The Death of the 3rd Party Link on the Facebook NewsFeed

Viral Traffic from Facebook DeclinesAnyone who has been in online publishing (I just had a stint at Playbuzz.com running their owned and operated sites) has experienced first hand the decline in traffic coming from Facebook. Digiday recently cited SimpleReach showing drops of 32 percent or more since the beginning of the year.

Let’s be clear, third-party links aren’t dead – they are just de-emphasized in the typical user’s feed depending on how frequently a user visits and interacts with friends and brands (publishers). A Facebook user’s feed is customized based on the recency and frequency of their interactions with friends and brands as well as time spent looking at the content those friends and brands produce.  But third-party content – stuff created by publishers and brands that users end up sharing – definitely has been de-emphasized over the last year.  In reaction to what Facebook saw as abuse of their algorithm and a lot of click-bait driven tactics by publishers, they changed the algorithm to favor friend posts over page posts. Including all the other changes in the last year, you can paraphrase Facebook’s newsfeed strategy as follows:

  • Higher emphasis on things posted directly by users (status updates, photos shared, check ins, events, Instagram images)
  • Higher emphasis on things posted directly ON to the network by publishers (video and instant articles)
  • De-emphasize the weight of things posted 2nd-hand (the traditional links to articles on publisher web sites)

Remind anyone of the FarmVille days?

Even though I knew all that conceptually, it wasn’t until I stepped away from my newsfeed for over 24 hours that I really began to understand it.

So here’s the experiment: I (some would say insanely) did not look at my Facebook feed for over 24 hours. I then went through the first 59 posts in my feed on my mobile device. Then I switched to my desktop and reviewed the first 60 posts. There were no duplicates – Facebook knew I had seen the 59 items on my phone and did not include them when I switched over to my desktop. So nearly 120 posts later, there were some really interesting insights:

  • The majority of my first 60 posts were friends status updates, photos, videos (I classify Facebook-owned Instagram reposts as not a 3rd-party link) — only 5 in my first 59 posts were 3rd party link/video posts.
  • In fact, the first 3rd party link I came across was the 35th post in the queue – relatively low down
  • I saw four of the in-line ad blocks before coming across a single third-party link
  • Ads show up neatly every 10 posts, so we can actually look at the percentage of 3rd party links based on the set of 10 posts – and that’s pretty illuminating:

EVCinNYC posts linking to third party content are relegated to the bottom of the Facebook Newsfeed Queue

  • Clearly third-party links only begin to show up as the number of user-created posts begins to thin out. Publishers that are relying on Facebook automatically get pushed to the back of the line and then they fight amongst themselves based on the popularity of their links

As a publisher, it’s clear that the days of viral within the feed have changed dramatically as 3rd party links are de-emphasized over user-created content. You can see that ads are the only way to break through all the user-created posts at the top of the queue – a boon for Facebook, but a real jolt to publishers who don’t have a ton of direct traffic and are looking to build their audience.

For the geeks – the raw data

Listed below on each line is the type of post I saw in my feed from the top to the bottom.  Items in bold are items that I deemed as items shared as third-party link, video or photo.

ON THE MOBILE DEVICE
status
ad
status
status
photo
status
friend posted video to a group I’m in
status
status
Instagram post
ad
status
status/photo
status
photo
photos
status/photo
checkin
status
status
ad
friend posted photo
friend posted photo
status/photo
check in
“listening to” a song post
status
status/photo
friend tagged in a photo
photo
ad
photo
status
friend tagged in a photo
gothamist article shared
Cards Against Humanity link shared
friend posted photos to a group I’m in
status/photo
status
friend shared memory
ad
status/photo
image shared by xkcd.com
image
photos
photo
status
status
shared image from a FB page
ad
soundcloud link shared
friend tagged in photo
photo
photo
2 friends share a post from emilycheath.com on starbucks red cups
photo
friend tagged in photos
friend updated cover photo
ad

THEN TO THE DESKTOP

starbucks groupon shared
ad
wtvr.com article share
nerdist.com article share
huffpo.com article share
brooklynvegan.com article link
notrightinthehead.com – image share
friend changed profile picture
businessinsider.com article share
ad
friend tagged in photo
photos
friend interested in an event
instagram share
housebeautiful.com article share
status/youtube video share
oculus.com link share
shared mashable.com link with status
ad
friend changed profile picture
someone commenting on my post
memory
dailymail.co.uk article share
video posted in group I’m in
friend posted Nova 106.9’s video
friend going to an event
video shared by two friends
theatlantic.com article shared
share of someone’s twitter handle
ad
Missy Mwac video shared
Michael Franti & Spearhead video shared
link shared
link shared
Isha Foundation photo shared
Reddit.com article shared
Collegehumor.com video shared
ad
Paolo Tuci video shared
newyorker.com article shared
event shared
video shared
video shared
npr.org article shared
image shared
awesomethings video shared
daily graphic video shared
ad
photo
xkcd.com article shared
montagne-en-scene.com article shared
video shared
friend’s birthday
updated cover photo
mlb.com article shared
video shared (3rd party)
photo
photo
ad
youtube shared

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