.
But people tend to be harsh critics of retargeting once they realize what’s going on. And if Facebook continues to ramp up this type of targeting, people will notice.
So what’s Facebook’s take? Tim Rathschmidt, a Facebook spokesperson, told me that the company is paying a lot of attention to how people interact with the retargeted ads in the News Feed, as the social network lets more and more ad partners practice this type of targeting. Specifically, Facebook looks to see how many people click on the ad to get to the advertiser’s page, close out the ad, or maybe even (gasp!) share the ad with friends.
As for whether the company cares about the balance between retargeted ads and ads targeted to users based on more social signals, Rathschmidt gave me the following statement:
“The [Facebook exchange] auction determines the mix of ads based on a number of factors, including what Pages you’re a fan of, which ads you interact with, etc. We actively monitor for these signals to balance organic and sponsored content (including retargeted ads), all aimed at increasing engagement and sentiment. To date, we haven’t seen any meaningful impact on sentiment, and we’re continuing to watch this very closely.”