A beginners guide to Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook has made Instant Articles available to publishers of all sizes. But what does that mean for smaller publishers?

In this post, we will guide you through the ins and outs of Facebook publishing and how to get started.

Unlike most of Facebook’s features, Instant Articles aren’t something that you can use straight away, they do require some preparation.

So let’s dive into it by first understanding what Facebook Instant Articles are, along with their pros and cons.

What are Facebook Instant Articles?

Instant Articles were built to solve the problem of slow loading times on the mobile web. It is essentially a mobile-optimized HTML5 document that is available to everyone using Facebook’s mobile app (iOS or Android). To see what it looks like on a smartphone, check out the video below.

For publishers, this allows a better reader experience as they can now host their content on Facebook as opposed to sharing links pointing to their website.

Josh Roberts, Product Manager at Facebook explained more about Instant Articles in a post on the Facebook blog:

Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads, and their data.

However, for publishers, there are risks in creating content for off-site environments that can’t be controlled commercially or editorially. To alleviate this concern, Facebook has opened up commercial opportunities for publishers within Instant Articles to run branded content, rich media and their direct sold ads while keeping 100% of the revenue for example.

Yoav Arnstein, who leads Facebook’s publisher’s advertising solutions across Europe, recommends that –

“Publishers must think monetization from day one, because publishing in the overall experience is almost a no brainer — it’s a clean, fast user experience. But you know you will need to monetize it at some point, so you may as well do it by design as you approach it.”

Why does it matter?

Facebook’s reach on smartphones as of January 2016 was 78.4%. It is also the most used app along with the Messenger app.

statistica-min

What this means though is that even if you have an app with a great user experience, you still have the challenge of convincing users to download your app and change their content consuming behavior.

Since Facebook is the most used application, chances are that most of your mobile readers frequently use it. So leveraging their platform would mean that you don’t have to convince your audience to use another app.

Does this mean that you should use Facebook Instant Articles no matter what business you are in? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Facebook Instant Articles

Pros of using Instant Articles

  • Fast mobile performance (10x faster than mobile browsers)
  • 20% more Instant Articles read on average
  • 70% less likely to abandon the article
  • Offers rich media options coupled with storytelling capabilities (high-resolution photos, videos, interactive maps)
  • Branded design and customized visual display
  • No additional steps in the publishing workflow (you can automatically generate Instant Articles)
  • Users don’t have to change their sharing habits
  • Users are more likely to click and share Instant Articles with their friends
  • Offers an option for publishers to monetize Facebook mobile users

Drawbacks of using Instant Articles

  • Less of a connection to a publisher’s content and platform
  • Higher exposure to Facebook algorithm changes
  • The possibility of limited advertising revenue as Facebook instant articles limits the number of ads you can show on an article.
  • Custom fields, shortcodes, sidebars, email forms and useful widgets will not display.
  • Limited options to encourage people to subscribe, buy tickets or sign up for newsletters
  • Embedded interactive content such as quizzes may not display properly

The verdict – it depends on your business goals and objectives. For a news or media site, it makes sense to add it, however for a business site, it may not make a big difference.

How Instant Articles work?

Instant Articles automatically syndicate content published on your own content management system without the need for republishing on Facebook. Each piece of content is associated with the version you post on your site. Facebook does have a review process to ensure that all Instant Articles generated from your website are formatted according to community standards.

From a user experience point of view, mobile users can share Facebook Instant Articles. However, the experience for people who click on the shared link will vary. They could be sent to the Instant Article or the website, depending on whether they’re using a mobile device or desktop browser.

It is important to note that mobile readers who view your Facebook Instant Articles will not visit your website, and therefore won’t show as referral traffic from Facebook. However, you can use analytics tools like Google Analytics to track traffic to your Facebook Instant Articles to gauge traffic and overall visitor counts.

What you need to set up?

A few prerequisites for Facebook Instant Articles are as follow:

  • A Facebook page
  • The Facebook Pages app. This allows you to preview your Instant Articles on your mobile device.
  • Your RSS feed needs to display your entire article content to automate publishing of your content to Facebook Instant Articles
  • A minimum of 10 articles is required to submit to Facebook for approval to the Facebook Instant Articles program.
  • Facebook Business Manager for support to Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook Instant Articles publishers show some but not all articles on Instant Articles. So it is best to browse some of the existing publishers to determine if this is a good fit for your content. A 6000-word blog post for example with complex diagrams, charts, etc. is probably best suited for desktop viewing as opposed to viewing on Instant Articles.

How to set up Instant Articles on self-hosted WordPress sites

There is an official plugin from Facebook that is available for self-hosted WordPress sites, making setup a breeze. It creates a dedicated feed for Instant Articles to help ensure that the article meets formatting requirements.

Step 1. Signup

First, off sign up to join the program over at instantarticles.fb.com

Step 2. Choose your Facebook page and click “Enable Instant Articles”

select page

You can come back to the page at any time by going to “Page Settings” > “Instant Articles”

Step 3. Claim your URL
Under your Instant Articles “Initial Setup” options you will find “Connect Your Site”. This is where you will need to claim your URL.

claim your url

Step 4. Install the Facebook Instant Articles WordPress plugin.

Facebook instant articles for WP

On activating the plugin, a new feed will be generated which you can check by adding /feed/instant-articles after your domain name.

Step 5. Add your feed to your Facebook page
You can find the feed by adding /feed/instant-articles after your site’s URL, like this:

http://www.domainname.com/feed/instant-articles

Go to your Facebook page’s publishing tool section. Scroll down to the Tools section, and click on ‘Production RSS Feed’ to expand it.

production rss

Paste your Instant Articles feed URL and click on the save button. You will get a confirmation message that your feed is added.

Step 6. Configure the plugin
To start using the plugin, you’ll need to enter the Facebook App ID and App Secret. If you haven’t already, you will need to create a Facebook app.

  • To create the app go to this page and click on “Add a New App”
  • Select “website” as the option
  • Enter your email address
  • Click on “Create App ID”
  • Enter your website URL without http://
  • Click “Next” and “Skip quick start guide”.
  • You will see your App ID & App Secret.

create Facebook app

Step 7. Edit styling
You will need to add your website logo as part of the styling. the image you use should be 690 px by 132 px.

styling

Step 8. Submit for review
To submit a review request, you need to submit 10 posts for review. If you already have more than 10 posts, you can do this:

  • Log into the back-end of your WordPress site.
  • Open the last 10 posts that have been published in edit mode.
  • Click “Update” for each post. This will send those articles to your Facebook Instant Articles RSS feed.

It takes about 3-5 days for your submission to be approved. If there are errors in the posts, you can correct them by going into “Production Articles.”

Step 9. Set up analytics
To track article engagement, you will need to add analytics code. Facebook provides the data which can sync with tools like Google Analytics to track article traffic. You can add your code by going to Instant Articles in the main menu and scrolling down till you reach the Analytics section as in the image below.

add analytics

However, since the URL of an Instant Article is the same as the URL on your website, it is hard to tell views of an Instant Article part from views of the article your website. To solve this issue, add tags and keywords to the analytics code within your Instant Articles.

To get a quick visual overview of how to set up on a WordPress site, check out the video below.

How to set up Instant Articles on other publishing platforms

Check out this partner list and guides if you use some other publishing platform.

Add email forms to articles

Capturing email addresses is a key part of any content marketing strategy. However, there are no sidebars available in Instant Articles, so you will need to work the opt-ins into your content. That way you can protect yourself from any changes to the platform that may affect your visibility and reach.

To publish or not to?

After exploring Facebook Instant Articles for a few weeks, I can say it offers a great user experience. This is really important to your audience because if they know that your page will load quickly and that they can get right into the content, they are more likely to visit and hang around.

As far as using Facebook Instant Articles goes, there are a couple of considerations to weigh up. First, you can’t ignore Facebook with their growing user base of over 1.6 billion people. So it is important to be on top of things as they develop.

Second, there is no way to be certain what will happen with Instant Articles in the future. Could they change algorithms in a way that negatively affects publishers? The fact is anyone using their platform will be subject to their rules.

For now though, it is encouraging that you can choose to republish all your content as Instant Articles or a few to test the waters and decide as data comes in.

You can control which articles you publish to Facebook from your list of Production Articles. To view them, click “Publishing Tools” from the top of your Facebook Page and then select “Instant Articles” from the menu on the left of the screen.

facebook instant articles production articles-min

The great user experience and the option to “unpublish” your content makes it an attractive option to experiment with at the very least.

At WP Curve, we are excited to test out the platform and determine whether it increases the reach of our content and conversions. We’ll keep you posted.

Over to you

Page load speed is such a critical factor that savvy online brands ensure their pages load in under 1 second. After all, it impacts your audience visits, engagement, and conversions.

However, many businesses neglect the issue and continue on with slow loading pages and poor mobile experiences compared to desktop versions. It is not an easy fix though and can be a technically difficult and time-consuming process.

Facebook Instant Articles solves this issue by delivering content much faster than most websites can. Their additional mobile features also help make it a great option for publishers given the benefits of a great user experience and monetization options.

So while it isn’t for everyone, it does provide an easy, non-technical way to deliver better mobile experiences for your audience. That said, it also makes sense to improve the experience for non-Facebook users by ensuring your site load speed issues are also addressed. To help, we have created a guide to improving your WordPress page load times under 1 second. Download it below.

WordPress speed guide 2

About

Vinay is the content marketing manager for WP Curve. Follow him @wpcurve

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