Last Updated: July 24, 2016
Facebook’s News Feed algorithm is in a constant state of flux. In the below timeline, we mark the major changes both marketers and businesses need to be aware of. With Facebook’s 1.65 billion users, it continues to be critical for businesses to have a presence on the platform.
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The secret behind Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has been guessed at for years, with published algorithm updates that help support the various theories out there. However, Facebook recently opened the curtain on the “core values” it uses when determining what shows up in a user’s feed. Facebook became known as the social platform to connect friends and family, which is why most of the News Feed is filled with posts from those users care about most. Now, Facebook states that posts from friends and family will get top priority on users’ News Feeds. After posts from friends and family, Facebook prioritizes posts that “inform” and posts that “entertain.” Other core values include posts that represent all ideas and posts with “authentic communication.” Facebook also emphasized the user’s ability to hide posts, unfollow other users and Pages, and the user’s ability to prioritize their own feed with the “See First” function. Lastly, Facebook reiterated the goal to always improve the News Feed and user experience.
Facebook has been known to be filled with clickbait links to articles and websites, but thanks to Facebook’s intent to improve the type of content being shared on its platform, this may slowly come to an end. There are sites out there who only care about clicks on their links, even if it the user leaves the page immediately after clicking the link. Now, Facebook will measure how much time you spend on a shared link, whether it’s an Instant Article or on another site. This should begin to filter out clickbait links that don’t actually provide useful content. In addition, Facebook is also looking to penalize Pages that post too often. This will be useful for marketers when creating their Facebook posting strategies.
Yet another update to the News Feed that’ll change the prioritization of what you see at
the top of your News Feed. Interacting with a post (liking, commenting, or sharing) is a good indicator for what users are interested in; however, it is not the only way of gauging interest. Users are less likely to interact with a sad news-related post or a serious current event, but that does not mean they do not want these stories in their News Feeds. Facebook will now measure the potential interest in a post based on the following criteria: user interest in the creator, post performance among other users, past content performance of the creator, type of post the user prefers, and how recent the post is. When you click on a post or link, Facebook will measure how much time you spend on post, even if you don’t like, comment, or share. This will help Facebook in its algorithm when predicting and prioritizing which posts you are most interested in.
Facebook has been paying attention to how much longer users watch live streaming videos in their News Feeds, and it turns out live videos are viewed 3x longer than a previously recorded and uploaded video. Based on this information, Facebook will begin prioritizing live video in users’ News Feeds. Facebook previously prioritized stories that it deemed “best,” not necessarily the most current. This live video update changes that. This update helps Facebook keep up with Twitter’s real-time posts, including Periscope videos.
This update proves that Facebook is continually listening to its users and attempting to improve the user experience by prioritizing and improving News Feed. With this latest update, Facebook will gauge the likelihood that users will highly rate a post or the probability that users will interact with a post by liking, commenting, or sharing. These posts will then be placed at the top of the user’s News Feed. These two criteria were discovered after Facebook conducted an extensive survey in which users indicated what they prefer to see at the top of their News Feeds. The update should have little impact on Pages; however, some Pages may notice a slight increase in referral traffic while other Pages may experience a decrease in referral traffic. How this update affects the majority of Pages in the long run will be better measured over time.
Historically, publishers on Facebook struggled to organically reach their target audience, mostly due to Facebook’s algorithm. Known as the Audience Optimization tool, this new update allows publishers to set preferences to target a specific audience based on interests, demographics, and geographic location. Using this new tool, publishers and marketers on Facebook can organically reach their intended audience and then see how well their posts perform.
In an effort to rival Google and Twitter with trending news stories, you can now search any news story through Facebook and access a variety of search results, including posts from other users not on your Friends lists and Pages that you haven’t liked. The search results will pull information from Facebook’s 2 trillion posts. This update will likely encourage users to post more frequently about human and world events, much like on Twitter.
In many parts of the world, mobile users still use a 2G connection for their internet use. In the attempt to reach millions more users worldwide, Facebook is improving the News Feed load time for mobile users with a slower connection. If your connection is extremely weak, Facebook will bring up your previously loaded News Feed or cached stories. With a limited connection, Facebook will now focus on stories and posts you’re actively looking at, as opposed to simultaneously loading multiple stories all at once. Lastly, Facebook will avoid showing content that is too much for your connection to handle, which includes video playback among other types of interactive or media-heavy content. For now, this update only applies to those on mobile devices.
When Facebook updated its News Feed Preferences with See First, they claimed the update would have little impact on marketers, which may not be entirely true. If Pages can somehow be selected in a user’s See First preferences, then there’s enormous potential for increased sales, site traffic and activity, and brand awareness. However, for mid-level Pages who employ paid ad campaigns in the quest for more Likes, there may be some damage. The value of a Like for Pages may be diminishing, especially if those Pages are not frequently prioritized in users’ See First. Marketers will most likely need to revamp their strategies in order to make it into more users’ See First preferences.
Facebook is keenly aware that their News Feed algorithm isn’t perfect. In an attempt to give users more control over who appears atop their News Feeds, Facebook has updated its settings, allowing the user to select who they’d prefer to “See First.” This new setting, found under News Feed Preferences, is broken up into four sections: Prioritize Who to See First, Unfollow People to Hide Their Posts, Reconnect with People You Unfollowed, and Discover New Pages. These new sections allow the user to easily select who should and should not get priority in their News Feed.
Over the next few weeks, Facebook will roll out this new update that will account for videos being viewed with audio or in full-screen mode. After a recent survey, Facebook learned that many users will find a video of interest without liking, commenting, or sharing with their friends. Therefore, Facebook will monitor other forms of video engagement, such as turning on the audio or switching to full-screen. There is no indication that Pages will “see significant changes in distribution as a result of this update.” Also, this update does not mean that users will see more videos in their News Feed, only those who already engage more with video-related content.
Facebook is continually working to improve its News Feed, allowing the user more control over the types of posts that appear at the top. Until now, Facebook has only granted options for users to filter out posts they do not want to see. With the introduction of See First, users can now choose which accounts, whether friends or followed Pages, they wish to see first at the top of their News Feeds. Once on the account’s page, the user can select “See First” under the Following button. The account that you follow will not be notified if the user has selected them for See First. This update is yet another example of Facebook listening to its users and their desires to have more control over the types of posts they see.
Facebook announced that it will be attaching a Buy Button to merchants who utilize Shopify’s ecommerce platform. This means that users will be able to purchase an item directly from the Facebook News Feed without having to open a different app or webpage. Those who run their ecommerce through Shopify will have the option of sharing their merchandise organically through their Facebook Pages or through a paid ad campaign. The inclusion of a Buy Button should entice Shopify merchants with a quick and simple way for their customers to buy a product within Facebook. Users can pay using the same payment method already filed with Facebook or they can enter their payment information during checkout. The Buy Button now places Facebook in competition with Pinterest and Google who are already offering similar features for their pins and ads, respectively.
Historically, Facebook has formatted users’ News Feeds based on the likes, comments, and shares of others. However, Facebook recently learned through a study that many users would like to see current news stories that may not necessarily receive likes, comments, or shares from the users’ friends. Now, Facebook will also be monitoring how much time is spent viewing certain stories. Though time spent on a story can have various factors (internet speed, length of post, etc.), Facebook will gauge how much time you spend on story compared to other stories you view within your News Feed. If you spend more time on a particular story or post, then Facebook will likely show this story on your friends’ News Feeds.
Facebook has officially confirmed that the News Feed will now support GIFs. Originally, Facebook made a strong effort to avoid GIF support as they felt it would clutter the News Feed page. Now, users can paste a GIF link from external sites (Giphy, Imgur, Tumblr, and others) in their post, and Facebook will animate the GIF once the post has been published in the News Feed. GIFs will automatically play in the News Feed according to your current video playback settings. Though this announcement was made near the end of May, the update will not be immediately available to all users and Pages. Instead, the update is still slowly rolling out throughout June.
Beginning in May, iPhone users will see a new feature from Facebook: Instant Articles. Popular publishers like BuzzFeed, New York Times, National Geographic, and others will have their articles visible and mobile-friendly within the Facebook app. This means that users will no longer have to follow a link to these articles while waiting for the site to load. Instant Articles will be instantly accessed once the user clicks the post. The article will be completely coded and formatted for mobile devices. Publishers will also have the ability to create their own cover for their articles that will appear in News Feeds. Facebook will not favor Instant Article publishers over other posts and articles; however, these articles are more likely to get shares and interaction due to their easy access and mobile compatibility.
Facebook is now implementing a new function that allows users to quickly and easily share links in their posts and status updates, particularly on mobile devices. This new addition is currently only available for a small number of users, but it is expected to roll out for all users very soon. Instead of copying and pasting a link, users can now select the “Add Link” button and then search keywords to find the article or post they wish to share. Results are listed based on popularity of the article or post on Facebook, which incorporates data not used by Google in their search results. Facebook is now a major influence in referral traffic, so it only makes sense that the social media juggernaut would simplify its link sharing process.
In 2015, Facebook has made an effort to listen to its users who prefer seeing their friends’ posts over Pages or promotional posts. In January, Facebook began cracking down on Pages who publish “click-bait” posts or posts with the sole intent of selling a product. Now, Facebook is focusing on giving priority to the posts from the friends you care about the most. Simply put, users will now see more posts from close friends in their News Feed than posts made from the Pages they follow.
There are some who believe Facebook is making these changes to encourage businesses to use paid ads on Facebook as opposed to just the free Pages accounts. However, Facebook users have been vocal about their disdain for the priority given to posts from Pages. Facebook understands that if its users are dissatisfied, then it is unlikely there will be any users in the future. In order to retain users and continue to grow, this change was inevitable.
Facebook has now implemented a strong effort to reduce the number of hoax links that appear in your News Feed. This includes posts you make yourself or links you share that appear to be a scam. When you see a questionable post you now have the option to report that post or link as “a false news story.” Once a post has been reported by many users as being “false,” then its distribution will be significantly reduced. Facebook will not attempt to delete false posts or evaluate the veracity of their content; however, a frequently false-reported post will come with an annotation at the top indicating that many users have reported that the post is false.
This update should not affect most publishers on Facebook. If you tend to publish or share satirical articles, most users will not report such posts as “false news.” However, those accounts that frequently use hoax or scam posts to increase their traffic will see a strong decrease in their post distribution.
Facebook recently surveyed 500,000 users and discovered that the vast majority of those users wished to see more posts from friends and family as opposed to promotional posts, even if they originate from a Page the user likes. As of January, Facebook will begin cracking down on Pages who publish posts that push followers to either buy a product or download an app, enter a contest or sweepstakes with no context, or publish posts that use the same wording as published ads. Facebook said the following about the change, “While Pages that post a lot of the content we mention above will see a significant decrease in distribution, the majority of Pages will not be impacted by this change.”
Facebook remained fairly vague about which kind of Pages this will affect the most, but marketers would be wise to reevaluate their posting strategy so that they will not be punished by Facebook with a significant fall in organic distribution. The good news is that this change does not affect paid ads.
Facebook introduces a new search function specifically for finding the apps you want. In the mobile navigation menu there is now a “Find Apps” bookmark that presents a special feed of paid app advertisements. App stores, such as Apple and Google, have failed to provide a feed of apps that is catered to the interests of the user. Facebook’s new App Ad Feed displays ads that are targeted towards Facebook users based on their habits, likes, and activity. App discovery in most app stores is extremely flawed. With Facebook’s new App Ad Feed you can now search through apps that have been selected with you in mind.
Facebook implements a keyword search that allows users to search for previous posts using keywords and names of friends. Now users can access old archived posts that were previously shared with them through a simple search. The search results will only display posts and photos that have been shared with you, for example, on your News Feed. Likewise, only posts you’ve shared with friends will be displayed in their searches. You can select your audience with any post you make; if your post is set to be Public then anyone who searches for it can find it. If only your friends can see your posts then only your friends can find your posts with general searches. You can also be found if others have tagged you in their posts and photos. If you wish to remove yourself from another’s post you can edit the post and request to remove your tag or that the post be removed from Facebook altogether.
Facebook announces that view counts will now be posted with their videos. Facebook wants the world to know that YouTube is not the only dominant presence in online videos. The video views on Facebook have been growing over the years, now reaching 1 billion views per day. The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge trend has also contributed immensely to Facebook’s video views. Facebook hopes to show digital video advertisers that Facebook is a great place to run video ads. Videos on Facebook come from a variety of sources: users, pages, and public figures.
Facebook also announced that in addition to adding view counts to their videos, recommended videos will now appear once a user has finished watching a video. This will only help increase the amount of video views on Facebook further establishing the social media platform as one of the premiere destinations for online videos.
Once again, Facebook listened to complaints from users and created this update that made a substantial effort to eliminate “click-bait” posts as well as help users to see shared links in the best format. “Click baiting” involves posts that feature a headline made to get the user to click on the link. A common headline found on “click baiting” links may sound like “You won’t believe what happens next!” Users have quickly become annoyed by such obvious schemes to increase web traffic. Facebook now analyzes how much time a user spends on a link they click. If the user quickly returns to Facebook after clicking a link, this tells Facebook that the link was not what the user wanted, which is frequently the case with “click bait” links. The weeding of these links will also be aided by how much a link is liked and shared on Facebook. Liked and shared links are typically not “click bait” links.
Shared links will now be displayed in the traditional link format, instead of being buried in photo captions or status updates. This link format will also preview the beginning of the article that will better inform users if they want to click the link.
Instagram (owned by Facebook) had its first algorithm update this month. The “Explore” (or “Popular”) tab was tweaked to display photos and videos specifically tailored for each user. Previously the tab only showed the most popular posts across all Instagram users.
Facebook announced new changes to the News Feed ranking algorithm. One key change gave posts not seen by users a second chance at being viewed. Another important update gave more weight to each user’s most 50 interactions on the network in determining what they see in their feed.
Facebook changed the design of the News Feed to improve its visual appearance for the purpose of increasing user engagement.
Facebook responds to users’ outcries about the 2009 update and instead of separating the two types of News Feeds, both are consolidated into one News Feed. Facebook wanted its users to be able to see exactly what they logged on to see. Facebook themselves stated at the time: “When you visit Facebook, you should see the things you’re most interested in, like status updates from your family and closest friends.” They knew that people didn’t log in all the time, so they adjusted their News Feed accordingly. Using an updated News Feed algorithm, they aimed to show all people the most relevant posts at all times. Users, having somewhat acclimated to the last update, had some difficulty adjusting once again to the new update. The changes were pretty complicated for the average user and only computer-savvy users fully understood the changes. The News Ticker is also introduced on the right side-bar which was meant to display other friends’ activity on Facebook such as likes, comments, and so on.
This update marked the largest change to date. Facebook debuted a new type of default sorting order. Previously, it had been a reverse chronological listing of updates/photos. The new order was based on popularity. Popularity was quantified by engagement on each post. The more engaging the post, the higher it appeared in the News Feed. This update did create some backlash from users who preferred the original chronological default and for those not wanting their relationship status updates to be cycled through multiple News Feeds based on the growing popularity of the post.
Facebook introduced filters into their platform. This allowed people to have more control over what they saw. The filters were new and slightly complicated which led to many users neglecting to use them, although gradual adoption of use of the filters took place over the next several months. . This update also included the ability to make fine tunes to your status updates and include multimedia with your posts. You could also makes specific lists of friends that would allow you to only see updates from certain friends.
The Like Button feature is added. This is the first time that Facebook started experimenting with an algorithm. With the introduction of the “Like” button, users have a simplified way of interacting with others’ posts. Prior to the addition of the “Like” button, users had to comment on a status or post to interact with the other user. Also, with the inclusion of the X out feature, Facebook could evolve according to what you “like” and what you X out. This algorithm made it so your News Feed would eventually highlight posts that Facebook thinks would interest the individual user.
Facebook officially launches News Feed, and with it, status updates. Prior to the News Feed, logging in to Facebook would solely access your profile page which you could update and personalize, but in order to see others’ pages, you had to manually search for those profiles. With the introduction of the News Feed, the homepage was redesigned to show you others’ status updates and uploaded photos. The profile page would also show a mini-feed of updates and became known as “the wall.”
Facebook launches as a directory of individual profile pages that users could update. No News Feed yet.
How Facebook Algorithm Changes Affect Marketers
Along with Facebook’s ever-evolving algorithm changes, the digital marketing opportunities have increased as well. As the News Feed was introduced and updated, advertising increasingly found its way into users’ News Feeds. Now, whenever a user brings up their News Feed, Facebook’s algorithm determines which advertisements are best catered to the user based on their likes, listed interests, and interaction with other pages. This means that in order to fully take advantage of advertising through Facebook, marketers must create their ads with a focused and targeted audience campaign. Marketers will also determine the amount they are willing to spend on their ads which will directly affect the probability that their ad will reach the intended audiences.
Users are now able to dictate which ads they want to see on their News Feed. If a user hides an ad from their feed, they are essentially telling Facebook that that ad does not apply to them. Facebook is more engaged to considering user feedback concerning ads which will ultimately lead to more ads users want to see and less ads that are not applicable. What this means for marketers is that their ads will more likely reach the audience that wants to see those types of ads, which should inevitably lead to more interaction and conversion rates.
What Marketers Need To Know About Advertising Through Facebook In 2014
Advertising through Facebook will continue to evolve just as it always has in the past. What marketers need to know going forward in 2014 is that engaged conversations will get their posts and advertisements shown more regularly in others’ News Feeds. This increases the need for quality content that will make users want to engage in the conversation. Your post has the ability to recycle through News Feeds as users comment and interact causing more and more users and friends of friends to see the post.
Mobile devices are now becoming more popular than ever, especially when it comes to interacting on Facebook. Marketers not only need to worry about producing quality content, but they must make sure that anything they post (including links to articles) must be optimized for mobile devices.
One of the most important things marketers must do is stay up-to-date with every algorithm change. What worked in the past does not necessarily work now, and what works now may not work in the future. Stay current on how social media evolves and be prepared to evolve with it.