Like most transitions in online advertising, Facebook’s Marketplace Ad updates were rumored long before they went live on April 12. In a blog post on February 7, AllFacebook.com wrote that February 29 would be the day that Facebook ads’ character length would drop from 135 to 90. The early theory was that Facebook would try to squeeze more ads into the space on the right-hand side of the page. At that point, users were able to see as many as seven ads at a time, but the blogs predicted that this number would rise upon the impending shrinkage of ad copy.
Speculation continued, but no official word was offered from Facebook this early in the game. Facebook advertisers such as Aftermarketer Club, an automotive industry marketing blog, warned readers of the change too. They didn’t know too many details about the changes afoot, but assured readers that more information would be released at the Facebook Marketing Conference on February 29.
February 29 came and went without much talk. Facebook marketers continued to post ads with the same character limits as before, and it seemed as if the change would not take place. Then in late March, The Inside Facebook blog mentioned the character limit change and also stated that ads would only be allowed a 99×72 pixel image versus a 110×80 pixel image, and “even though existing documentation on Facebook still refers to the 110×80 dimensions, the site seems to have already begun resizing images to 99×72 automatically.” Simply Zesty, an online PR and social media blog, wrote, “The changes are Facebook’s attempt to replace their traditional ads by making them less noticeable and replace them with Sponsored Stories and Premium Ads, which will be given greater prominence come April.” Both blogs cited March 31 as the day when the changeover would take place.
Surprise, surprise, March 31 passed and the limit was still 135. Still no word from Facebook, and even though the images were a little smaller, it looked like the character count would remain the same. Then on April 12, the character limit changed too.
Facebook didn’t provide any first-party warning to users, and there weren’t even any update messages on the Ads application. The only post on April 12 was in an online marketing blog, Gotta Quirk. The blogger tried to post an ad exceeding 90 characters, and some of the text was cut off. Sure enough, she found that the limit had changed that day.
So what does this mean for the future of Facebook marketing? Certainly a change of character limits on Google Search would put the entire SEM world in a frenzy. Cutting down real estate by 30% on the SERP would mean millions of angry advertisers and potentially a plummeting in clicks and conversions. But Facebook, the second most visited site worldwide, doesn’t even make headlines in online marketing news. And why, more importantly, didn’t Facebook give more warning about the change?
It seems pretty clear at this point that Facebook isn’t just trying to fit more ads into one space. Sure, smaller ads mean more ads, but more documented details of the switchover probably would have been provided by Facebook itself, not to mention a clear date for the change. With Marketplace Ads averaging much lower CPCs than Facebook’s relatively newly launched Sponsored Stories and Premium Ads, Facebook is doing all they can to deemphasize them. Sponsored Stories — ads that appears in the News Feed if the user ‘likes’ an advertiser — were kept at a character limit of 90, but the image and overall page real estate are now much larger than the Marketplace Ad.
Premium Ads, basically a Sponsored Story with a larger audience, have the same requirements. However, both Sponsored Stories and Premium Ads come at much higher costs. Sponsored Stories have about three times higher CPCs on average, and Premium Ads have a minimum spend of $25,000 a week.
The push toward bigger and better ads is obvious. However, since there are no clear rules for existing Marketplace Ads, anything with 135 characters is still fair game. 45 extra characters on a SERP could be like steroids in baseball for Google, but will it hold up on Facebook where overall Marketplace Ad real estate is dwindling anyway? We’ll be able to see soon enough, but in the meantime, keep your Barry Bonds in there for the fight, and keep the gossip flowing.