Recently, Kurt Gessler at the Chicago Tribune posted a widely read blog piece about how a third of their pieces weren’t being surfaced to readers on Facebook and how he has seen the average organic reach of their articles fall dramatically. It occurred to me that, because we work closely with George Takei, and have advised for years on one of the biggest distribution points for online articles, we’ve amassed great deal of information about overall publisher reach on Facebook. A bit of insight from us, it seemed, might help publishers see things in greater context.
The George Takei Facebook page uses our content recommendation platform, Contempo, to select from a variety of publishers. That puts us in a unique position to see how things like Facebook organic reach have fared generally over time. It has not been without its challenges. Here’s what we know and can share:
- From mid to the end of 2015, average reach per post drifted downward fairly slowly, falling in total only about 11 percent over that half-year. We were actually able to help George increase his overall engagement and article reads by users by increasing the number of posts we made every day by a small amount.
- In 2016, however, we saw some big changes. Reach per post fell a whopping 38 percent with big dips at both the beginning of the year and midway through. George’s page increased its volume of daily posts in response, but by summer we observed a plateau where additional posts held diminishing returns. We advised that the page hold its publication rate steady and focus, instead, on improving the quality of each post to keep engagement and number of reads high, while aligning the content with Facebook’s stated policies.
- Since the beginning of 2017, we have seen a further drop of roughly 20 percent in post reach:
Despite these challenges, George has been successful over the nine tumultuous months since August, 2016, at holding the overall number of article reads steady. His page increased its number of daily posts by approximately 10 percent to offset the dip in organic reach, but much of the stability arose from the better matching of content to his audience.
Specifically, in March, we advised that he focus less on “evergreen” stories, and to use Contempo to select more timely, authentically engaging content, which Facebook indicated earlier this year that it would favor in newsfeeds. That adjustment has resulted in millions of more article reads per month as compared to the January — February period of newsfeed algorithm changes.
We’ve also noticed that, for some publishers, the number of reads per post remained relatively stable despite the falling reach. We believe this is because Facebook has improved its ability to target the audiences to which it serves different content. For example, one publisher that used to receive far wider organic reach (1.7M / post, November 2016) now receives noticeably less reach on average (1.1M /post, April 2017). Interestingly, the number of reads per post has remained relatively stable because the audience is now better targeted for that particular kind of content.
Additionally, publishers delivering a consistently excellent reader experience (fewer pages per article, fewer intrusive ads, strong and engaging content) tend to see their post reach holding steady. For example, one of our most popular publishers has seen its reach per post from George’s page go largely unaffected, consistently clocking 2.2 to 2.4M per post over the past six months.
On the other hand, we have seen steep drop-offs in per post organic reach for certain publishers that have sought to offset these decreases with more aggressive approaches, e.g.: more articles published daily, more pages per article, pop-up ads, list sign-up requests, etc. It is our belief, supported by observed and experienced facts, that Facebook continues to clip organic reach of publishers that are not prioritizing content quality and their on-site user experience. It would not surprise us to see many of the worst offenders simply disappear.
In sum, while the Facebook environment has become even more challenging for those who fail to heed Facebook’s warnings about disfavored practices, there are many publishers in our Contempo network that appear to be weathering the storm, even thriving. The answer, in our view, is to help publishers find the right audience for their content by connecting them to the people, influencers, and communities with audiences who need great, engaging content, all while creating an overall enjoyable reader experience.
We Work with George Takei on His Facebook. Here’s What We’re Seeing on Publisher Reach. was originally published in The Contempo Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.