Facebook users are in for a real treat with the addition of Instant Articles. This new product is more of an ancillary update to the FB timeline feed for external content.
Instant Articles was developed to enhance articles and improve speed right from the Facebook feed. Users don’t want to wait around for content to load, and this process can induce high bounce rates if users are impatient enough.
With Instant Articles everything is loaded dynamically including images and videos. This process drastically reduces HTTP requests and varied load times between different publishers.
There’s also a handy publishing video filmed by the Facebook team.
Getting Started With Instant Articles
Instant Articles is a new feature added automatically to Facebook feeds. This update solves the problem of long load times from external sources. Dynamic content like videos and image galleries also get special treatment.
Note there isn’t any major underlying development feature for API devs—not yet at least.
It’s just a faster and more interactive method for viewing stories in a Facebook feed. This is consistently being improved and rolling out for more publishers over time.
The FB product design team markets this as a major leap forward in in-app content rendering.
“Using the same technology that loads photos and videos quickly in the Facebook app, articles now load as much as 10 times faster than standard mobile web articles”
Anyone who shares stories from an approved website onto Facebook will see the Instant Article optimized version instead of the mobile web version.
Also note that according to FB’s internal docs, Instant Articles are managed through a Facebook page. So if your site isn’t already on Facebook you’ll want to create a page before signing up for the program.
Here’s the official intro video to give you an idea of how this all works.
Speedy Stories On Mobile
Instant Articles expands beyond just content. It improves the reading experience by improving site speed and performance on load-heavy pages.
Some people may connect this idea to the AMP project assuming the two are related. While technology may be similar, AMP is an open source initiative while Instant Articles is built on Facebook’s closed-source codebase.
Also with Instant Articles content is pushed directly from the website whether it runs on WordPress, Drupal, or proprietary systems. Edits are captured live so news posts can be updated in real time. This gives Facebook an edge of efficiency and speed from regular cached pages.
There isn’t much of an explanation as to how the technology loads articles so fast. The FAQ document explains that it uses the same features to load photos and videos quickly in the FB app.
But it seems content is pulled directly from an RSS feed and styled locally. This makes it easier for publishers because they aren’t writing unique content for Facebook, but rather giving Facebook users a different experience for existing content.
Articles may be shared directly from users or from the Facebook page itself. Instant Articles are denoted with a small lightning bolt icon in the top-right corner of the post thumbnail. This is very similar to Google’s AMP so there’s genuine reason for confusion.
Although speed does help the user it’s also valuable to publishers. This is why everything from speed to number of page visits can be tracked via Facebook analytics. Instant Articles data can even be imported to other analytics suites via FB’s API service.
Dynamic Publishing Tools
Not all devices with the Facebook app will support Instant Articles – at least not right away. Older versions will just load the article from the source as it always would.
This is because Instant Articles include specialized tools that enhance the reading experience beyond load times. Photos can now feature tilt-to-pan effects that work on single images and slideshows.
This effect works best on larger phones where the screen is capable of displaying alternate views.
Everything you need to know about creating instant content can be found in Facebook’s documentation.
For example publishers can define kickers, typographic elements, custom featured images and layouts for different sections of a publication to parallel the web version.
When readers first see an Instant Article it’s paired with a headline and a caption image. All of these elements can be customized with a bit of HTML work:
- Publishing time/date
- Media type: Image or Video
More content can be maintained and organized through the use of an RSS feed. But most of the features come from Facebook’s backend coupled with your site’s HTML.
For example, audio captions can be added to content whenever possible so that visitors can read without sound.
These are just some of the currently-confirmed features used in Instant Articles. I fully expect greater detail as the years pass and FB’s product team gets the chance to enhance functionality based on user feedback. In the meantime check out article publishing from FB’s online docs.
Custom Design Guidelines
Although still being updated, take a look over the Instant Articles design guide to find out which elements are required.
Separate styles can be appended to an article for templates rendered with Instant Articles. Blockquotes, photo galleries, videos, and other non-paragraph text can be styled to bring emphasis when necessary.
Design specifications include strict rules like adding video player components, never duplicating media in a post, and image dimension specifications for fullscreen viewing.
All these design specs are cataloged on the FB design specs page including a brief tutorial on how to add custom styles.
It seems all the elements are controlled directly through Facebook, which explains why Instant Articles publishers need their own FB page.
Custom design features include fixed header art(4:3 aspect ratio), styled image captions, quote attributions, and a byline. There are dozens more items all found in the design documentation with specifics on how they be implemented.
There’s also the possibility of interactive features designed to induce user action. More items will be added over time, but here’s a list of features currently available:
- Autoplay Video
- Audio captions
- 3D rotating maps
- Tap to Expand, Tilt to Explore
- Custom embedded page content
Instant publishers don’t need to concern themselves with all of these features at once. Just start small by customizing the basic layout and see what else you might use over time.
Analytics and Browsing Data
Everyone using the Facebook instant program will be allowed to track readership analytics. Instant Articles publishers can get feedback on engagement and page activity based on custom analytics tools.
This information includes the total article’s reach, number of users engaging the content, time spent reading, scroll depth, and if any videos or digital media elements were used.
Absolutely no personal information is tracked so publishers will not get age, location, or anything personally identifying each visitor.
Also note that Instant Articles in a user’s news feed are organized by the same criteria for ranking standard articles on the mobile web.
Feed content ranks stories based on a number of factors. These factors include the amount of people reading or clicking/tapping on a story and length of time spent reading the story.
To learn more visit the ads & analytics page in the Instant Articles documentation.
Advertising is still the largest revenue stream for online publishers even in the growing presence of native advertising. This means advertising is still important to Instant Articles publishers.
The official FB Instant Articles overview PDF covers everything you’d need to know regarding ad revenue.
Premium publishers may be accepted into the Facebook Audience Network, the exclusive programmatic ad network solution for Instant Articles. It runs through Facebook ads for targeted campaigns that fit the lightning-fast user experience.
But publishers can also sell ad space directly to take home 100% of the profits. In short Facebook is offering all major forms of display advertising that would be important to publishers.
Ads within Instant Articles load quickly and fit seamlessly into the reading experience. Publishers choose whichever monetization option(s) work best with their publication.
Although the FB Audience Network is still growing, it currently holds demand from over 2.5 million advertisers globally.
Here’s a snippet about Facebook’s Audience Network for advertising:
“The Audience Network is starting with advertisers looking to drive app installs or app engagement. We’ll expand to include additional marketing objectives in the future.”
Instant Publishers & The Future
Working in its current state the instant publishing platform has a limited number of sites. But this isn’t a closed market and will be more inclusive as time rolls on.
Current Instant Article publishers include the following brands(among many others):
- New York Times
- Washington Post
- Daily Mail
But one month after Instant Articles’ announcement is the F8 conference where all publishers can apply to join. News organizations or small-time blogs are both equally welcome to submit their sites into the program.
Although this plugin doesn’t come with everything you need right away, it does feature all the core basics. Here’s a snippet from the FB plugin article:
“When Instant Articles opens up in April, publishers that use standard WordPress templates can activate the plugin out-of-the-box to create Instant Articles. Publishers that want a more customized production experience can extend the plugin to support additional elements”
Check out the plugin repo on GitHub to find documentation and further info.
Get Busy Publishing
After acceptance into the Instant Articles program you should expect greater CTRs with lower bounce rates. There’s a bright future for FB publishers who accept this new technology and welcome it for their readers.
But the best thing to do now is to just keep writing. Keep pushing great content with the goal of producing as much value as possible.
Facebook Instant Articles will introduce a better way to read content straight from the Facebook app, and over time this is sure to reverberate into greater retention from Facebook readers.