Facebook announced a new feature—instant articles—months ago, but only now is it beginning to show its full capacity. Revealed to a handful of select publishers like Huffington Post and made available for a segment of mobile Facebook users, the new feature was a pretty big hit from all angles. Now, Facebook Instant Articles are available for all Facebook users on iPhones, and while most of the social media population is excited or at least interested to use the feature, this could be a source of significant disruption for anyone practicing content marketing or SEO.
The Motivation for Facebook Instant Articles
Facebook’s motivation for instant articles is clear, and they’ve even gone on record for explaining it directly. First, Facebook started noticing a while back that certain articles were getting far more shares, comments, and eventual visits from within the app than they were on their original external site. It therefore made sense for Facebook to offer publishers a way to bypass that gap entirely—capitalizing fully on the Facebook audience.
Second, Facebook wanted to offer users more content at greater speeds, hence the “instant” portion of instant articles. Rather than clicking a link, being taken out of the app and waiting for a page to load, users can “instantly” get the content they want in-app. This means users will probably start demanding more of their content to be provided instantly, and in ways that maximize in-app convenience.
Reduced Website Traffic?
Consider for a moment the idea that in-app content will become a new norm—before long, Facebook could offer instant article functionality to all of its active brands, and users could grow accustomed to this style of content consumption. Does that mean on-site content is going to decline in value?
This isn’t necessarily the case. Instant articles on Facebook can also exist on your website, though it’s not yet known whether such duplicate publication would cause duplicate content issues. It probably depends a lot on whether Facebook chooses to “noindex” instant articles or use some other technical tag to prevent search engines from indexing the content. Users that find your content on Facebook are going to find it no matter what; it’s just that with instant articles, they’ll be able to read it faster and easier, and share it easier. That means you might see less actual traffic to your site (since instead of clicking a link to read the article on your website, users will read it directly from Facebook) —but it’s up to you whether it’s worth the tradeoff for the potential to reach more readers and get more shares.
The Pay to Play Dilemma
Currently, instant articles are being offered for free, but Facebook is a company like any other—meaning it needs to remain profitable to survive. Obviously, better user experiences with faster, more integrated content means more users will spend more time within the app, but will that be enough for the platform to sustain the instant articles initiative? It’s possible that someday soon, publishers will have to pay for the opportunity to publish their content via instant articles—or at the very least, there will be a paid option with more bells and whistles. If and when that happens, it could create a serious rift in the potential organic reach of social content.
Survival of the Fittest
There’s also the problem that Facebook will have direct control over which publishers get the greatest amount of visibility. Obviously, more user engagement is a good thing for Facebook, so what happens if one major publisher start seeing far better results than another? Could the weaker publisher be booted from the platform entirely, leaving only the strongest competitors to push material to the masses? This would theoretically widen the gap between “good content” and “bad content,” which wouldn’t be a bad thing overall—but it could cause future problems for new players in terms of getting enough online visibility to grow.
New Forms of Content Consumption Coming
Chances are, instant articles aren’t going to be the only new form of content emerging to disrupt content marketing standards. In the coming years, expect more changes and more ways to get users to interact more frequently and more conveniently with content. Facebook itself is planning to integrate Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device, and Twitter is tweaking its “Moments” feature to aggregate user-created content related to various events. Content is becoming more complex and more multifaceted.
More In-Depth Analytics
Facebook’s instant articles program also allows publishers access to some pretty in-depth analytics on user engagement. It covers the basics, like how many people expanded the article, but also measures factors like total time spent reading, scroll speed, and other indicators of engagement. These metrics could be highly valuable for a publisher interested in getting the most out of its articles, in the same way that ad performance metrics on Facebook have informed paying brands in the past. It could be a new way to measure content performance, and eventually lead to more published content that people actually want to read.
What You Need to Do Now
In terms of your SEO strategy, instant articles aren’t going to change much. Unless you’re one of the select publishers with current access to instant articles, you don’t have to worry about it. Even if you used the platform, it would still be in your best interest to publish those articles on-site as well. Either way, instant articles primarily serve as a new channel for visibility and traffic; they’ll be important in preserving and building new customer relationships, but as of now, they bear little direct influence on search rankings.
This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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