Meta’s Click Tracker

Anthony Quintano under CC BY 2.0
Tracking Big Tech through the lens of patent filings.

Meta wants to know what posts make you linger and which ones you scroll past.

The company seeks to patent a system for displaying ads based on “recent user engagement signals” and “balancing ad load across surfaces.” Meta’s system tracks what it calls “recent user engagement signals” to determine where to place ads.

Meta noted that these engagement signals track pretty common user behaviors, monitoring what it calls browsing signals, click signals, impression signals and conversion signals (aka, the possibility that your clicks and impressions will lead to you spending money.)

The system then places ads based on those signals. For example, if you look up “shoes” on Instagram’s search bar, you may start to see real-time advertisements for shoes. If you like an influencer’s post tagging a specific dress brand, you may get advertisements for those dresses within an hour. Meta notes that this system places ads in an “explore context,” likely referring to Instagram’s explore page. 

Current advertisements are also intermixed with “historically determined advertisements,” or those based on a users’ historical activity. 

Additionally, this system also tracks user feed engagement in real time to figure out where to place ads in a video context, aiming to balance “feed and video ads” to not overload the user. Meta said that “since there is uncertainty in knowing what videos will be clicked on by users, it is difficult to pre-calculate where to place ads.” 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Meta is no stranger to inventive digital ad tech. The company has sought patents in recent months for a tool to test which content (including ads and brand deals) will go viral, a system which displays ads based on what type of content you consume (i.e. videos versus photos versus stories), and even tech to monitor user engagement with ads in the metaverse

This focus on ad tech makes sense given that digital ads make up the bulk of Meta’s business. And now that its ad sales are rebounding, this tech may be put to use even more. 

In Meta’s earnings report last week, the company reported higher-than-expected revenue and profit for the second quarter as ad sales rebounded from their post-pandemic slump. Ad impressions, a key ad sales metric, rose 34% compared to the same quarter last year. 

Those gains stand in contrast to Twitter and Snap, both of which have seen drop offs in ad revenue in recent months. Mark Mahaney, senior managing director at Evercore ISI, told CNBC that after Apple’s iOS advertising privacy change in 2021 threw social media companies for a loop, Meta buckled down to revamp its ad tools in a way other companies didn’t. 

Now that it’s ad work is finally paying off, the company may have the freedom to focus attention on its more outlandish ventures, such as figuring out how to make money from the metaverse, which is still costing the company a pretty penny — $3.74 billion in the most recent quarter, to be exact. 

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