Facebook to Start Grading Ads' Results Across Its Mobile App Network

Scores Could Help Publishers Meet Brand Goals and Even Undermine Fight Ad Fraud

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Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Facebook is instituting something akin to employee performance reviews for app publishers in its ad network, grading how well their inventory achieves advertiser objectives like driving downloads or selling product.

The company already uses that information to decide which ad buys it doles out to which apps in its Audience Network. Now the company is sharing that information with the apps' publishers, down to each individual ad slot.

The goal is for publishers to use their report cards, called Advertiser Outcome Scores, to improve their ad units' effectiveness by tweaking their location within apps. App developers that don't find a way to improve their scores risk Facebook serving them fewer ads and losing out on revenue.

Scores will be available for placements as specific as an ad on an iPhone app's home screen or a video ad slotted between the third and fourth levels in an Android game. They will also encompass so-called "native" ads, which repackage an ad's contents to make it appear more natural within an app. According to Facebook, native ads running in its Audience Network attract seven times more money per thousand impressions than regular banners and account for 80% of the network's ad inventory.

In addition to seeing a placement's overall Advertiser Outcome Score -- which will initially be graded on a scale from 1 to 13 -- app publishers will be able to see how each ad placement performed in comparison with all other placements as well as similar placements. Cheetah Mobile, which makes an app that replaces a phone's lock screen, used the Advertiser Outcome Score to tweak the ad it slotted at the bottom of the lock screen by replacing it with a slideshow-like format that led to a 150% increase in the ad's conversions and a 200% increase in its revenue, according to Brian Boland, VP-advertising technology, Facebook.

The Advertiser Outcome Score is the latest example of Facebook trying to push the industry away from a focus on clicks toward results that matter more, such as sales. It wants to eradicate the advertising version of clickbait, in which a publisher might slot ads in places that get people clicking but don't deliver sales or other goals.

Mr. Boland said higher-scoring ad placements should fetch higher rates from Facebook's advertisers, partly by increasing their confidence that actual humans are responding to their ads. Bots can simulate clicks, but they don't make actual purchases.

"This system makes it incredibly hard to perpetrate fraud because you are looking at whether there's value created, whether apps were installed or conversions happened," Mr. Boland said. "You are rewarding publishers who do that."

Facebook could further reward publishers by letting advertisers to see which placements in which apps deliver the best results. But that might encourage brands to deal directly with certain high-performing apps, so it isn't going to go that far.

"The best way for an advertiser to take advantage of this is to bid based on outcomes in the Audience Network," Mr. Boland said. "The thing about the Audience Network is you don't actually choose the individual publishers. It's an open network that delivers outcomes."