Have Facebook’s recent changes to News Feed ranking affected your Facebook traffic? Let us know in the comments.
In December, Facebook announced some changes to how it ranks content in the News Feed. The social network said it was placing an emphasis on “quality” content, aiming to show more of that and less memes and other things of little substance that have typically done very well.
And just like that, all kinds of Pages starting getting a lot less News Feed visibility. The problem (one of them, at least) is that the algorithm appears to be playing favorites rather than truly distinguishing quality content versus low quality.
Last week there was a lot of talk about how big-name viral content sites BuzzFeed and Upworthy have performed since the update. BuzzFeed is up, and Upworthy is down (though it’s still unclear if it was really Facebook hurting Upworthy, or if it’s just stabilizing after an unusually high traffic month). Either way, BuzzFeed is up, and is still raking in the Facebook engagement, and this is not just on the site’s “quality journalism” articles, but also on articles like, “The Definitive Ranking Of Poop,” which is up to nearly 10K likes and 3K Facebook shares after a week, compared to just 233 tweets.
You can click the link, and judge for yourself just how high quality this piece of content is. To be clear, it’s not that I’m knocking BuzzFeed for producing this kind of content. This is the kind of thing that BuzzFeed is known for, and obviously some people do like it. But Facebook holding content like this up on a pedestal as a high mark of what counts for quality in the News Feed at the cost of visibility (and potentially business) for other content providers is a different story.
In reality, it’s not that Facebook is intentionally trying to show people more poop list-like articles. It’s just that it considers BuzzFeed itself a trusted sources of high quality content, so as a result, it can put out whatever it wants without having to worry about the same kind of lost visibility as those negatively impacted by Facebook’s update. BuzzFeed is basically white listed.
I know this because it’s the reality laid out by Facebook itself in an interview just after the update was announced. News Feed manager Lars Backstrom told Peter Kafka (then at All Things D), “Right now, it’s mostly oriented around the source. As we refine our approaches, we’ll start distinguishing more and more between different types of content. But, for right now, when we think about how we identify ‘high quality,’ it’s mostly at the source level.”
So things might get better, but for right now, it doesn’t matter if you break the biggest news in the world if you’re not one of the sources Facebook has deemed “quality”. You won’t get poop list-like visibility. The time table for further News Feed algorithm tweaks to address this is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, if your visibility has dropped off despite having quality content, you’ll just have to deal with it, and hope Facebook really does figure things out.
But back to Mental Floss, another apparent beneficiary of the apparent white list. The site does a lot of lists too, but they tend to be of significantly greater substance than the aforementioned poop list. Recent ones include: The Original Locations of 15 Famous Food Chains,” “The First Guests on 22 Late Night Talk Shows,” “25 Things You Might Not Know About Boston, and “9 of Thomas Jefferson’s Head-Turning Hobbies.” You know, lists that you can actually learn from.
According to Poynter, the site’s monthly Facebook referrals have nearly doubled (from 1.9 million in November to 3.7 million in both December and January). It has gained more likes over the past two months than it got in its first five years on Facebook. Could Mental Floss’ history as a print publication be influencing Facebook’s treatment of the site? Interestingly, the report says Mental Floss was only officially verified by Facebook around the time it started getting all the new traffic.
Another interesting nugget to come out of the report (in which author Sam Kirkland spoke with the site’s editor-in-chief) is that Mental Floss is not posting more frequently to Facebook, but “rather thinking hard about what he chooses to post.”
This is particularly interesting because before Facebook announced the News Feed update, it was actually encouraging publishers to increase frequency of posts to earn more referrals. In fact, BuzzFeed was specifically named as a partner that participated in a study that helped the social network to reach this conclusion.
“As we’ve worked with our partners and shared best practices, we’ve found that on average referral traffic from Facebook to media sites has increased by over 170% throughout the past year,” Facebook VP of Media Partnerships and Global Operations, Justin Osofsky, said in an October blog post. “In fact, from September 2012 to September 2013, TIME’s referral traffic has increased 208%. BuzzFeed is up 855%. And Bleacher Report has increased 1081%.
“We worked with 29 media sites over a seven-day period to find out exactly how their referral traffic could be impacted if they increased the number of times they posted to their Facebook pages,” he said. “The net result: posting more frequently increases referral traffic by over 80%.”
It’s unclear whether each of the 29 sites mentioned have benefited from the News Feed update.
Update: After reaching out to Facebook for the whole list of sites, we’re told that they’re not disclosing it.
How has your site been affected by Facebook’s changes? Let us know in the comments.