Facebook Redesigns Site, Shifts Ad Placements

Facebook this week began rolling out a long-anticipated redesign that aims to rein in application clutter and streamline the site’s appearance. With those changes come some shifts in advertising strategy.

The primary differences will be where the ads are placed and how they are grouped. “The new placements give advertisers new options and a meaningful space for ads, while being useful and unobtrusive,” the company said in a release.

Users for the first time will be seeing ads on the right-hand side of the page alongside the news feed. For now, that placement will feature ads sold by the Facebook direct sales team, rather than those sold through Microsoft’s ad network.

Ads on all other pages have been moved from the left-hand side of the screen to the right, and will now be grouped together. Those ads will either be those sold by the direct sales group, or those sold by Microsoft’s ad network, which appear in industry-standard banner ads. Facebook’s direct-sales inventory appears in smaller boxes and usually contains a single photo with a simple headline above and four to five lines of text below.

“Both Microsoft ads and Facebook direct sales ads have always worked in harmony on the site,” said a spokeswoman for the four-year-old social networking site. “The idea is that nothing has been replaced; we’re just redesigning the placements.”

The “small” direct-sales team — the spokeswoman declined to give a specific count –will continue to sell customized ads that appear inside the news feed itself.

But perhaps the greatest advertising development at Facebook is what is not changing: The maximum number of ads any user will see on the screen at a given time.

“Currently no users see more than two ads on any page at any time,” said the spokeswoman. “We will continue to have that cap.”

That cap does not, however, include ads that may appear inside applications themselves. Facebook does not have control over ads served by applications developed by independent designers.

Other features of the redesign — which, perhaps not coincidentally, comes as many of its first early users are graduating college and entering the workforce — include increased networking capabilities, more information displayed on profile “walls” and the ability to preview an application before adding it.

With the current redesign — first announced in May — Facebook is following in the footsteps of News Corp.’s MySpace, which overhauled its site in June also with an eye toward a more streamlined look.

The difference, of course, is that MySpace’s redesign came as Facebook caught up in popularity, based on visitors. According to ComScore, both sites clocked 115 million unique monthly visitors in April 2008. That number was a huge leap for Facebook, which had only 40 million unique monthly visitors in April 2007. But that increase represented only 4.5 percent growth over one year for MySpace, which had clocked 110 million visitors in April 2007.

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