Facebook first started offering ads in 2007 — three years after the company was founded — with only three options: branded Facebook pages, an ad system called Social Ads, and an interface “to gather insights into people’s activity on Facebook that marketers care about.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Facebook Ads is a nearly $70-billion-a-year business with a plethora of options for the millions of brands that advertise on the platform. While Facebook recommends advertisers opt in for Automatic Placements — in which Facebook shows their ads to users wherever it deems they are likely to perform best — a manual option is also available.
Whether you’re a 13-year Facebook advertising veteran or just starting out, here’s a platform-by-platform look at how to choose the right Facebook ad placements for your brand:
Desktop news feed ads
As the name implies, desktop news feed ads appear directly in users’ Facebook news feeds when they access the platform via desktop. That’s prime real estate on the social network, as it’s nearly impossible for targeted users to miss the ads as they scroll.
As a result, the ads boast higher click-through rates (CTR) and lower cost-per-conversion (CPC) rates than other Facebook ad types. This ad placement is ideal for generating brand awareness among those who aren’t familiar with your company yet. However, make note: Due to their popularity, they’re among the most competitive ad types.
Mobile news feed ads
Mobile news feed ads appear within users’ Facebook news feeds when they access the platform on mobile devices. By some accounts, that’s more than 98% of all users.
Like standard news feed ads, they effectively generate brand awareness and lay the groundwork for later conversions — especially among advertisers with a well-defined target audience, such as e-commerce brands. Use mobile feed ads to build a relationship with consumers and encourage them to engage with your brand. CTRs are still high, but CPCs are generally lower than desktop.
Right-hand column ads
Right-hand column ads are precisely what they sound like — ads that appear to the right of users’ news feeds. The ads themselves are small — which means users can easily overlook them. They also don’t include a call to action (CTA), have lower conversion rates, and be more expensive than news feed ads.
These ads are effective for re-engaging existing customers who are already familiar with your brand. They are also more effective when used with other ad types, like news feed ads, which reportedly generate up to three times more engagement when paired together.
Instant Articles allow media brands to create interactive articles within the social network’s mobile news feed. According to Facebook, users open 44% more articles when published as Instant Articles compared to links.
Ads sold within Instant Articles are typically budget-friendly, making them another good retargeting option — especially when used alongside other ad types. Conversion rates are generally low, though.
This Facebook ad type is an option within the local selling platform, Marketplace.
Here, advertisers can target Facebook users who are actively searching for specific products, which means purchase intent is high. Given the platform’s format, it’s ideal for brands like small businesses, which have more of a local focus.
While Facebook Marketplace reportedly has 800 million users in 70 countries, it’s not as popular as third-party marketplace alternatives like Amazon, so reach is limited as well.
With Facebook’s in-stream video ads, advertisers can insert brand messaging into video content. Options include pre-, mid-, and post-roll placements on desktop and mobile.
Facebook says this ad type can deliver more complex marketing messages, which are great for new customer targets. However, they reportedly have lower conversion rates, and less inventory is available compared to other ad types.
On the other hand, suggested videos include video ads that automatically play during recommended videos within the mobile experience. Use this video ad type to build brand awareness and encourage engagement among a captive audience. But, once again, note they have lower conversion rates.
Ads within Facebook Stories allow advertisers to can supplement ads elsewhere on the network with full-screen, immersive messaging. This ad type is useful for growing reach and awareness, as well as driving traffic and conversions.
Ads within Facebook search results can reach in-market consumers who are actively searching for products or services. As opposed to Marketplace ads, these ads appear when users perform a general search on the network. They appear similar to news feed ads.
These mobile-only ads look just like the posts within users’ feeds, but they have a customizable CTA to encourage users to take a desired next step.
Engagement rates are much higher on Instagram, but given the nature of the platform, these in-stream ads are ideal for brands with particularly visual products or services. They help generate awareness and click-throughs, especially among younger consumers.
Like Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories — which launched a year prior — offer the ability for brands to advertise in-between user videos that appear atop their feeds and disappear after 24 hours.
Use ads within Instagram Stories to re-engage users who have already indicated they are interested in your brand with the customizable CTA. It is an especially good option for lifestyle brands, like fashion, fitness, food/drink, and travel. Advertisers can also use hashtags to enhance discoverability by a wider audience.
Instagram’s Explore feature allows users to discover new content based on their interests via the magnifying glass icon on the home page. In 2019, Instagram opened the feature to advertisers, allowing them to use Explore to connect with consumers searching for products or services. Advertisers can also reuse existing ad creative and targeting from their stream ads.
Home ads on Facebook Messenger appear within a user’s chat log. Another bonus: Advertisers can include destinations for their CTAs, such as URLs.
Even better, these ads are hard to miss — though some users find them intrusive. That’s why you’ll want to be particularly careful with targeting and messaging as you focus on building relationships with Messenger users.
Like Instagram and Facebook, Messenger allows users to share photos and videos to stories atop their inboxes for 24 hours. Plus, advertisers can place brand messages in-between them to increase the reach of their Stories ads elsewhere. Use them to drive brand awareness and reach, as well as traffic and conversions.
Facebook’s Audience Network allows advertisers to reach consumers on apps outside the Facebook ecosystem. Ad types include image, video, and carousel ads. Objectives include brand awareness, reach, traffic, engagement, and conversions.
Facebook research shows conversion rates are eight times higher among consumers who see ads on Facebook, Instagram, and the Audience Network versus those who only see ads on Facebook.
While CPC and cost per thousand impressions (CPM) tend to be lower — making this a more affordable option — so are conversion rates due to the broader audience, which can include unqualified leads.
These mid-roll video ads are similar to other Facebook video advertising options, but they appear outside of Facebook properties. Because they pop up during a video that a consumer is already watching, they’re hard to miss, which is why they can be effective at growing brand awareness and recall.
This ad type is a video placement for gaming apps. Players opt in to watch these full-screen, immersive videos for a reward like virtual currency or in-app items. They boast high completion rates but also have low engagement and generally yield low-quality leads otherwise.
Let the A/B Testing Begin
It should come as no surprise that there is no universal mix that will work for every brand advertising on Facebook. Instead, individual advertisers will have to zero in on the right ad formats based on their objectives and budgets — and then test, learn, and adjust accordingly.
Facebook’s A/B Testing feature allows advertisers to do just that — with variables like creative, audience, and placement to figure out which strategy performs best and optimize future campaigns.
Generally, most placements will work if your goal is driving brand awareness. However, if you’re looking for reach, you’ll want to use a combination of multiple placements. And if your brand wants traffic or clicks, use placements anywhere except the Audience Network — and the same is true of lead generation, conversions, and mobile app installs. Instead, tap into the power of the Audience Network to supplement your efforts elsewhere.
Need help getting started? Let AdRoll help you determine the best Facebook ad placements for your brand.
Maria is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at AdRoll.