Some of the latest changes for Facebook’s Audience Network give it a legitimate claim of being a chief competitor to Google for both website publishers and advertisers. Early this year, mobile web inventory was added on top of in-app placements, and then more recently, Facebook announced the expansion of Audience Network to include non-Facebook users, along with a move into header bidding.
With these developments at the forefront, you can more thoroughly evaluate the impact of Audience Network in comparison to existing Facebook and programmatic campaigns.
Facebook is turning the dial
Preliminary research (email registration required) I’ve conducted as part of my work at Nanigans helps illustrate how these changes are impacting the larger marketplace. The share of Nanigans customers spending on Audience Network rose to 59 percent in Q3 from 56 percent in Q2 2016. Meanwhile, among advertisers spending on Audience Network through both Q2 and Q3 2016, the share of spend going to the off-Facebook ad network increased by four percent quarter over quarter.
As Audience Network can only be toggled on or off for a campaign, this latter figure reflects Facebook’s algorithms pushing more spend to those off-newsfeed placements. The improved reach and expansion of compatible ad types are helping Facebook deliver near-Facebook results more frequently.
When to use Audience Network
Granted, despite the latest changes to Audience Network, it isn’t like most other programmatic channels. It is still tied closely to Facebook, and you cannot launch Audience Network-only campaigns.
However, for advertisers looking to scale spend and reach on a specific Facebook campaign, Audience Network is a huge asset.
As part of that research mentioned earlier, we found that Facebook generally does a good job replicating, if not surpassing, high-level Facebook campaign metrics off of News Feed.
For advertisers that had spent on Audience Network through both Q2 and Q3 2016, off-Facebook CTRs (click-through rates) had traditionally trended higher than their on-Facebook counterparts. The differences were more pronounced in Q3 2016. Audience Network CTRs rose 37 percent quarter over quarter, helping drive the overall CTR of these advertisers up 34 percent over the same time frame.
Certainly, campaign scaling isn’t the only use case for Audience Network, but it’s presently the most widespread application and has real utility. This is particularly true in cases like the upcoming holiday season when the need to maximize revenue is high, while inventory on Facebook News Feed will understandably be subject to tremendous demand.
Audience Network as a retargeting extension
One of the best aspects of Facebook broadening the reach of Audience Network is making off-Facebook retargeting through Audience Network a much more meaningful proposition.
Dynamic Ads and Website Custom Audience (WCA) targeting have been available through Audience Network for some time, but their impact was limited largely due to the finite reach of the Network as a whole. The expanded inventory and capabilities on Facebook’s side means that you’re more likely to reach targeted users when they are not on Facebook itself.
Going forward, expect for these competencies to get better. Facebook last month announced that it would roll out a scoring system for specific ad slots on publisher sites, based on downstream conversion metrics like purchases or installs. This is a welcome development in terms of continually improving the overall quality of Audience Network inventory.
While Audience Network may not be able to competently replace all of your current programmatic budgets quite yet, it’s moving past constraints that capped its potential impact. Additionally, Facebook’s latest moves here are the product of heavy investment, and they point to the company’s commitment to making Audience Network a major challenger to traditional programmatic inventory sources going forward.
Even if you’ve had mixed results trying Audience Network before, it’s worth testing how the latest changes translate to your downstream goals.
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