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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.

Page Speed Is Crucial to Your Marketing Efforts

Most marketers don't prioritize page speed because they don't think it impacts their bottom line. However, page load has a direct impact on conversions and revenue.

Here's a very simple scenario, supported by industry data, to underscore why the way pages are built and powered is crucial for paid media initiatives and your overall business:

Let's say a paid media campaign drives 100,000 new visitors to a landing page that takes five seconds to load. Google says that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. So of the 100K mobile site visitors you paid to bring to the page, ~50K are leaving immediately due to poor page performance alone.

Some studies even show that bounce rate increases approximately 100% for every two-second delay. So, if site load jumps to seven seconds, you'll pretty much lose all of the visitors your paid strategies brought in.

A Poor Site Experience Costs More Than You Realize

Page load plays a huge part in customer dissatisfaction, too. Continuing on with our previous example, let's classify the ~50K that didn't abandon the page as dissatisfied due to poor page performance. As HubSpot points out, 79% of them are less likely to buy again from the same website. That's ~40K visitors never coming back to the site due to poor page speed. The loss is even greater when you consider how valuable returning visitors are: They represent up to 48% of all transactions and spend almost 2x more than new visitors, according to Business Insider.

Plus, people love to spread the word about a bad experience, probably more than a good one. 40% of visitors who had a bad experience with a website's performance would tell a friend or a family member. So of your 50K dissatisfied visitors, 20K are talking negatively about your brand. If they tell only one person each, that's an opportunity cost of another 20K potential site visitors and customers.

The main takeaway? Your paid media has to work much, much harder when you neglect to optimize your site for performance.

Owned and Paid Media Should Work Together for Better Efficiency

And speaking of site improvements to help the bottom line, marketers can't overlook the value of owned content (e.g., articles, reviews, social feeds, etc.) and its impact on overall traffic and lead generation strategies. Sites tend to see significant lift in audience reach and conversion when content is paired with commerce: For e-commerce companies, content can account for up to 69% of total organic traffic. And, even more compelling, conversion rates have been 6x higher for companies that adopt content marketing.

RebelMouse's CMS makes it easy for brands to systematically optimize page speed performance and organic reach, which allows paid media to be more efficient.

RebelMouse allows clients to easily manage website layouts and components at any time, ensuring sites remain fast and are rewarded by Google and Facebook. Our platform features proprietary SEO tools designed to help clients optimize organic search with every post and better align paid and organic search strategies for increased efficiency. Similarly, our platform also includes proprietary social tools to organically build community and growth, and our data helps clients spot winning organic trends that can inform paid social media.

RebelMouse Is a Partner That Can Guide You

When it comes to content marketing, it's important to be mindful of the relationship between owned, earned, and paid media — it will only help your teams engage and convert more audiences into customers and brand loyalists. At RebelMouse, we're proud of how we work with brands and our ability to provide the expertise, best practices, and modern technology that help teams become better content marketers. If you're a brand marketer, feel free to reach out to us to learn how RebelMouse can help you be more strategic and effective in your content marketing efforts.

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Target High-Value Users With Affinity Categories

Unlock valuable audience data and shape a new strategy

In today's landscape, quality content isn't enough — it's half the battle. Publishers need to produce shareable content backed by data to experience sustainable growth. At RebelMouse, we have a unique pageview methodology that provides an innovative user experience for every reader without sacrificing revenue and growth opportunities for publishers.

To do this, we track massive amounts of data across our platform through the use of custom-built Google Data Studio dashboards.

Click here to see the kind of growth our clients experience every day.

One of the best ways to discover more about your audience is by taking advantage of Affinity Categories. This feature breaks down audience demographics, including age, location, interests, and more. Affinity Categories are usually used to target audiences for ads, but we also use them to gain insights on what topics a site's visitors are interested in overall.

Normally, each category is listed out separately in Google Analytics. In the example shown above, our data experts split categories into separate levels to reveal different levels of audience depth. For instance, by splitting up the category News & Politics, we can better explore the detailed distribution of users interested in specific types of news:

  • News & Politics/Avid News Readers/Avid Political News Readers
  • News & Politics/Avid News Readers/Entertainment News Enthusiasts

From an editorial standpoint, this is useful because it allows publishers to determine and target varying levels of high-value users, improving the efficacy of a new content strategy or ad campaign.

If your site is already powered by RebelMouse, email support@rebelmouse.com to get a breakdown of your audience's Affinity Categories. If you aren't powered by RebelMouse yet, request a proposal today and start receiving the data you need to grow loyal followers at scale.

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Infinite Scroll: An Innovative + Intuitive UX

There is a common misconception that publishers have to sacrifice monetization and professional design to deliver a high-performing, quality user experience to its readers. But in today's modern publishing environment, websites can deliver an unobtrusive site experience that's intuitive, elegant, and prosperous.

To do this consistently, RebelMouse supports infinite scroll as part of our bigger design strategy called Social UX for Media. Much like the news feeds of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, infinite scroll provides an endless stream of articles to its readers so they never reach the "end" of your content.

Infinite scroll is an innovative approach, but it is also a widely adopted standard that has been endorsed and is supported officially by Google, Comscore, Nielsen, and many other industry giants. It's part of a new media strategy deployed by companies with massive valuations and the highest level of visibility in the U.S. market, including Axios, Vice, and The Verge.

In fact, RebelMouse built and launched news powerhouse Axios, now one of the biggest new media companies to date, with our Social UX for Media design featuring infinite scroll. It's still a core part of Axios' successful publishing strategy today. The feature has also been key to the growth of many other RebelMouse-powered properties, including La Verità, Dance Magazine, and United Airlines.

RebelMouse's Social UX for Media design, featuring infinite scroll on hub.united.com.

The primary reason infinite scroll is so successful is because it mimics user behavior in an innovative, yet familiar way, thanks to its similarity to social feeds. On mobile, expandable posts make it easy for users to read "before the jump" and quickly expand to the rest of the article with one click, rather than being taken to another article page. This is similar to when a user expands a caption on Instagram. It's these simple design details that bring massive growth to key stats like return visits and time on site.

Our page view methodology not only keeps the user experience intact, it also includes robust ad serving technology. We use industry standard rules for page views that require at least 50% of the screen space to change before it counts as a new page view. So whether you use Comscore or Nielsen to verify your site traffic, infinite scroll will not have a negative impact on your insights.

If you're interested in launching a site with our game-changing Social UX for Media design, request a proposal today and let's start working together. If your site is already powered by RebelMouse, and you have questions about infinite scroll, email support@rebelmouse.com.

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Particle Assembler: Ads in Slideshows Now Supported

You can now insert ads between slides in a slideshow!

Monetizing users' engagement and page views is pivotal to most digital businesses, and our Particle Assembler has been an invaluable tool in helping RebelMouse clients to insert native ads seamlessly into their content. Now we've taken this functionality one step further by introducing support for ads between slides in Assembler's slideshow layout.

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