by Ed Stevenson
Online retailers have long been a driving force behind the growth of search marketing. As early adopters of search best practices, many now see it as an essential marketing channel. However, they undoubtedly need to continue to stay ahead of the curve to generate a return in one of the most competitive verticals in online advertising.
Having established campaigns using the traditional search engine to website user journey, retailers now need to consider adapting to cater for the ever-increasing number of users reaching websites from elsewhere. With growth in online retail slowing to 7.5% per year, the slowest performance since online sales started being recorded, it’s clear that the sector is maturing. This just heightens the need for online retailers to innovate further through new channels and platforms to maintain online market share, let alone grow it. To remain competitive, it is unwise to rely solely on the website, but instead look towards investments in other outlets, especially social networking sites. And as Facebook in particular takes 55% of all social network visits, it’s definitely the force to be reckoned with.
When you consider that Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK after Google and accounts for 7.27% of all visits from UK internet users, it makes sense that brands are rushing to build a social presence on the networking site. In terms of internet pages viewed, Facebook is comfortably the UK’s biggest with 16% of all page views going to the social network – that’s twice as many as Google. Clearly the phenomenon cannot be ignored, and yet marketers are still in the early stages when it comes to advertising on Facebook. In fact, in spite of Facebook’s sizeable and growing ad revenues, many advertisers in the retail industry are still limiting their efforts to testing on Facebook to evaluate performance. So what can retailers do to take advantage of Facebook display ads? Here are a couple of best practices to drive optimum results from your campaigns.
Understand your audience
The segmentation that Facebook offers (being able to target via demographic, location, likes, and so on) is a real selling point for retail, and should be exploited. Using Facebook to integrate the online and offline shopping experience is a great example of this. Recently, a well-known multichannel retailer executed this superbly. It was looking to engage an online audience to drive purchases both online and in bricks and mortar stores. It created a campaign, which ran promotional ads on Facebook targeted at women who were in their core demographic, but crucially were also located in close proximity to their stores. By providing a special discount coupon via the ad to Facebook users that 'liked' the brand, the retailer was able to build out their fan base and drive measurable business to the physical stores using coupons. The technology made it easy for the retailer to target specific cities where the stores were located. More importantly, now they have expanded their Facebook Fan base, they can remarket sales and new merchandise directly to an already-interested audience.
Use keywords to identify likes
Targeting by likes and interests on Facebook allows retailers to serve ads to users who have expressed affinity for particular products, brands, or services. One best practice is to use paid search keywords and Views to identify initial targeting criteria, and this will help to determine relevant interests for targeting. You should be thoughtful about how you use these keywords, focusing on products and brands rather than individual terms, to translate search keywords into terms representing likes and interests. Not every term is going to work, and some iterations of ‘likes’ only reach a few users on Facebook, while others may not even be targeting options. Use Facebook’s advertising tools to estimate the reach of an ad with particular targeting parameters.
Make use of your existing fans
Just as retailers would want to serve an ad to a consumer on their second or third search, they should be taking advantage of users that already 'like' their products, page or app. Especially for well-known brands with an established presence on Facebook, a fanbase is likely already a strongly performing audience; they might just need that extra push or reminder from an ad to make a purchase.
Friends of your fans are also a great way to expand your audience to reach people likely to make a purchase. Users' connections tend to be of similar age, status and location so that puts them in your target audience. Moreover, when targetting Facebook users’ friends, ads will mention their connection, giving it increased credibility and relevancy to the audience.
Enhance your Images
Images are important. The audience being targetted on Facebook is on the social network to interact with friends, share their photos, and play games, not to buy products - so adverts need to grab their attention. Facebook users are inundated with content and typically scan text and images quickly to find what interests them, so one trick you can use to attract their attention is to enlist the help of a creative image. Adding borders to photos in colours like orange or yellow, that contrast with the blue and white Facebook interface, is a simple way to pull the users’ eyes towards ads. Relating images to your audience, for example by serving an image of say a DVD for a Film or Television programme that users have listed in their Likes, is a good way to garner more attention than a generic image.
Keep your ads updated
Believe it or not, just standing out on a page is not enough; retailers need to make sure they are rotating ads to keep them fresh. Facebook ads are typically served to the same users multiple times, often in the same day, so they quickly tune-out repeat ads. Facebook doesn’t have frequency capping, so it is up to the marketing team to monitor the number of impressions each ad receives daily and watch for drops in click-through rates. Successful Facebook advertising requires that creative be rotated to combat the 'ad blindness' that can result from a user seeing an ad multiple times. Switching out images and headline copy typically helps boost click-through rates. Facebook itself even suggests that advertisers change images and copy every few days to make sure ads remain fresh to the viewers and encourage clicks.
These are just some of the early best practices on the platform. What is becoming clear is that, much like search, the retail sector is becoming a driver behind the Facebook advertising platform’s growth. However, there is still a lot of room for growth, as revenues only account for 5% of online display advertising revenues, while consumers spend 25% of their online time on Facebook. So those brands that develop effective Facebook Advertising campaigns now will benefit most while acquisition costs are still low.
 British Retail Consortium / KPMG Retail Sales Monitor March 2011
 Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) full year online advertising statistics 2010
Ed Stevenson is managing director EMEA & APAC at leading online advertising management platform Marin Software
For more insight you can download Marin Software’s whitepaper The Search Marketer’s Guide to Successful Facebook Ads