Facebook adds new features for Instant Articles

Facebook has announced some new additions for its Instant Articles offering, as it aims to renew publisher interest in its native content tool. 

Facebook first launched Instant Articles back in 2015, with the feature utilizing the platform's various tools to enable faster load times, improved presentation options (through video and image tools) - and as a result, according to Facebook, significantly better content performance.

These latest tools look to add to this capacity - first off, Facebook's looking to provide publishers with improved promotion potential for their content through IA with new "recirculation and navigation" features within each post.

The main addition here is a new set of navigation buttons in the article footer, which will enable improved sharing, and importantly, links to more content from the same publisher.

The first three buttons will make it easier to save and share IA content via message, group or personal update, adding to the distribution potential of IA posts.

Tapping on the 'More from...' button, meanwhile, will take readers to a list of articles from the same publisher, boosting branding and promotion options.

These additions are important, because one of the key criticisms of the Instant Articles offering thus far has been that it purely benefits Facebook. With IA content being hosted on Facebook, as opposed to referring readers back to the publishers' own website, it limits advertising and data tracking potential for participating publishers. And while it may well provide a better reading experience on mobile, most publishers have been hesitant to hand over so much control to Facebook in this respect - in fact, over 50% of Facebook's IA launch partners had abandoned the option completely by 2018.

Facebook has been working to appease publisher concerns. in June 2018, Facebook added new subscription tools, to help publishers drive more direct traffic and audience from their IA posts, while it's also added in streamlined options to simplify the IA creation process. For the most part, these enhancements don't appear to have increased publisher enthusiasm for the option, but with Facebook moving ahead with plans for its dedicated News tab, IA could become a more important element, hence this new push to address these specific aspects.

Facebook's also adding an improved system for CTA and ad placements in Instant Articles:

"We know that CTA units in Instant Articles can drive Publisher business goals around page likes, App downloads, and newsletter signups, but previously, ads or CTA placements were served blindly. Thus, we introduced an integrated CTA and ad yield model that estimates the value of a given CTA impression based on regional averages of what Publishers pay to achieve those CTA’s objectives." 

This has been another area of concern - Facebook limits the placement of publisher ads in Instant Articles (publishers can post one ad for every 350 words, and ads cannot exceed 15% of content), so providing more effective ads could help improve the option in this respect. 

And Facebook's also adding support for IA links in Facebook Stories, "including those created by Pages on Facebook and those cross-posted from Instagram".

"Now, a user can read an IA directly from Stories. People will get the same IA experience across Facebook while Publishers get a new, rapidly growing source of distribution."

These are some interesting improvements, but it'll likely take a bit more to get publishers looking at Instant Articles as a viable option once again. Definitely, Instant Articles do provide an enhanced reader experience, and the various updates Facebook has implemented over the last few years have sought to address the key elements of concern. But the fact remains that, thus far, publishers have had trouble generating revenue, driving traffic and boosting their KPIs via IA content.


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