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Facebook Instant Articles: What Publishers Need to Know

By Tom Pitts
May 10, 2016

In April, during the F8 conference, Facebook opened its Instant Article format to all publishers. With Instant Articles, publishers can now serve Facebook mobile readers faster-loading versions of their articles. These articles are served natively by Facebook’s app, using the same technology that quickly loads shared photos, videos, and other status updates.

Instant Articles was initially launched in May of 2015 with a select group of publishers and readers using the Facebook iPhone app. Since then, Facebook has launched Instant Articles for readers on Android and onboarded more than 1,000 publishers worldwide.

How do Instant Articles perform?

Clicking on an Instant Article is a slick experience that loads content more quickly than on the mobile web. Facebook has reported loading speeds up to 10 times faster than standard mobile web versions. But does this increase in loading speed translate to more readers?

According to Facebook, the very fact that an article is published in the Instant Articles format does not give it preferential treatment in the News Feed. However, Facebook’s News Feed does give more reach to posts that perform better in a number of ways, which appears to benefit Instant Articles overall. Facebook has reported that content published using Instant Articles receives more clicks, shares, and time spent reading—all metrics that Facebook considers when deciding what to show users in their News Feeds.

How do publishers monetize Instant Articles?

The experience and results show that when considering usability and reach, Instant Articles are a clear win. But how do publishers drive revenue with Instant Articles, since the content isn’t hosted on their own sites?

The Instant Article format does support ads, with some caveats. If publishers sell and serve the ads themselves, they keep 100% of the ad revenue. Programmatic ads, or ads sold by a third party, network, or agency, are not supported. Publishers who don’t wish to sell Instant Article ad inventory directly can use only Facebook ads inside of Instant Articles. In this case, Facebook keeps 30% of the ad revenue for ads that they sell and serve.

Along with the April announcement that Instant Articles would be open to all publishers, Facebook also rolled out changes to their branded content policy, which may give publishers another way to increase revenue. Facebook has updated its policy to allow publishers to post advertorial content with a tag indicating the sponsor of the story. This branded content can also be published as an Instant Article.

In addition to advertising and promotion, publishers can use certain analytics platforms as well. Instant Articles can work with comScore, Google Analytics, and Adobe Analytics (SiteCatalyst), but the fact that the content and analytics are served within the Facebook app may limit reporting capabilities.

How do publishers implement Instant Articles?

Publishers can submit Instant Articles to Facebook using either an RSS feed or API requests. Their content management system can generate an RSS feed that has the entire content of each article in Instant Articles format. Alternatively, Facebook also released an Instant Articles API that supports creating, publishing, updating, and deleting Instant Articles. Many popular publishing systems, including WordPress, Drupal, and Medium, now have official integrations for Instant Articles.

How does True Anthem work with Instant Articles?

True Anthem automates posting article content to Facebook, so you might be asking whether Instant Articles has had an impact on our social publishing.

The great news is that since Facebook posts still link to publishers’ websites for Facebook users on desktop, the link posts used to show Instant Articles are identical to the link posts used to show web content. Each Instant Article is associated with the same canonical link as the web version. This lets either version be served when the canonical link is posted to Facebook.

Because posting links to Facebook doesn’t change, True Anthem posts work seamlessly with Instant Articles. When True Anthem posts a link to Facebook, if an Instant Article version exists, mobile readers will receive that version when they click the post.

In conclusion: should publishers use Instant Articles?

For publishers who want to create a great mobile experience for their Facebook audiences, Instant Articles provide superior usability and likely increased audience reach. That said, hosting content on platforms other than a publisher’s main website comes with its own set of concerns, including implementation, monetization, audience development, and editorial control.

When the world’s largest social platform offers publishers a way to give readers a better experience, it can’t be ignored. But publishers will have to weigh business concerns and potential benefits to determine how often to publish and what content should be published as Instant Articles.

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