Facebook tests non-social Marketplace ads in News Feed

Facebook is testing a new ad unit that puts non-social Marketplace ads in News Feed rather than the sidebar.

Marketplace ads are the standard units in the right-hand sidebar of Facebook.com. Advertisers can select a small image and write brief ad copy to promote their pages or websites. Page-Like ads feature a Like button and the page’s fan count. Now we’ve seen this same type of ad in News Feed under the label “Page You May Like.”

Facebook confirmed in a statement, “We are currently running a small test that makes other ad units eligible to appear in News Feed. This is just a test; we have no further details to share at this time.”

Facebook has a “Pages You May Like” module in the mobile feed, but so far it has only included Sponsored Stories, which are shown to friends of fans and do not allow advertisers to customize their ad copy. This latest ad unit we’ve seen does not require a user to have a friend connected to the page, similar to page post ads and mobile app install ads. These units indicate Facebook is not opposed to allowing advertisers to promote non-social content in the feed.

Although Sponsored Stories about what friends are interested in seem like they would be the most relevant ads because of social context, there are actually times when well-targeted marketplace or page post ads might be better. For instance, a user might not have any friends that like the “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” page, as in the News Feed ad above, but if the user likes other reality TV, the show might be interesting to them. On the other hand, a Sponsored Story about three friends Liking the Gerber page is irrelevant if the user doesn’t have a baby.

Facebook has previously said that it is monitoring engagement and sentiment around News Feed ads to determine which units are most effective for advertisers without disrupting the user experience. CFO David Ebersman said last week that ads in News Feed are now generating about $4 million per day, with three-fourths of that from the mobile feed. If Facebook can move inventory from the sidebar to News Feed, where ads are more prominent and likely to be clicked, it can charge more per impression and generate more money on mobile devices.

It’s unclear whether any ads leading off-Facebook, including Facebook Exchange inventory, are now eligible for News Feed as part of this latest test.