Facebook can make or break an online publisher. The traffic of many blogs and magazines is largely comprised of referrals from the social network giant. Indeed, for many people, Facebook is the internet. Without Facebook, those sites would get a fraction of the traffic they need. But being reliant on Facebook also means that traffic levels can be decimated when Facebook changes the algorithm that decides what users see in their feeds.
Publishers should pay close attention to any tweaks Facebook makes to its algorithm, including a recent change that rewards content that Facebook thinks users are likely to spend more time with.
In an article on Facebook’s news blog, Moshe Blank and Jie Xu write:
“We’re learning that the time people choose to spend reading or watching content they clicked on from News Feed is an important signal that the story was interesting to them.”
Once you’ve recovered from the stunning obviousness of that realization, it’s time to think about what it means for your site or blog.
Traditionally, Facebook has privileged content that gets higher engagement within the Facebook app — more likes, shares, and clicks mean a greater likelihood that the content would appear in a follower’s News Feed. Measuring reader interest by length of engagement has been added to the list of signals because of the limitation of the old approach — we don’t always like or share the things that we’re most interested in, but we do spend a lot of time with them.
Most publishers are already fully aware of the value of increased time-on-site, so their incentives align with Facebook’s here, but Facebook’s measuring of time is not without complications.
The first thing to note is that Facebook is factoring out load times — slow load times won’t be read as increased interest. Secondly, there’s a time threshold so that long-form pieces don’t gain any special advantage. Increasing the length of your posts won’t make a difference, and may actually be counterproductive if the added content is simply filler — users are likely to spend less time with it, not more.
It’s also important to note where Facebook takes measurements of time spent engaging with content — within the in-app browser on Facebook’s mobile apps and from articles loaded through Instant Articles.
These changes complement earlier changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithms, which took note of whether users immediately jumped back to the News Feed after clicking on content, indicating that they didn’t find what they were looking for.
From a user perspective, these are all positive changes, but publishers should consider whether their content is likely to generate the sort of interest Facebook is measuring here.