11 Facebook page optimizations for small publishers

Make the most of your Facebook page by communicating your purpose and providing a path to reader engagement.

When was the last time you conducted a thorough review of your publication’s Facebook page setup? Do you click through all of Facebook’s page tips pop up? Have you tried the “View as Page Visitor” function to see how the public sees your company on the platform?

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t made changes to your Facebook page in a while — you’re in good company. Publishers, and even some of the largest brands in the world, can quickly lose track of the avalanche of changes pushed out by Facebook, which sometimes can mean missing out on opportunities to better convert passersby into dedicated audience members.

Working with local, regional, investigative and niche publications through the Center for Cooperative Media, which coordinates with groups including the Local Independent Online News Publishers and the Institute for Nonprofit News, I’ve surfaced 11 often overlooked or under-optimized features that can be important elements for developing audience on Facebook.

These opportunities are perhaps the lowest hanging of fruit on Facebook, but can deliver some of the best returns on the small amount of time invested.

Why should you optimize your Facebook page?

Viewing your page on mobile is critical to knowing what you’re communicating to first-time visitors, and which elements contribute most to a good first impression.
  • First impressions are critical to conversions: A good first impression doesn’t mean you’ll convert a passerby to a reader, but a bad one almost guarantees you won’t. Your Facebook page is the most visible organic opportunity to persuade new readers to take some further action, such as following you, subscribing to your newsletter or making a donation.
     
    Let’s take a second to walk through the Facebook page use case. The people looking at your page aren’t people who are already following you — it’s people who’ve found you through a friend’s share, a search, or one of Facebook’s “pages you might like” modules. They’re intrigued enough to tap through (tap, because most Facebook users are mobile), and by doing so are already a qualified lead for a follow — or better. 
     
    Once they’re on your Facebook page, it’s critical to make a positive first impression. Digital audiences form their first opinions about a brand’s website within 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds!), and there’s no reason to believe that statistic doesn’t hold true to your Facebook page. If you don’t make a good first impression, you may never get a second one.
  • A good profile can drive News Feed reach: Beyond clearly communicating your mission to users and prodding them to action (tips on both of these items below), the Facebook page also plays an important role in the algorithm. We won’t get into the weeds here, but “profile completeness” is one of the signals used to determine a page’s post reach. Revisiting your page and updating your information could yield better News Feed performance for each of your posts, ultimately drawing in more new readers.
  • Facebook is making big changes to page layout: Updating your page right now is more critical than ever. Even if you already do a page checkup once or twice a year, Facebook is in the middle of rolling out a slew of changes to the way your page is organized and displayed, prioritizing new features and hiding others. Most critically, a recent update to the mobile design is putting the spotlight on profile content that you, as a publisher, might not have emphasized — and they’re pushing posts, the clearest demonstration of your value to readers, nearly out of sight.

How to optimize your Facebook page

When I look at a news publisher’s Facebook page, there are three things I look for.

  1. Purpose: Does it clearly state its purpose as a news organization? Does it communicate mission, values and intended audience?
  2. Credibility: Does it look professional? Can I discern anything about the people or organization who run this page?
  3. Action: What’s the next thing I can do once I’ve made a judgement about the page?

There are several areas of your Facebook page where publishers can make headway on these three points.

1. The cover photo

On both desktop and mobile, this is going to be the very first thing a visitor sees, so make it count. At the very least use a high quality photo; a grainy camera phone shot from 2013 will quickly cast doubt on your professionalism.

Whatever the image is, it should reinforce your brand. If you’re in local news, a recognizable landmark will do, while a niche site should have something that similarly resonates with your topic.

Given the prominence of this spot, I recommend using it to explicitly convey a little more about what you do. Using free and easy tools like Canva or Pablo, you can layer some stylish text over the image. Those services will also handle the cropping as well, but if you prefer to go it alone, here’s a cheat sheet to all social media image sizes that’s frequently updated. As for what text you use, you can go with branding like your publication name and tagline; or straightforward language that reinforces your core product (“A lifestyle newsletter for Smallville, USA”).

Keep in mind that Facebook’s cover photo area offers several formats. Instead of just one photo, you can make a swipeable gallery; one publisher I work with has a slide that spotlights each of its coverage areas: local, flavor, adventure, discover. Another uses the cover area for a video sizzle reel.

The Facebook cover photo gallery gives you up to five images users can swipe through, and which together can tell the story of your brand.

You can also use it to reinforce your call to action, adding arrows to the “Sign up” button, as CT News Junkie does, or text listing your other social media handles (they won’t be directly linked, but you can link them in the cover photo description text that opens when a user clicks the image).

Whatever you choose, this spot needs to be polished and clearly represent your brand or they may not look any further.

2. The profile photo

Can you read the text in the profile photo above? You probably shouldn’t have more than three characters, and even that may be pushing it.

I’ll make this tip follow the same rules as a page’s profile photo: less is more.

If possible with your branding, use a bold colored background that stands out from Facebook’s blue and gray theme. Use just one or two letters or a symbol. Triple check that it’s clear on mobile. Ideally, it should stand out in the News Feed when scrolling (via thumb) very quickly.

3. The call-to-action button

This may be the most important part of your Facebook page. If everything else is doing its job of communicating your identity, it will steer users to take the action you set here.

The latest changes to Facebook page layouts emphasize interaction through these buttons. They appear prominently, especially on mobile, just under your brand’s name and in other highly visible spots like the Page Preview.

But which call-to-action to choose? For most publishers, I recommend “Sign up,” with the link leading directly to an e-mail newsletter signup form. This gets interested users immediately into a valuable interaction with you. A frequently used call-to-action by non-profit media is “Donate,” but it can be a big ask for first-time visitors, whereas obtaining an email is a lower bar that allows you to build a relationship over time.

Whatever action you choose, consider the user’s intent, the value of the action you’re asking them to take, and the likelihood they’re going to take that action given their intent. Feel free to try different approaches, and compare their effectiveness over time by looking at “Action Button Clicks” under “Actions on Page” in Page Insights.

4. The ‘about us’ section

A Facebook page’s “About” section offers several opportunities to communicate identity, establish credibility and push toward actions. Fill out as much as you can. A lot of the About section is prominently displayed on mobile, often (but not always) just under your Action button, and also on the page preview.

The about us section helps populate important areas of your page preview, including links that can steer valuable traffic to your page.

Contact information, location and team members all help establish credibility, so include as much as you’re comfortable including. Location is also important for local news publishers.

There are several places here you can place a link, including under contact info, which also has specific fields for links to most other social platforms.

URLs placed into the About description under More Info become active links, so this can also be a good place to call out your newsletter. If you keep the description short enough, it may also be placed in the Page Preview, making it particularly effective as a tool to turn Facebook visitors into website visitors.

The links. The beautiful links.

5. The page category

You can also manage how your page is categorized by Facebook in the About section, and this may be more important than you think.

You may choose up to three categories, which helps your page be found in search. But the category you list first is critical. That is the one users will see publicly in spaces all throughout Facebook.

There are several options that are applicable to news outlets — make sure you choose the one that best defines you for would-be visitors, because this will appear under your page name in most places throughout the Facebook ecosystem, including page recommendations, page previews, and your page itself. If your name is at all ambiguous to your purpose as a news operation, this is a strong signal to would-be readers.

6. The ‘Our Story’ section

Also in the About section, Our Story is a highly visible module that appears on the top right of the desktop view of your page. It was prominent on mobile until the layout update this month, but even though it’s now tucked into the About Us tab it’s still a great opportunity for users looking to learn more.

Describe your publication clearly in the first sentence, as that’s all you get before a “See more” tag that most users won’t click. You can also use a compelling photo, or an explainer video. For those that do click through, this module offers as much potential as many blogging systems — you can embed videos or other content, you can place links, you can get creative with formatting.

Here’s one way I’ve used it to drive signups for an unlaunched newsletter:

When users click “See More” they can click a link to the newsletter signup form, see archives, et cetera.

7. Pinned posts

Under the new mobile page layout, even your pinned posts get pushed way out of sight on the page. But if users get there, or if they’ve come by desktop, you should have a great example of your journalism so people can clearly see the kind of information they’ll get if they follow you. You can also put a message about the importance of your work, or a call to action.

8. Photo and video modules

These modules demand the eye’s attention — especially on mobile. Make sure they’re reflecting your work.

By default, Facebook orders the content in these modules by “Most popular,” which for a news operation can bring up all kinds of content that doesn’t necessarily reflect your work. But you can fix that for photos, and somewhat for videos.

You can get really creative with messaging here. The featured photos can become an effective billboard for your publication.

By using the dropdown module, you can choose to order these by most recent, most popular, or featured. If you choose “Featured,” reopen the dropdown menu and a new option “Choose featured photos” will be available. You may select up to five photos. Videos can only be sorted by most recent/popular.

9. Declutter and reorganize your page

Is there anything this sidebar can do without?

Sidebar tabs and modules in the main column may not be ordered in the way that best reflects your brand. On desktop, modules — the sections in the main column of your Page, like Photos, Videos, Posts — reflect the order they appear in the sidebar. You can change and remove items by visiting Page Settings and going to Edit Page.

Prior to the layout update this month, page admins could use this to control the order of modules on mobile as well. However, Facebook ordering now seems to be more arbitrary — but not completely fixed. Experiment and review your configurations on mobile to see if it’s as best as you can make it. Note that I’ve not yet seen a way to bring Posts back to the top on mobile.

Regardless, make sure you visit each of the sidebar tabs and ensure things work. Older pages may have once been connected to apps or forms that have since gone defunct. Clear those out, and keep users focused on what matters.

10. Reviews and recommendations

The latest update to Facebook prioritizes recommendations, and merges them with reviews. As a page module, recommendations look great if you can keep a four star rating or above. It’s prominent, and bestows immediately credibility.

But for news organizations it also invites trouble. Decide for yourself whether you want these to appear, but keep in mind that recommendations may have an impact on the reach of your posts. However, they also need to be carefully moderated.

11. Pay attention to Page Tips

Facebook is always surfacing tips to improve the presence of your brand. It’s easy to dismiss them without reading, but don’t. The tips often reveal new features, warn of upcoming changes, and can also imply ways to improve your reach. Read them whenever and wherever they may appear.

Bonus tip: View as Page Visitor

By default, you will not see your own page the way ordinary users will — and that can lead to some embarrassing oversights. Remember to check your page often from the perspective of a regular user. On desktop you can do this by clicking the “…” option beneath your cover photo and select “View as Page Visitor.”

On mobile, visit your Page and select the “…” next to the search bar. Then choose “Preview.”

Final thoughts

Under the pressure of creating quality content for deadline, engaging with users, and keeping tabs on the barrage of algorithmic changes, it can be hard to remember to take a step back and review your basics. But those who take the time to regularly review and make quick fixes to their page setup in response to updates and layout changes, those tweaks can end up driving more followers, subscribers, and conversions.

Most, if not all, of the recommendations above can be implemented in less time than it took to read this post. Take a moment to visit your page with fresh eyes on mobile, and then desktop, asking yourself as your eye lands on each element if it’s doing the most it can to communicate purpose, credibility and user action.

Then, head off to your calendar and set a recurring appointment to do it again every three months, because Facebook’s likely to roll out even more changes.


Ned Berke is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and does audience development for the Center for Cooperative Media. He can be reached at nedberke@gmail.com.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund and the Abrams Foundation. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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