Facebook confirms buying Microsoft's Atlas to boost ad sales

The deal for the ad analysis platform is aimed at giving marketers better information on their desktop and mobile campaigns

Facebook is buying Microsoft's Atlas Advertiser Suite, an ad analysis platform, in a move that should increase its advertising revenue and give marketers better information about their campaigns across the social network, on both desktop and mobile.

The terms of the deal, which was announced in a blog post, are not being disclosed.

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The acquisition comes as Facebook faces growing pressure to raise its ad revenue as more users shift to mobile devices while advertisers remain largely focused on the desktop.

The deal's rationale is based on the fact that businesses and advertising agencies are struggling to gauge the success of their campaigns across channels, Facebook said, and are often left in the dark on how their different marketing efforts strengthen or complement each other.

Facebook is betting that Atlas' measurement tools will help to solve that problem. It plans to scale up Atlas' back-end measurement systems, it said.

"Our belief is that measuring various touch points in the marketing funnel will help advertisers to see a more complete view of the effectiveness of their campaigns," said Facebook product marketing director Brian Boland, in the blog post.

The acquisition has the potential to give advertisers who partner with Atlas an additional way to target customers outside of Facebook, said Dana Todd, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Performics, a Chicago-based marketing agency, who described the deal as a smart move for Facebook.

"Right now, it's a very one-way use of data," she said.

Dane Atkinson, CEO at SumAll, a marketing analytics company, agreed. "It's an interesting deal both in terms of what it does in establishing ROI [return on investment] on social media by tracking a user from click to purchase as well as assisting Facebook in developing an ad network," Atkinson said via email.

"Establishing ROI on social media ad spend is key to validating this advertising channel," he added.

The deal was announced just one day after Facebook said it would also be expanding its custom audiences tool to provide businesses with more data to help target their ads to users on the site.

The custom audiences expansion allows for more partnering between individual businesses and the Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom and BlueKai marketing agencies; now Nielsen and Datalogix will also be combined with the Atlas platform, Facebook said.

Many marketers on Facebook today already use Atlas, and existing Atlas clients will not see any change in the services they receive, the company said.

Microsoft gained Atlas in 2007 as part of its acquisition of eQuantive, a global digital marketing company, for roughly $6 billion.

Some industry watchers are framing Facebook's Atlas buy as the social network's attempt to compete with advertising on Google, which uses DoubleClick for managing marketing campaigns, though Facebook did not immediately respond to comment on the matter.

"[It's] absolutely a way for Facebook to continue to compete with Google for spend in the digital ad space," said SumAll's Atkinson.

The Atlas team will continue to be based in Seattle, Facebook noted, adding that the social network's own Seattle-based engineering and product teams will be "substantially" invested in.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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