Embodied by search titan Google and social media mega-hub Facebook, paid search versus display advertising is the perennial battle in the online marketing war, with the former ad method handily beating the latter time and time again. But that may be changing. Online marketing experts predict that dollars spent on display advertising will overcome paid search budgets this year. As social media sites improve user experience, with better quality content, they retain more eyeballs for longer periods of time. The user information supplied to these sites, in order to become a member, is a treasure trove of marketing information to advertisers.

 The era of spammy banner ads is over, or will be, if Mark Zuckerberg has his say in the matter. Zuckerberg’s strategy has multiple prongs. Facebook has embarked on a mission to improve the user experience, by offering members a better marketing environment, one that concentrates on published content over paid advertising. Much like the Google relevance algorithm, Page Rank, Facebook’s EdgeRank assigns weight or relevance on a variety of undisclosed factors. The quality of the content is thought to be the factor with the most importance. The higher the quality of the published content, the more exposure that piece of content will receive as a packaged ad in one of Facebook’s new premium ad formats. Higher quality is achieved through including graphics or video. The premium ad format space is not new—online marketer Adblade.com is a dominant player in the field—but what is new is the shift in focus. Content is now king. Other factors that play a part in the determination are timeliness, frequency of posts, targeted user demographics, and clear calls to action, or high engagement posts.

 Second is the introduction of the timeline for the page interface of both users and businesses. Envisioning a digital scrapbook telling a life story, the social networking impresario offers individuals the opportunity to divulge the minutia of their lives for public consumption, and businesses the opportunity to devour it. The structure of the timeline allows for all that published content to be neatly packaged into modules, which for businesses, then become premium ads. An important feature of the timeline structure is the ‘pinned post,’ which is essentially a bookmark, keying people in to preferred content. Featured apps with thumbnail pictures, along the bottom of the cover picture, are also important.

 For larger companies with bigger ad spend, there is the option of Reach Generator, which guarantees greater visibility through a new pricing model. In this model, companies pay fees based on a percentage of their fan base rather than on a CPC or CPM basis, and in return reach 75% of their fan base over the month. Such guaranteed visibility makes a huge difference—currently ads reach only about 16% otherwise. According to recent February reports, user time spent on a monthly basis at Facebook totaled 7.5 hours, on Google, a mere 3.3 minutes. In the eyeball exposure game, Facebook is clearly winning.