Earlier this week Facebook opened Instant Articles up to all publishers, allowing mobile users to view articles within the Facebook app. Wondering if it’s for you? Here’s a short Q&A.

What is it?

Instant Articles allow publishers to host their content within Facebook’s app for users on mobile. A little like Google’s AMP initiative, the main aim is to speed up loading times for mobile users.

How will it help?

Facebook say the result should be a 20% increase in opens, a 10x faster load time and a 70% decrease in abandonment. The Wall Street Journal have reported a 30% increase in shares, too.

A 20% increase in opens?

According to Facebook, yes. And Facebook claim they haven’t (yet) boosted the visibility of Instant Articles. Facebook uses the number of shares and how long people look at an article to decide how much visibility to give a story, so all three metrics working together to increase open rate.

Who is it open to?

Any publisher with a Facebook Page.

Can we run ads across Instant Articles?

You can. Publishers keep 100% of the revenue generated by ads they sell themselves, which can be served through most ad servers, including Google DFP. You can also incorporate Facebook ads, with profits from this split between Facebook and the publisher.

What’s the downside?

By handing our content over to Facebook user reliance on the platform is increasing. Our reliance has led to a shift in the way Facebook monetises the network.

When the platform first launched, Facebook banned native advertising and their guidelines only allow for one ad per 350 words. But native advertising is now allowed, and honestly, their ad policy helps the end user. It is however a reminder that Facebook will be in complete control of your content, so if you come to rely on it for traffic, then expect the model to change relatively regularly.

Publishers have to fit content into a template that leaves very little room for branding and feels ‘very Facebook’. There’s a real risk of losing a certain amount of connection with readers – you get a logo bar that appears near the top of the page, some typeface and colourway choices, but that’s about it (you can see our design for Mixmag at the bottom of the page, showing customisable areas). From a commercial point of view there’s also a real worry that publishers are giving away the very identity that often drives advertisers to work directly with their teams, too.

And from a technical point of view, full mobile navigation isn’t allowed, infinite scroll isn’t possible and the ‘related articles’ area is limited, so opportunities to draw users into further clicks are limited.

Any advice?

Despite the downsides we feel Instant Articles should certainly be tested by publishers – but it’s the testing that’s important.

Keep a very close eye on Google Analytics. Segment by Mobile, then look at how Instant Articles perform over time, taking particular note of Pages Per Session and Bounce Rate.

It’s possible to set your feed up to allow editorial to decide whether or not a post should appear on Instant Articles, and while this doesn’t allow A/B testing in a traditional sense, this level of control will help you direct certain articles through to your site. You may find certain types of article perform much better when removed from Instant Article templates, so it’s well worth experimenting with this.

The lack of navigation or space for related article plugs means it’s more important than ever to weave related stories into articles. Assure your linking practice is on top of its game, and continually experiment with different internal to external link ratios, as there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for all publications on that. As your content starts to be distributed across platforms like this it’s a good idea to revisit article structure with editorial and design teams.

How do we get started?

Facebook’s microsite is a good place to start with Instant Articles. Your options from here depend on your CMS and your budget. Take a look at Facebook’s dev portal for a rundown of options or, of course, feel free to get in touch with us for a chat.

Facebook instant article