Facebook Instant Articles, for Dummies

More people read news on mobile devices than ever before. More people read news on Facebook than ever before. Now Facebook has taken a big step towards solving some of the biggest challenges in publishing.

What’s wrong with publishing?

People have far less patience on mobile than they do on web. Not to mention, articles take far longer to load on mobile than on web. This is a recipe for disaster. People leave before the page loads, pages get less views, less advertising revenue, and the publishing business suffers.

With the release of iOS9, iPhones can now install “content blockers” (a.k.a. Ad Blockers). Ad Blockers are tools that (you guessed it) block ads. Most articles are available for free, but they’re not free to produce. Ad revenue sustains the publishing business. Ad Blockers kill the publishing business. Ad Blockers on web was troublesome enough, but now with Ad Blockers on mobile, the looming threat grows.

What’s Facebook’s solution?

They call it Instant Articles. Instead of loading articles through an in-app mobile browser, Facebook loads the articles in the app itself. Instead of fetching the article through a browser, Facebook caches the content and loads articles directly in-app. It all happens inside the app without any browsers. This means significantly faster load times; some may even say “instant”.

Faster load times lead to lower bounce rates, more engagements, and of course, more ad revenue. What about Ad Blockers? Well this solves that too. Mobile content blockers only work with mobile browsers. Since Facebook Instant Articles load inside the app without a browser, you can’t block ads.

Should I start publishing Instant Articles?

First things first, you keep 100% of your own ad revenue. Facebook displays your ads, and you keep the money. Of course, Facebook encourages you to use their ad network to fill any unsold inventory, but it’s not mandatory.

You’ll also have to be comfortable with giving up a bit of control. Instant Articles offer limited customization options. This means no nav bars and no pop ups. Be prepared to give up everything but the content. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since most of that other stuff is what makes mobile web annoying.

What if I choose not to join?

Your articles will continue to load in a mobile browser, your ads would continue to be blocked by mobile content blockers, and your load time will probably be significantly slower than Instant Articles.

The larger implication is that your articles may lose visibility. Facebook News Feed has a ranking algorithm (kind of like Facebook SEO) that determines the visibility of your content. If your articles load slower than others and get less engagements, then they’re less likely to appear.

How can I publish Instant Articles?

Facebook is currently cherry picking publishers to work with. You can express your interests in becoming an Instant Articles publisher by filling out this form, but that’s about it.

The program is expected to eventually go public, but you don’t have to wait until then to take action. Facebook has already released documentations around how you can optimize your content for Instant Articles.

Go get a head start! Optimize your content for Instant Articles now so that when the program goes public, you’ll be ahead of the game.

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