For years, advertisers have been wondering when Facebook would create its own ad network like Google’s AdSense, which syndicates ads across thousands of websites. Google grossed more than $10 billion last year on that business.
Now we’re getting a hint that Facebook may be preparing to flip the switch on its own ad network. Today, the social network said it’s testing Facebook ads that use its own data to target ads to Facebook users as they land on other websites and on mobile apps.
The company isn’t calling it an ad network, because for now it’s just a test. A Facebook spokesperson says it’s using outside Apple iOS and Android ad exchanges to run the test, not its own technology, but it is an ad network in function. So you can bet that if it works–and Facebook hasn’t decided how long the test will be conducted–a bona fide Facebook ad network won’t be far behind.
Details are sparse, since Facebook isn’t saying which advertisers, publishers, and mobile ad exchanges are involved in the test. It’s a “very small number” of each, says Facebook. Most of the ads, which will be standard banners and “interstitials” that run just before a web page loads, will likely be for app installations. The main value for marketers and apps is that Facebook’s user data on age, gender, and “likes,” offered freely by its members, is usually considered to be more accurate than other kinds of data collected on people as they browse online.
This is the latest and still relatively limited move by Facebook to expand its ad business beyond Facebook.com. In June, it started placing ads on social games site Zynga.com, the social games siteed on Facebook. The same month, it introduced the Facebook Exchange, which lets marketers target customers and prospects with ads on Facebook using their own data, not just Facebook’s.
This is also a further push into mobile advertising, the lack of which has been a thorn in Facebook’s side since its less-than-blockbuster initial public offering in May. Separately today, Facebook announced a new version of its Pages Manager mobile app that will let businesses buy a new mobile ad format called promoted posts directly from their mobile phones.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week that he thinks mobile will be even bigger for Facebook’s ad business than the Web. Today’s announcement shows it’s more than just talk.
But investors and advertisers will still have to wait awhile longer for the full-fledged Facebook ad network–and the big boost in revenues that they hope will come with it.