Facebook struggles with monetizing search, kills sponsored results

Though search remains a top priority for Facebook, the company hasn't mastered how to make money from queries.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
2 min read
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Facebook is removing sponsored results from search less than a year after the ad unit's introduction.

"In keeping with the goal of streamlining our ad products, starting in July advertisers will no longer be able to buy sponsored results," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET.

The failed unit, which let marketers target users during the search process, suggests that the company is still struggling to understand how best to monetize search attention, something that competitor Google mastered long ago. Sponsored results seemed to be modeled after Google's sponsored search ads. As a user typed in a query for an app or Page using the Facebook search bar, results could include sponsored ads from companies, as pictured, though the ads linked back to company Facebook pages.

Facebook will stop selling sponsored search results, like the one seen here, in July. Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

The unit probably doesn't jibe well with Graph Search, the social network's early stage search engine for sophisticated people, place, interest, and photo queries. In April, Facebook started testing ads on Graph Search results pages, though the units are not targeted to a person's queries.

If you believe Facebook, its decision to eliminate sponsored search results is less a failure than it is a realization that advertisers are reaching new audiences through other ad products.

"We've seen that most marketers were buying sponsored results to advertise their apps and games, and we already offer mobile app install ads and Page post link ads on desktop to achieve these same goals," the spokesperson said.

Still, that's a rosy eulogy for an offering that some thought would help usher in an era where Facebook could go head-to-head with Google for search ad dollars. A year later, Facebook is still very much in a try-it-and-see-if-it-sticks stage when it comes to monetizing search. Sponsored results didn't stick. Graph Search presents a new test zone, but it remains a product only available to a small percentage of members, which means search won't be bringing home the bacon for Facebook anytime soon.

As noted above, Facebook's decision to kill off sponsored results is also a part of a broader scheme of simplifying the suite of advertising products. Last week, Facebook gathered members of the media to explain its ad consolidation strategy. At the time, the company said it was killing off Facebook questions, online local offers, and individual Page post ads.

Update, 2:24 p.m. PT: With additional context around sponsored results.