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Facebook Advertising - An Opportunity for Deep Targeting at Very Low Cost

SEO digest

The following post is a collaborative effort by myself and David Klein (DK), who does far more Facebook advertising consulting than SEOmoz :-) He recently visited with the Facebook crew and has been helping more online marketers get comfortable and invested in the space.

As I've often said in the past, traffic that is delivered to you by Google/Yahoo!/Live is highly targeted, generated by users have clear intent/focus and easily trackable & quantifiable. That's a hard platform for any other marketing opportunity to stand up against, but Facebook presents some unique opportunities and we'd be remiss to ignore them.

In SEO, a big challenge arises if your site is new, in a competitive field, and has few links going to it. Over time, following classic SEO advice - building accessible pages with good content, earning links, measuring and improving - can take you far, but what are you going to do in the interim? PPC marketing is an obvious choice. With paid search, you bid on keywords and your advertisements will draw some traffic from the SERPs. This is a workable strategy, but as virtually anyone who's entered a competitive arena realizes, investing in PPC can be hard, even in the short run. Margins are tight, profits are slim and the competition is fierce.

Social media has become the default fallback - a playground where emerging entrepreneurs, consultants, companies and yes, of course, scammers, are flooding with investments of time, resources & money. My belief on this has always been that an investment in social media marketing demands a clear path to ROI, or at least, clear goals & metrics. If you can establish these, Facebook, with its hundreds of millions of users, makes a compelling case for investment:

Facebook's growth in Global Audience
SOURCE: Social Networking's New Global Footprint

For more insight on this phenomenon, I also recommend - "Social Media is Here to Stay, Now What?" from Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research.

We've talked plenty in the past about strategies for Twitter, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Delicious and others, but Facebook (and in particular their advertising platform) has gotten a bit of the cold shoulder on SEOmoz (save for a good post by Danny and another from Jane). Time to rectify.

Facebook advertising differs from traditional paid search advertising in that instead of bidding for certain keywords that people are searching for, you are bidding on the demographics of the user. The demographic filtering technology is still in its infant stages, but even so allows you to target your ads to a specific age, sex, and even things like what school they attend or their sexual orientation. The strategies for advertising in this direction are still being developed, and the competition is still far less than you will encounter in the paid search area.

First, let's check out Facebook Advertising's targeting platform in the campaign creation process. I think this really shows off the potential value:

Facebook Advertising Targeting

Why is this Powerful?

  • The demographics are far more accurate than most data (age, sex, gender preference, relationship, etc.)
  • The deep data - being able to choose to market to employees of specific companies - should be an amazing tool for the right advertiser
  • The keyword associations that people have with their Facebook accounts are correlated quite highly with true interests
  • The "approximate reach" number gives you great insight into your target market size (even if you never place an ad)

David has a lot of experience with organizations and individuals who have been highly successful using this strategy, and others who have blown significant sums of money because they did not do this intelligently. If you're open to some experimentation with Facebook, here are David's top recommendations.

  1. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket. (Facebook advertising might not work for your product.)
  2. Keep a short leash on it. Put the daily spending budget into place at a low level while you see how much traffic and at what cost you will get it. Keep a close eye on your campaigns especially the first week. (Weekends can vary drastically from week days)
  3. Be creative. You will most likely be spending dimes on the ads, and there's almost nothing to lose if they don’t work. This is a perfect chance to take a risk (providing you are following rule number 2!).
  4. Think like the user. Put yourself in the mindset of the people who would buy from you and ask yourself what their demographics would be. If you are selling toasters, females in their late 20’s and early 30’s will be much more likely to buy one than males who are 16.
  5. Use great images. The wonderful thing facebook ads open up is the ability to use images easily. For very low costs you can find images that you can purchase the rights to, and use on your ads.
  6. If it doesn’t work, don’t despair. Facebook advertising is changing quickly, so if your ideas don’t work today, come back in a month and try again, as there will probably be new tools waiting for you.

And some of my thoughts:

  • Creativity is key, here. If you can find the type of ad that Facebook users will click, that's one thing, but if you can build something they'll click, engage with (or buy) and help you spread, you've got something far more exciting.
  • The joint levers of keywords and companies seem like a powerful tool for the right campaigns. If I was trying to reach Google employees with an interest in web spam, for example... :-)
  • If you need raw awareness and branding and are willing to be edgy enough to appeal to Facebook's major demographics (the youth), I believe this is a powerful platform
  • I love that you can spend a few dollars a day and be in front of thousands of people - that's just begging for some experimentation - and, I think, someone's going to find a way to use this for linkbaiting (just think if you use keywords like "blogging" - you directly target the Linkerati!)

Many thanks to David for working with me on this post - I hope to see some interesting examples of successful campaigns over time. If you have any experiences to report, please do so!

published @ March 11, 2009

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