Facebook's New Instant Articles: What It Means for Publishers, Marketers and the Public

Facebook's New Instant Articles: What It Means for Publishers, Marketers and the Public
Andrea Ness
May 29, 2015
Bee image on a smartphone

Earlier this month, Facebook launched a new pilot program, Instant Articles, as a way for publishers to create fast and interactive articles on Facebook.

Facebook’s current system links directly to publishing sites and takes an average of eight seconds to load, making articles the slowest type of content on Facebook. This is about two seconds away from average readers on mobile devices hitting their back button and saying “forget it.”

Nine launch partners have signed an agreement with Facebook during the testing phase: The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC news, Spiegel and Bild. And, as you may assume, many more are talking with Facebook to make sure they are in the front of the line when the program opens up to more participants.

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What does this mean for the public?

As you can see by the introduction video, Instant Articles provides an improved user experience. Instant access, no wait times and videos that automatically load are among the advantages. Users can also easily zoom in on photos or see their locations by clicking on a map. The program also has an audio link for each article so you can listen on the go, which is a huge plus for this Audible junkie.

What does this mean for publishers?

For publishers, the fancy new way of reading should definitely entice them to take notice, but do the pros outweigh the cons?

The Wall Street Journal reported that many major publishers are getting 60 percent of their referral traffic from Facebook. Instant Articles allows publishers to feed this animal more by providing a better user experience to that 60 percent.

Just to be clear, this is 60 percent of referring traffic, not overall traffic. Referring and social traffic drives on average about 17 percent of overall traffic, while 64 percent of website traffic comes from search engines.

Instant Articles will definitely alter this percentage because it makes the publisher publish content directly on Facebook in addition to its own website. So the Facebook user reading the article will never leave Facebook and really will have no need now to click to the publisher’s website anymore. Referral traffic will be diminished dramatically. Facebook, of course, knew this going in and made sure to iron this out by working with the publishers and ComScore to figure out a way to report the viewer data on Facebook into the publishers’ analytics directly.

When an Instant Article gets shared on Facebook, that shared link will direct back to the original publisher’s article on its website and not the Facebook content the user is currently reading, so the publisher will still get Facebook shares and referral links. Plus, Facebook claims that creating a better user experience will in turn create more engagement that could lead to more sharing and more referral traffic on top of the new views that come via Instant Articles.

However, publishers are probably going to see a decrease in search engine traffic to their primary sites. Inbound links are part of most publishers’ articles; they both link to and receive links from other popular sources. If these sources are now publishing directly on Facebook, Facebook now gets that traffic instead.

Also, something that’s a bit more technical but still a possible concern is how Facebook is sourcing the original content. Google Search likes to pull only original content in its search results and only from one source. Does that mean there is a chance the Facebook content will trump the publishers’ original content when people are searching on mobile?

This could dramatically pull search traffic down for the publishers’ sites overall, so it’s something to think about before you give up your rights to your original content.

Plus publishers lose the opportunity to keep readers on their websites to show them other offerings, such as related articles, other services, etc.

Still, the big players are partnering, so Facebook is doing something right. It won’t be long until this option is available for local publishing sites, such as The Detroit News, MLive and Bridge Magazine.

What does this mean for marketers and advertisers?

Instant Articles will also give marketers and publishers another option to market their digital ads, but it appears that now advertising can be purchased through the publisher or Facebook.  Publishers get 100 percent profits on ads that they bring in for Instant Articles, but Facebook is of course willing to fill the space with ads if they don’t.

Advertisers on publishers’ websites will lose reach from the decrease of referring traffic that Facebook would have brought in, but their material will now be viewed on Facebook.

And what about marketers’ own content? Can they soon play along with Facebook’s Instant Articles, using its branded content and content marketing strategies? No. For now, there can only be a display ad in the article as marketers continue to see decreased organic reach with posting and pay to play in the newsfeed.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Facebook’s Instant Articles. Competing with LinkedIn’s Pulse and publishing platform, as well as providing another weapon in Facebook’s ongoing battle with traffic giant Google, Instant Articles gives Facebook more credibility and professionalism, which it hasn’t always been known for with its newsfeed content.

For more information, visit http://instantarticles.fb.com/.

If you would like to discuss more, feel free to contact me at ness@gudmarketing.com.