Facebook’s Big Algorithm Change Isn’t Doomsday for Social ROI

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the platform's algorithm would soon shift to prioritize posts from family and friends, brands and publishers went into panic mode. With good reason, because this latest update is going to change Facebook monetization strategy a lot. But it won't be the final nail in the coffin for publishers.


Think of this algorithm shift as a retreat back to the Facebook that once was. The platform used to be a social, personal space meant for sharing huge life updates and all of your pictures. Now it's become a passive platform where users mindlessly scroll through content, overwhelmed by readable videos and news stories without any real attachment to who is posting what. This shift intends to take us back to a more intimate place, and there's still room there for publishers, too.

Don’t Get It Twisted, the War Is Real

While the title of Facebook's announcement is "Bringing People Closer Together," it doesn't change the fact that the tug of war over ad tech in the industry is still an ongoing battle. Google is currently the leader in referral traffic, but Facebook isn't far behind, and the duopoly's reign shows no end in sight.

Given the amount of information Facebook has on every user, the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) is a true rival to both Google and all other social platforms who compete with it. This is one of the main reasons why the platform's revenue opportunities cannot be ignored. Facebook still has two powerful weapons in its arsenal: an incredible amount of active daily users, and a seemingly infinite amount of data on them.

Despite these amazing tools, Facebook has made it clear that they aren't afraid to diminish the reach of brands and new media companies. The platform began this pattern in 2017 after the infamous fake news fallout, which drove their ongoing push to de-prioritize vague and misleading headlines alongside any clickbait or "gotcha!"-style posts.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti touted the ramifications of poor-quality content in the digital ad space as far back as 2016 in his year-end memo. He credited how slowly the ad industry had taken to adapt to digital as the root cause of all the problems facing social ROI, and his sentiments still hold true today. "Social platforms can only optimize the content uploaded to their services, and when there isn't a solid business model for content, the void is filled with fake news, cheap entertainment and deceptive ads," Peretti said.

Think of this algorithm change as the latest chess play by Facebook in the ad war. It's designed to up the stakes. While the platform has told us that pay-to-play content will not be impacted by the change, expect CPMs to rise as the fight for appearance in the News Feed becomes more competitive. The next chapter of the war will be focused on who — whether it's a brand, media company, or news publisher — can create the most compelling content that's worthy of the News Feed. Facebook is hopefully setting the standard for a less-obtrusive internet. Hopefully all of the platform's friends and enemies alike will follow suit.

Experience Is Everything

We've always been big fans of personalization and customer experience at RebelMouse. Facebook began to make them one of its primary concerns too in 2017, when it began to de-prioritize third-party links featuring annoying ads that slowed down site speed. Sites containing video ads were most notably affected. This latest algorithm change is only a continuation of that experience prioritization, and it's the number one reason why this dramatic shift will be good for the digital ad industry.

Media companies and especially brands will have to be extra savvy moving forward. Quality content has never been more important. It must be as personal and as compelling as a life update from a close friend. When creating content in the post algorithm apocalypse world, if you get any part of the experience wrong, you won't be prioritized on Facebook and you won't make any money.

Here are some things, or really engagement loopholes, to keep in mind for your new Facebook strategy this year:

Organic: Quality content will still perform organically on Facebook in light of the new changes. The brands and media companies who make it work will be very passionate about reaching the right audience on every platform. This means understanding likeminded Pages and communities that would be interested in your content. Making use of Facebook groups and Messenger will be key strategy takeaways by the time 2018 ends. It will take a little more legwork to get organic growth, but it's our mission at RebelMouse to foster organic loyalty for anyone who is adrenalized about their content. Once you've achieved organic loyalty, you've opened the door to creating more revenue.

Influencers: The whole idea behind the algorithm shift was to make the platform become more personal and humanlike. If brands and new media pages no longer have top priority, actual humans still will. This is an opportune time for both influencers and influencer marketing to step up their game and create dynamic storytelling that goes beyond an ad-driven experience.

Branded Content: Much like the concept of influencer marketing, branded content will become even more relevant in the days following the algorithm shift. This doesn't mean just leveraging nice-looking sponsored posts, but rather using actual branded content that prompts genuine engagement from people. It's that engagement that will turn into growing impressions in the News Feed.

Custom Audiences: The usage of custom audiences has been a gold mine for awhile, but this latest change really puts their value into perspective. Using customer lists and engagement rates to create custom and lookalike audiences will prove beneficial to your ad spend like never before. Targeting audiences that are known engagers of your content can only increase reach.

Perfect Links: Any third-party link posted to Facebook needs to be perfect. This doesn't mean just for quality of ad copy and imagery, but the experience overall. For instance, if your content doesn't use Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format, your link is already losing before you've published. Make sure every page is optimized for speed and clarity.

SEO: If Facebook stops showing news stories in the News Feed, people are still going to seek out somewhere to get their news from, and chances are it'll be Google. Understanding the modern-day techniques around winning SEO, and using social to up your search strategy, is more important than ever.

Invest in Writers, Not Heavy Tech

Another upside to this algorithm change is the important return of the writer. Quality content has always required content creators with good writing chops. But the failure of the pivot-to-video movement, alongside this latest algorithm shift, makes worthwhile writing not just an add-on, but a make-or-break factor in whether your content monetizes at all.

Brands have always considered operating on Facebook to be a pay-to-play strategy, which is partially why engagement baiting lasted as long as it did. But as Yuyu Chen at Digiday points out, this change ushers in a new era: "The new Facebook algorithm will filter out clickbait-style promotions ("Like our product if you think this dog is cute"), which will pressure brands to create more meaningful content over the long term."

Shifting from a pure pay-to-get-seen type of ad strategy to creating substantial content with opportunities for actual organic lift is an exciting time for brands, publishers, and, most of all, writers. To make money off of FAN, content has to be worthy of it. There has to be more genuine content in the News Feed that people want to have conversations about.

This means it's time to invest in experienced writers, social gurus, and content strategists. Continued investment in heavy dev and tech teams will only make your content's visibility suffer in the end.

What to Do Next

It's pretty scary to have to rethink the entire business strategy that you may have just finished perfecting at the end of 2017. We've got a number of free resources available to you on our site about how to grow organically and leverage the platforms for your benefit — not theirs. We also offer strategy services around content, search and social marketing, and more, and you don't even have to re-platform to our CMS to gain access to them.

At RebelMouse, we live for algorithm changes like this because it's our passion to keep up with the platforms and tech so you don't have to. Your product should be your content. Let us know if you want to start working together.

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RebelMouse Outperforms Every Other CMS. Here’s the Data to Prove It.

Our Core Web Vitals drastically outpace every competitor, and we have the receipts

In an effort to build user retention and increase conversions, publishers are making a common mistake. They're adding more features to their websites, including ad placements, but losing sight of the main revenue driver: user experience.

The key to unlocking user retention lies completely in site performance. Currently, publishers are trying to build optimized websites that translate easily across devices and platforms, but fail to deliver an experience that checks all their boxes and prioritizes their readers. It takes less than a second of delayed load time to turn away a user. This is why Google has made page speed a top ranking factor on search, and shepherded the entire open web's newfound prioritization on site performance.

Game Changer: Google's Core Web Vitals Announcement

Google cemented its seriousness about page experience with the announcement of its Core Web Vitals measurements in Google Search Console. Core Web Vitals are three specific metrics that Google uses to determine a site's overall usability. While these data points will evolve over time, the 2020 version of vitals consists of three specific metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search." —From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

As you can see, there's a lot of data Google takes into account even outside of Core Web Vitals. Here's a quick summary of the other important metrics that Google trusts to measure page performance:

First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

Creating quality content is only half the battle in 2020, and publishers are already burdened with the around-the-clock task of creating content that resonates. This is why quality content must be supported by modern technology that can keep up with the speed of the web. RebelMouse provides publishers with a CMS that supports the new content lifecycle with an editorial suite designed for reach on site, search, and social.

Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

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