Testing Facebook’s Instant Articles for news publishers

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May 9, 2016 by Paul Dughi

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Now that Facebook has opened up Instant Articles to more news publishers, we’ve been trying to decide whether to jump in with both feet, run away as quickly as possible, or find some middle ground that benefits us.  We get it benefits FB users, and FB, but we’re a little nervous about losing traffic and ad impressions when everything stays within Facebook’s walled garden.


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It’s potentially exciting,” said Patrick Ary, Digital Content Manager at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  “It’s potentially terrifying.


It’s exciting because it streamlines the user experience while on Facebook, dramatically decreases load times, and may open up a new way to distribute content.  It’s terrifying because it takes away traffic to our branded website and apps.

There’s no denying a Facebook user will see a big difference in load times.  The first GIF  is the typical load time for a link from Facebook to our mobile site.  Compare that to the second GIF, which is the speed at which the Instant Article loads.

Mobile Website loading

Instant Article loading

“If your pages take more than 5 seconds to load, they’ll likely turn away,” said Ary.  “It really is instant.”

Our CMS provider is still developing API feeds for Instant Articles yet, so we’re relying on RSS feeds.  That’s been a bit tricky as well.  You really don’t want to post every news item on Facebook, so creating custom feeds to deliver only the articles you want is essential.

By comparison, our mobile site provides our branding, site menu, multiple social share options, links to other content on our site, images and video.  Right now, the RSS feeds provide us only text options.  While Instant Articles has our custom branding, it doesn’t contain our site menu or our enhanced media.

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Pros:

  • Looks great!
  • Loads almost instantly, optimizing time to engage the reader
  • Once setup is done, little effort needed to publish
  • Potential to reach larger audience
  • Early-adopter popularity
  • Can support ad sales, both your own and rev share with Facebook-served ads
  • Additional ad impressions

Cons:

  • Visitors don’t make it to your website unless you link within article, and even then they may not click through
  • Separate ad platform to manage
  • Needs API integration, which may be custom with your CMS
  • Unless automated through API, rich media must be added manually
  • May need separate tracking
  • Limited to ads within FB eco-system; none of your site ads will serve
  • Ad options are limited

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Facebook claims articles load 10x faster than mobile web articles. In our experience, that seems about right.  They also claim 20% more Instant Articles are read on average and visitors are 70% less like to bail out after opening.

 

 

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