Facebook Instant Articles: What They Are and How to Utilise Them Effectively

You might be tempted to believe that Facebook Instant Articles won’t have much of an effect on SEO since the core aim is to provide a better mobile experience. There are, however, ways that Instant Articles benefit SEO, as we’ll go on to see.

At present, Instant Articles are being used by a select few high profile publishers to test the market before mainstream release in April 2016 to coincide with Facebook’s annual F8 conference. Before opting to use Instant Articles, it’s a good idea to look at the setup that’s required and learn more about how SEO might be affected.

So, let’s have a look at Facebook Instant Articles, including their setup, to see how publishers need to adapt to use them effectively. We’ll also examine the potential impact on a website’s SEO.

How users benefit from Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook Instant Articles are a little like AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) from Google since you provide a link to your website containing the original article. People using Facebook’s mobile app follow a link to the Instant Article, which is delivered in mobile-friendly content. Users on static devices such as laptops are taken to the publisher’s website to read the original text. So, the link in Facebook’s app connects to content on a mobile-friendly site. So, even if your website is fully optimised for mobiles, Instant Articles will always be given priority for mobile users!

Other important facts about Instant Articles include:

  • Users on static devices will be directed to the publisher’s website when they follow the same link as mobile users;
  • If the Instant Article is shared via the Facebook app, this refers to the original content on the publisher’s website. Users on the mobile app will, however, be directed to the Instant Article version, whereas desktop users will go to the publisher’s website to read the article.

What publishers should know about Facebook Instant Articles

The following features are important to note:

  • Instant Articles allow you to sell your ad space to Facebook advertisers as well as private/external advertisers;
  • Publishing through Instant Articles won’t get you preferential treatment when it comes to appearing in users’ news feeds;
  • You’ll have access to analytics insights to learn about your audience engagement. According to Facebook, this data can be integrated into other analytics tools but Google Analytics isn’t included as yet;
  • According to Facebook, a WordPress plugin is coming soon, so you’ll be able to use WordPress content in Instant Articles;
  • You don’t need to create a different article for Instant Articles as Facebook accesses the HTML markup and RSS feed to convert content into the correct format;
  • More information about Instant Articles is available by signing up for a developer’s guide, which also gives you a link to join a private Facebook group for publishers.

Facebook Instant Articles will be readily accessible as soon as the programme’s fully released in April. One of the main steps you’ll have to take is to update your website’s coding in line with the HTML markup needed. Alternatively, you can update or create an RSS feed to comply with Facebook’s guidelines and full information can be found in the developer’s guide.

Once your HTML coding and RSS feed have been updated, Facebook will allow you to publish 50 articles, which will then be checked to ensure they’re in the correct format and comply with the guidelines. In the event of non-approval, you’ll have to make the required changes and produce 20 further articles to be checked. This means that publishers who produce large quantities of articles will fare better than smaller businesses who only occasionally publish content.

How will Facebook Instant Articles Impact on SEO?

Optimising your content for Instant Articles should have a positive impact on SEO for the following reasons:

1. Increase output

You’ll need to produce a high volume of content because Facebook must approve a minimum of 50 articles. If you integrate keywords into your articles (e.g. in article titles, captions and subtitles) this will help to make specific keywords visible in organic search which will in turn have a positive impact on SEO.

2. Improve the formatting of content

You’ll have to pay attention to certain formatting requirements to be accepted into Instant Articles including:

  • Using H1 and H2 headers;
  • Author attribution (i.e. giving credit to various authors and providing the right markup to reflect this);
  • Using image and video captions;
  • Providing links (e.g. to related articles, which will help search engines to index more pages on a site). Links used along with the right anchor text such as titles with keywords are a powerful factor in SEO ranking.

3. Encouragement to use various forms of media

Instant Articles encourage you to create content that provides rich experiences. From videos to images, maps, audio annotations, animated GIFs, slideshows and interactive images, Facebook will be supporting a wide range of media to encourage their audiences to engage with a publisher’s content. This should act as your incentive to produce rich and diverse content for your audiences. Also, you’ll be able to expand your social reach and distribute various media to networks such as YouTube, Vimeo, Imgur, Flickr, SlideShare, Soundcloud and iTunes, in most cases linking back to the original article. This will benefit your SEO enormously!

4. Clean up coding

To ensure Instant Articles will work, you’ll have to make sure your code is compliant by improving your website’s template or RSS feed. Although technical competence doesn’t lead to better SEO, search engines use clean coding to work more effectively, which means a website will be easier to index. It’s easy to see the importance of HTML code since Google have already produced a free improvement tool in their Search Console.

5. Work to make content more mobile-friendly

The advent of Facebook Instant Articles, along with Google AMP, will impact on all sites and webmasters will be encouraged to make their content more mobile friendly and improve performance. The reasoning behind this is that as people begin to adjust to the mobile-friendly, high-performance Facebook Instant Articles, they’ll have similar expectations for other sites they visit. Sites contained in links from Facebook Instant Articles will come under even more scrutiny as they’ll open within the Facebook app. If they don’t perform well and aren’t mobile-friendly, the audience is likely to ditch them pretty fast.

Since Google prioritises a great user experience, mobile-friendly high-performing websites will fare better in search rankings on mobiles as well as other devices.

Google prioritises responsive designs in its search results so webmasters should bear this in mind when developing mobile-friendly sites. The Search Console contains a useful free mobile tools called PageSpeed to check a website for problems that might affect mobile search rankings.

Get Cracking!

April will soon be upon us, so you should start work on Facebook Instant Articles now. This will benefit your SEO, improve your Facebook audience engagement, and provide revenue opportunities through advertising too.

If you’re contemplating Facebook Instant Articles and want to optimise your website to receive the potential SEO benefits, you can sign up to find out more. This will give you a link to the developer’s guide and to the Facebook publishers group. To stand the best chance of being accepted into the group, update your profile to show the most prolific websites you write for.

You can also:

  • Modify your website’s HTML code together with your RSS feed;
  • Check out Instant Articles by high profile publishers (e.g. The New York Times, NBC News, Buzzfeed) on your mobile device’s Facebook App, make sure the links on these pages are to Instant Articles and not for the publisher’s website;
  • Work on more content based on the fact you initially need 50 posts to be checked and approved;
  • Try out different media, e.g. video, to promote audience engagement;
  • Facebook Business Manager is a great way to get more support for Instant Articles. If you try it and don’t like it, you can remove it from your Facebook page but, be warned, once you’ve added Facebook Ad Accounts to the Business Manager, it can’t be removed.

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