April 17, 2013, 4:31 PM

Facebook tests ads within its new search engine

Graph Search provides personalized search results.

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Facebook Inc. yesterday began testing how consumers respond to ads in the results of Graph Search, the search engine it began rolling out earlier this year that provides personalized results based on a user and his friends’ photos, places and interests shared on the social network.

Only a “small portion” of Facebook users employ Graph Search because the social network is still rolling it out, says a Facebook spokeswoman. And only a small subset of those using Graph Search is involved in the test.

When a Facebook user taking part in the test does a Graph Search, she will see a row of two or three ads when her results fill more than one page, just below the fold. The ads are Facebook display ads, also called marketplace or domain ads, which feature a headline, image, body copy and link to an on- or off-Facebook destination.

Marketers cannot target the ads based on a consumer’s search query. They can only target using the social network’s standard options: demographic information, such as age and location; Open Graph activity, such as consumers who have listened to music on a specific Facebook application; and retargeting via Facebook Exchange, the social network’s instant ad-bidding system, based on shoppers’ off-Facebook actions. 

While the spokeswoman says Facebook does not comment on whether the social network will add targeting options that enable marketers to place ads when consumers search on a particular search term, she says the social network is “testing all the time to see how users interact with ad units and are constantly working with advertisers to improve the effectiveness of our ad units.”

Facebook is automatically opting marketers into the test, unless an advertiser tells the social network it does not want to be part of the test, she says.

When Graph Search does not produce relevant results, Facebook presents consumers with results from a Bing-powered web search. In those situations, consumers will not see ads, says the spokeswoman. Bing is the search engine from Microsoft Corp., which owns a 1.6% stake in Facebook.


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