Facebook rolls out search ads and they're currently free

The company is testing the feature and may shut it down should it not pan out

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Credit: Bloomberg

Facebook is dipping its toe back into search advertising following a five-year hiatus.

The company said Tuesday that users will now see ads when making retail-related searches in areas such as automotive and e-commerce. While it's only available in the U.S. and Canada, it may expand the offering to other countries in the near future. A person familiar with the matter says Facebook began testing the feature last month, adding that advertisers seeking to test the offering can do so through Ads Manager. They also won't be charged for doing so, either, the person says.

Should it prove successful, Facebook will implement an auction-style bidding system similar to what it already does for its other ads, the person says. The ads will look similar to those that appear in News Feed, meaning that they will sport the same headline, image and text.

Zoheb Haijiyana, product manager at Facebook, confirmed the company isn't sure whether its search offering will eventually be a part of its core business. "We're running a small test to place ads in Facebook search results and will be evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to expand."

Search advertising was responsible for nearly half of the $49.5 billion generated in digital ad revenues for the first half of 2018, according to the IAB's revenue report. Although most people might think of Google when it comes to search advertising, companies such as Pinterest, Amazon and Yelp also capture a slice of that pie, and Facebook is likely salivating for a piece.

The social media power took its first swing at search in 2012, but that effort was short-lived as the company shut it down roughly a year later. Facebook's latest move is simply a test to see how things pan out, and it may ultimately shut this down, too.

The move is aimed at growing Facebook's Marketplace offering, where consumers shop for everything from Playstation gaming consoles to used vehicles; roughly one in three people on Facebook in the U.S. use Marketplace each month, the company said in October.

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