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Instant Articles a new Challenge and Opportunity for Publishers

“It doesn’t matter how good your content is if the page won’t load.”

Those words, printed on the bright green T-shirt of a man crammed against me during a recent transit commute in Toronto, caught my eye. And they got me thinking.

As content creators, we spend a lot of time planning what we’re going to produce, how it’s going to look, and how we’ll measure success. But we should spend more time figuring out how to get people to read it or to watch it, and how to get them to stick around to the end.

We often post our content on a proprietary web property and rely on newsletters, ads and social media posts (organic and paid) to drive traffic to our sites. While these strategies are, and will continue to be, reliable methods, the recent introduction of Facebook’s Instant Articles has changed the game, especially for the growing mobile market.

Rather than relying on a push-based infrastructure, where brands share links to their own properties for users to consume content, Facebook is moving us increasingly toward a model where users browse, consume and engage with content on a single platform. From a user experience perspective it makes sense: it means less clicking, lower wait times, and optimized viewing that matches the platform they are already on.

This all-in-one experience started early with the little-used Facebook Notes, but ramped up big time when the company decided to take on YouTube as the Internet’s primary source of video content. Now Instant Articles is reworking the way mobile users access and consume publisher content.

So far, the data shows it’s working. According to Facebook, view rates (click through rates) are on average 20-per-cent higher for Instant Articles than mobile web articles. Plus, once people click, they’re more than 70-per-cent less likely to abandon the article. Finally, a two-month experiment by French publisher Libération showed the time users spent reading articles rose by 33 per cent to four minutes and 40 seconds. This is welcome news as time spent becomes as, if not more important as clicks for reporting purposes.

All of this sounds great, so why aren’t more publishers using Instant Articles?

There are some technical requirements – it can take serious coding chops to set up your site to work with the platform – but mainly the fear is loss of engagement and page views (and potential ad revenue) as a result of not directing traffic to a publisher’s website.

This fear isn’t ungrounded. According to eMarketer estimates, Facebook will collect around 33 per cent of all mobile display ad spending in the United States this year. But there are tools for publishers to make the best of the ever-changing Facebook environment, including RSS feeds, an API, and select partners.

Additionally, In April Facebook announced changes to it’s branded content policy, which means that brands with verified Facebook pages will soon be able to leverage Instant Articles to promote sponsored content. This new change will standardize the labeling and transparency using a branded content tag, and allow for new revenue streams for publishers.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Instant Articles haven’t been created in a vacuum. Facebook is facing a 21-per-cent decline in ‘original’ sharing on the platform as people share fewer personal updates and more news, trends and other interesting content produced by others.

Ignoring for the moment the significance for Facebook’s shareholders, and the future of social media, what it means right now is that as a publisher, there is no better place to get your content seen than on Facebook.

Properly implemented, Instant Articles can help drive additional and longer views of content – and isn’t that our main goal as content creators?


Michael Rajzman is a digital strategist for Globe Edge, The Globe and Mail’s content studio. He can be reached @mrajzman

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