Facebook Sees Mobile Ad Gains In Q1, Says No Ad Network Plans For Atlas

Zuckerberg and Sandberg, CEO, COOFacebook’s mobile ad growth was the big story in Q1, as ads served to handheld devices grew to 30% of all advertising revenue. Read the earnings release, or check out these highlights on the ad side:

  • Total ad revenue grew 43% to $1.25 billion
  • Mobile accounted for roughly 30% all Facebook ad dollars in Q1, while desktop revenue was flat year-over-year
  • Ad impressions were up 39%
  • Advertising makes up 85% all Facebook revenue, with payments and other fees producing a meager $213 million during the period

Some of that growth is due to the continued build-out of Facebook Exchange and the expansion of targeting tools like its Custom Audiences product. At the start of the analyst call, Zuckerberg focused primarily on mobile and credited bringing the Open Social Graph to mobile – as well as the addition of Mobile Install Ads, which promote discovery of new apps – with revenue growth in that area.

COO Sheryl Sandberg called out Facebook Exchange, the company’s Atlas acquisition (which closed last week), and its work with Datalogix to link online ads to offline purchases. Also announced during the quarter were Custom Audiences and Partner Categories, which let advertisers match Facebook’s audience to data from third-party providers like Acxiom and Epsilon.

On FBX, Sandberg said, “We think it will continue to drive advertiser adoption [of retargeting].” She also said retargeter AdRoll experienced 70% lower cost-per-click through Facebook than through traditional retargeting. Sandberg claims AdRoll reallocated 63% of its purchased impressions to the Facebook platform.

Turning to Custom Audiences, Sandberg cited work with Bud Light, who used the program to run Page Post Ads on Facebook and saw a “6x return on advertising spend,” though she didn’t say how much the beer marketer spent.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg fielded many questions about how Facebook will use Atlas. Sandberg was adamant that Facebook had no interest in using it as the basis to start an ad network. Atlas’ value, she said, was strictly as an additional targeting tool.

Asked whether Atlas could be used to promote impression-based ads versus performance-centered ones, Sandberg responded, “Our focus for Atlas is on impression-based ads. Historically, a lot of online ads have been based on the last click. As people have begun to look more holistically at all the ad spending they’re doing, what they find is that it’s all the impressions that lead up to the last click that matter. And because we also drive so many offline purchases, there is no last click. Atlas’ use is to help us connect ad impressions – on Facebook and on other websites – with those offline purchases.”

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youssef Squali described Facebook’s Q1 as “solid,” noting the results exceeded expectations. Mobile is certainly the big hope right now, particularly in the area of brand-friendly metrics like engagement. But as Facebook works on getting users to spend more time on the site, costs are rising almost as fast as ad sales, with expenses increasing 60%  over last year and representing 28% of all revenue.

The momentum Facebook is experiencing in display should help keep some of those cost pressures at bay. Facebook is expected to see its share of the overall $17.7 billion US display ad market reach 15.5% in 2013, up from 14.6% in 2012, says eMarketer, allowing the social net to surpass Google by a hair, as the search giant takes an estimated 17.6% slice of the display pie this year.

In the meantime, eMarketer notes that Facebook is the distant number two mobile ad sales player after Google, which draws much of its smartphone ad sales from search. Google should collect 54.7% of all mobile ad revenues this year, while eMarketer expects Facebook to take in 13.2% in that space.

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