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Conquering the Facebook Algorithm: Fall 2017 Updates

Tips and Tricks for Winning the 2017 Algorithm

Since launching the Facebook Journalism Project earlier this year, Facebook is making an effort to release updates that ease publishers' platform woes. In October, we saw a lot of this — first with changes to Instant Articles monetization, and then with News Feed Publisher Guidelines.

We're firm believers in the magic of Instant Articles, and constantly preach that it can tremendously help your social strategy. Big publishers like The Atlantic who have remained committed to using the format as part of their distribution strategy have reaped the benefits. The Atlantic has seen a 40% year-over-year increase in unique visitors on mobile, thanks in large part to Instant Articles.

And with premium subscriptions being the next big focus of news publishers, Facebook is listening and testing new subscription models in Instant Articles. The new test gives publishers control over pricing, offers, subscriber relationships, and 100% of the revenue. Find out how it works here.


Another big October update focused on the News Feed. Publishers continue to demand answers for what ranks well, and how to best cater content to their audiences. Facebook has since introduced their News Feed Publisher Guidelines — a set of "do's and don'ts" that center around what users value. It's intended to give better insight into the type of content readers value and crave. The main takeaways are that users value:

  • Content that's meaningful and informative
  • Accurate, authentic content
  • Standards for safe, respectful behavior

We're now finding that video ads are toxic, and if you have a video ad on your site period, the Facebook gods are not going to favor you. You'll most likely see a drop in reach because of this.

On May 10 of this year, Facebook made it official: They rolled out an update that lets people see fewer posts and ads in the News Feed that link to low-quality web page experiences.

Facebook refers to "low-quality sites" as those "containing little substantive content, and that is covered in disruptive, shocking or malicious ads."

This is a very similar approach to what Facebook has recently done to combat fake news, focusing their updates on halting misinformation and giving more breathing room to quality content.

Facebook's Newsroom officially dove into this issue to explain why:

"We hear from our community that they're disappointed when they click on a link that leads to a web page containing little substantive content and that is covered in disruptive, shocking or malicious ads. People expect their experience after clicking on a post to be straightforward."

The way Facebook is handling this at scale is through AI automation. Here's how it works:

  • Posts with links to sites that include spammy links or ads will see their reach drop.
  • Spammy ads are now blocked from being approved.

In addition to the artificial intelligence, Facebook will rely on input from users (through surveys) to update and sharpen their AI algorithm. They'll likely also continue to use the data they receive from users when posts are marked as spam.

Per Facebook:

"This update will help reduce the economic incentives of financially-motivated spammers."

And with that statement alone, it's rather clear that the war on bad-quality content has begun.

If you navigate your own site and feel like annoying ads keep blocking your reading experience, then you probably have to review what you've implemented ad-wise so far.

There's no doubt that bombarding your site with ads is no longer sustainable and will hurt you in the long run, so here are our recommendations on how to approach the new era of digital publishing:

If It Looks Like Spam, It's Out

If you have any pop-ups, interstitials, auto-launch boxes, or any other sort of intrusive content that is blocking most of your pages, we strongly suggest you remove it.

Some amount of ads is acceptable, of course, but the more you disrupt the user's reading experience, the more your Facebook reach will get penalized.

No Sexually Suggestive or Shocking Content

We've seen clients have issues with this type of content already — mostly with Google Ads — and Facebook is jumping on this train as well.

Clickbait Ads Are Dead

Also this past May, Facebook rolled out a second update as part of their ongoing effort to reduce clickbait articles, putting separate signals in place to determine whether a headline withholds or exaggerates information.

Facebook will not be good to you if you enable ads that require people to click on images that are excessively cropped, misleading, or deceptive. Ad copy is also included in these expectations, so make sure you're not serving up those types of advertisements at all on your site.

A Good Rule of Thumb

In Instant Articles, Facebook states that ads should not go over 15% of the page. A good rule of thumb to follow.

Facebook and Google both favor mobile experiences, so it only makes sense that they're striving toward less ads on smaller screens.

Authenticity or Bust

On August 17, Facebook announced two significant changes that limit spammy practices surrounding video content. Fake video-play buttons embedded in imagery and videos of only a static image now rank lower in the News Feed. A week later, Facebook revealed that they will now block ads from Pages that repeatedly share fake news. The message was clear: Create and share authentic content, or risk losing revenue and followers.

At the beginning of the year, we saw an algorithm update that favors "authentic" and "timely" posts. In an effort to show users more relevant and authentic stories, Facebook has begun using various signals to determine whether a story will resonate with a reader or if it's misleading. For example, if someone is asking for likes or if a post is hidden often, Facebook looks at these factors and won't rank the content as high in the News Feed.

User Experience is #1

User experience continues to be an important focus of various algorithm updates. Toward the beginning of this year (January 26), Facebook announced that longer videos would rank better than shorter ones in the News Feed in an effort to better serve relevant videos and keep the attention of its users. The idea is that longer videos take more of a commitment to watch, and those with high percent completion (the percentage of each video watched) must be more compelling and engaging to audiences.

Then, on August 2, Facebook announced it would show fewer links to slow-loading websites. They even shared tips for developers on how to increase load times. This update set out to alleviate the frustration that comes when users click on a link that sends them to a slow web page. A critical factor given that Facebook says "as many as 40% of website visitors abandon a site after three seconds of delay."

What Hasn't Changed: Quality Is Still Key

It's just as important to note what hasn't changed, and good ol' quality content is still key to winning the Facebook News Feed game. If you're content team is churning out consistently great posts, but you still can't budge in the reach department, there are a number of ways to make sure you're winning at both.

  • Create long-form content. Long-form content that is worth scrolling for is key to higher CPMs, engagement and sharing from your audience. Plus, it ranks higher in Google. A win-win.
  • Go "all in" on Instant Articles. When we say "all in" on Instant Articles we mean every post has to be published as an Instant Article at least once. Not only will converting all your articles to Instant Articles grow your overall reach, but it will grow your website's total traffic too due to the leakage from desktop and mobile web. Plus, we highly suggest that you get acquainted with monetizing them via the Facebook Audience Network, which is Facebook's native ad service for Instant Articles.
  • Don't rely solely on video. We were also onboard the rising video trend and preached its powers, but those powers are shifting. Video on Facebook has grown more complicated. Writers are very much important again-- and not just writers, but true content curators who can build engaging pieces of content that bring in reach and revenue. You absolutely need video, but you also need the mix of content that creates deep engagement and repeat loyalty to win on Facebook.

What This Means for Publishers

It's best to adapt to Facebook's suggested principles as a guiding factor for what to share and how to have a successful social distribution strategy. The goal of the News Feed is to present the most relevant and engaging stories to its users, so staying consistent and poised for change is key to remaining relevant.

RebelMouse was built in the age of social — our CMS is designed to keep up with the speed of the tech giants. We're able to adapt to platform changes fast enough to avoid the natural traffic penalty of falling behind the times. We live and breathe change, most recently helping one of our clients see a 298% increase in Facebook traffic immediately after launch.

Our CMS fuels crazy-fast content, so you don't have to ever worry about speed affecting your content's distribution or user experience. To learn more about how RebelMouse can help, request a proposal today.

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We started RebelMouse seven years ago knowing that there was a fundamental design flaw in the world of traditional CMSs: Every instance, on every platform, had to be updated independently. It's similar to an era when users had to manage their own Microsoft Exchange Server for email. The costs of managing, maintaining, and iterating on a CMS to keep it awesome and world class is typically a $10 million-a-year endeavor. But even then, these cost-prohibitive CMSs are still behind the times.

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Read our deck here...

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Help your audience find its voice.

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Since the start of RebelMouse, we've been on a journey to create dynamic media that is easier for content creators to curate and amplify on social. It's why we've built an online engagement platform centered around the power of communities that thrive naturally in the digital ecosystem.

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Facebook Offering Small Business Grants Program During COVID-19 Crisis

Program to provide $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for small businesses

Publishers big and small all over the globe are grappling with the financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to find the right brand messaging in this unprecedented time is a balance that none of us have ever faced before.

We've developed a live-blog experience that's designed to maximize your potential on search. Keep your audiences up to date by the second as they turn to you for the latest news, updates, and guidance. This feature is free to government and healthcare organizations for immediate use.

In an effort to help ease the strain on publishers, Facebook has announced a Small Business Grants program for publishers. The social network is offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits during the crisis. The offer is available for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses across 30 countries.

More information on how to apply for the program is forthcoming. Click here to learn more and sign up for updates. Check out Facebook's COVID-19 Business Resource Hub here.

Live-Blog Feature: Publish Real-Time Updates + Maximize Search Performance

Make sure your audience never misses an update

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At RebelMouse, we're constantly iterating on our platform to help you make your content as relevant as possible. In the current news environment, staying on top of breaking stories using live blogs is incredibly important.

We've implemented our own version of the live-blog experience that's designed to maximize your potential on search. We power this new functionality using WebSockets, which allows for near-instant updates.

The advantage of creating a live blog using RebelMouse is that we index each live-blog update for search so that you receive SEO credit for every single update. This means if one of your live-blog updates hits on a key search phrase, it can drive a lot of traffic from search. This is superior to the traditional way of doing live updates where it was simply embedded JavaScript loading posts.

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The RebelMouse Creative Agency

  • Built for Times of Uncertainty
    • RebelMouse has had a distributed, remote workforce for years:
      • Our team collaborates easily across time zones.
      • Leaders in the company excelled within an ethos of remote work.
      • Our growth-centric team has worked closely together for years.
      • RebelMouse is made up of 60 people in 28 countries, exempt from any risk of a centralized shutdown.
      • Iterative culture that allows us to adapt rapidly to change
      • Diversified portfolio - we have clients across every vertical and every business type. Our solution works for brands and media companies of varying sizes and any content vertical
    • We're the best in breaking news and crisis communications:
      • Our digital services agency built the version of Axios that fueled their rapid growth, making them a new media giant over the past three years.
      • United Airlines uses RebelMouse's agency and tech services to power their content hub and communicate with customers.
      • We're the agency behind La Verità, a subscription-based news site in Milan, Italy that has been at the center of the COVID-19 crisis.
    • We build products designed for a mobile, office-less world:
      • Editors, writers, reporters, and creators can keep up with breaking news and vital edits, and can create content all on their mobile device.
      • In times of crisis, being fast to respond is critical. Solutions that require a desktop environment to create and edit content are no longer appropriate.
    • We don't require any new capital:
      • Our business can elegantly move up and down like an accordion to fit in the current publishing climate.
      • RebelMouse has not required capital for over three years, and is in a strong cash position to survive hard economic times.
    • "No business travel" has been our company policy for many years:
      • It's our policy to avoid business travel if possible. We haven't required a single in-person meeting to close a new deal or launch a new property in years.
      • We know how to work with clients through technology to understand each other and deliver what's needed for success.
      • Our unique work culture makes us very resilient in times where business travel is shut down.
  • Lower-Cost Products With Bigger Returns
    • We build best-in-class digital experiences:
      • The RebelMouse CMS will outperform any platform on page speed, stability, and breadth of features.
      • We power massively popular websites and scale without breaking a sweat.
      • Our CEO is a technical, product-focused person who built HuffPost. The team she's built at RebelMouse since 2012 is passionate about products that outperform.
  • Digital Growth Specialists
    • RebelMouse + Media companies:
      • We grow RPMs.
      • We improve ad visibility.
      • We create new opportunities for digital revenue.
        • Paywalls
        • E-commerce
        • Native advertising
        • Programmatic advertising
    • RebelMouse + Brands:
      • Our digital agency helps brands reach potential customers at scale by winning in search and social.
      • We put in better conversion units and the data systems to track iterations on the metrics that matter.
      • RebelMouse technology builds smarter, faster pages that convert better for paid campaigns.

Learn more about the team at RebelMouse.

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Content creation is still the most powerful engine that propels every publisher forward. But in 2020 and beyond, quality content won't sustain a site on its own. The modern content lifecycle hinges on a number of things working together in unison — including page speed, intelligent SEO, and effective distribution, just to name a few.

However, there's one thing that can throw a wrench in the entire system, and that's platform updates. Whether you're publishing on a common CMS solution like WordPress, using a custom in-house CMS, have access to a dedicated team of developers, or any option in between, platform updates can be both costly and frustrating.

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