Facebook Instant Articles is an attempt to both enhance mobile mixed-media article consumption and redefine social media as content-centric platforms.
With Instant Articles, your posts would directly load on the platform, without directing the reader to the host site as the case is now. For instance, if you publish a post on your Facebook page, and someone clicks on it they are taken to your website or wherever the article was originally posted.
But, with Instant Articles, your post opens up directly on the mobile app.
The biggest advantage to using Instant Articles is the superior user experience.
The posts don’t just load lightning speed fast but Instant Articles also intensifies the feel and functionality of a post with high-res tilt-to-pan images, autoplay videos, and embedded audio captions. The tons of creative tool options make it easy to tell your story in a visually appealing manner.
Experts speculate that both publishers and marketers would benefit from the surge in article consumption ascribed to improved speed (with articles being displayed with zero wait time and up to ten times faster than any standard mobile website viewing) and hassle-free, quick reading that Instant Articles promises.
How does it work?
Working with Instant Articles isn’t very convoluted. There is some technical backdrop to it, but creating and sharing these is pretty easy.
Every Instant Articles is by default associated with a URL of the page where the original piece is published. You have to create an RSS feed to automate the creation and distribution of Instant Articles, more on that later.
Sharing is seamless too, when the link in your News Feed is clicked upon, Facebook checks to see if there is an Instant Articles version of it available.
If yes, the post opens up right in the app as an Instant Articles, if not the reader is directed to the linked web page.
The reading and sharing side of Instant Articles isn’t affected by the technical mumbo-jumbo or the CMS requirements. You maintain your publishing workflow while giving readers a quicker and more engaging alternative.
What Instant Articles Means for WordPress Blogs
Initially, the biggies of the publishing world including National Geographic, The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and the likes have been rolling out Instant Articles for sometime now. But come April 12, everyone would be able to use this feature.
Instant Articles is compatible with every Content Management System. In the words of T R Vishwanath, Facebook’s software engineer:
Beyond creating a great experience for readers, we designed Instant Articles to make it as easy as possible for publishers to use with their existing Content Management Systems (CMS).
And since WordPress is the go-to CMS for most websites, especially bloggers, it’s important to understand how this impacts their ultimate objectives.
First, although Facebook maintains that no preference would be given to Instant Articles. But, the fact that the impatient mobile populace would choose a faster loading post over one that gets directed to another site and opens – plus factor in the page speed of the mobile website version – gives Instant Articles precedence.
So even with your best pieces on display, you would still get no Facebook visibility unless you choose to convert them to Instant Articles.
But even if this does happen, and if publishers are forced to turn to Instant Articles if they want to draw eyeballs to their content, this doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. The current algorithms detect that engagement and reach is higher with Instant Articles, which is a good move for content publishers.
Another thing to factor in is the marketing impact of Instant Articles.
If your posts are mainly a part of your content marketing efforts – which 9 out of 10 times it is – you have to understand if it would be disruptive or will it aid your cause.
Some marketers argue that this collaboration with Facebook would mean ceding control, and subsequently losing the ability to knowledgably usher growth and hence revenue.
But most online marketing efforts – especially inbound marketing – by default put the audience in control.
So, even if Instant Articles is reader-centric, it isn’t a completely new element affecting marketing strategies. In fact, reader-centric could work in your favor.
Instant Articles aim to reach out to that group of your potential prospects who aren’t actively seeking you out. The share option – which is important enough to be featured on their cover page – promotes posts to this difficult to reach segment.
And speaking of revenue, with the use of Facebook’s Audience Network of Ads you can drive more revenue and get increased visibility.
Plus you get to keep 100% of your revenues when you sell ads through your Instant Articles. Note that, Facebook keeps their 30% standard cut for ads using Facebook Audience Network.
Another shortcoming of Instant Articles that you often hear about is the rigid guidelines publishers need to follow. Though there are guidelines to contrive posts in accordance within the prescribed format, the purpose of which is to maintain the advantages Instant Articles primarily promises, you also have complete customization control.
The look and presentation of your post is one aspect, you can even customize commenting and liking options for Instant Articles. Plus align news feed and articles as per your brand identity to aid branding strategies and help accelerate your social media marketing and branding identity efforts.
A safe way to gauge the impact and the returns of Instant Articles is shorter test runs. Instead of delving right in to push your Call to Action (CTA)-laden articles, test the water with a set of interactive posts.
Whether you argue for or against it, Instant Articles will reformulate content creation and distribution. The question is when.
You could either sit back and begrudge the change based on cynical presumptions or prepare yourself to adapt to a fait accompli change even before it comes on with full force.
The technicalities of it: What do you need to get started with Instant Articles?
Although Instant Articles works for every CMS, you do have to do some preparatory steps to get started with and automate Instant Articles.
Sign Up – When you sign up for Facebook Instant Article, you are presented with a lot of information on whether it is beneficial for you or not.
You’re also guided on the nuances of everything Instant Articless. Once you sign up, Facebook sends you an e-mail with links to their developer’s guide and Facebook group.
A Facebook Page – Whether you’re a business or an author site, you have to have a Facebook page.
The Facebook Pages App – If you’re not using this already, you’d have to download this so that it would be easier to test, preview and edit posts.
RSS feed – The whole essence of Instant Articles is to host content directly on the app, but also to minimize the work of publishers. Instead of calling for authoring a post on a different platform, an RSS feed will automate the publishing process.
However, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have to create any post for an Instant Articles uploaded. What happens when publish a post with an associated RSS feed is that it gets stored to the Instant Articles library you have before-hand linked to your page.
For that particular post to be made public, you’d have to add it from the library to your Facebook page.
The RSS feed comprise of the complete content of each post in Instant Articles markup.
Instant Articles are in HTML5, so you include page elements similar to what you do for normal web publishing. You can use the same code that you created for the web version of the piece for Instant Articles too.
Every article must have a few basic elements to determine how and to what capacity would it be presented to your intended readers.
- The headline of your article <head>
- The URL of the page on which your article is originally published <link>
- And the entire content of the piece you wish to convert to Instant Article in HTML format <content:encoded>
One thing to keep in mind when setting up your RSS feed is inclusion of the canonical link. This needs to be in the <head> of your article. If you don’t specify the canonical link, which is an absolute URL, in the <head> Facebook then turns to displaying the link defining the post.
The overall appearance of your Instant Articles is determined by Facebook’s Style Editor and allows for displaying logo, your chosen brand colors, and selecting from a few basic fonts.
Besides the basic data, you should also include a few more elements to give users better insight into the context of the post.
- Description of the article. The snippet of information you put in can sometime be the deciding factor for your posts to be read or ignored.
- The article cover. Usually a high-resolution visually appealing image that tempt the readers to read the post further.
- An identifier unique to your article
- The publishing date of the particular post
- Information on the author, who wrote the article, designation etc.
- Add rich media to your text. Since Instant Articles’ creative tool sets cuts out the blandness associated with its minimalistic aspect, you should make full use of it. Add interactive maps and audio captions. You can also embed external media.
Send to Facebook for review
Since Facebook has certain guidelines to adhere to when it comes to Instant Articles, you have to send the chosen RSS to them for review.
Just go to your Facebook page, click on Settings> Instant Articles> Paste RSS feed in the box given> Submit for review. You can also warrant an authentication for download of your feed by putting a username and password for it.
Create a repertoire of 50 articles
Facebook mandates a submission of 50 articles for approval. This is even before you start publishing.
All you have to do is create 50 functioning articles replete with live ads and which basically provides a preview of the interactive features and the type of design you wish to adopt for most of your pieces.
When you’re articles are reviewed (at the moment this is being done manually) you get a feedback on your Instant Articles Configuration page, where you can also communicate with the reviewer with regards to the feedback and other queries.
Get a Business Manager Account
Business Manager is Facebook’s tool for managing your Pages, right from the administrative work to support.
Although not having a Business Manager account does not hinder publishing Instant articles in any way, but it is recommended to get one for your organization as it provides access to Direct Support.
Create a Business Manager account – This is if your organization doesn’t already have one. Since this is mainly related to running ads on Facebook, your social media manager would have knowledge of whether or not an account exists for your organization.
If you don’t, then create one.
Add your page to the account – The page that you have pre-linked to your RSS feed for Instant Articles, add it to your Business Manager account too.
Add team members – If you have existing members added on your organization’s Business Manager account, add them to your page.
If not, add them both to the Business Manager account and your page. You can also put in additional information like their designation or role.
Instant Articles Markup
Depending upon the Content Management System you use, and whether or not it allows for manual modification of the codes, you have to add the Instant Article markup.
Everything about the Instant Article – right from the format to embedding external media – calls for adding markup.
Instant Article is touted to be more than a speedy version of a standard web article, it’s also aimed at creating rich interactive versions. So, if you want to add a video to your Instant Article, here’s what the markup looks like:
<figure> <video> <source src=”http://mydomain.com/path/to/video.mp4″ type=”video/mp4″ /> </video> <figcaption> This is a video markup example </figcaption> </figure>
You have to add markups for whatever inclusions you need in your post. From images to video to auto-play audio captions to even customizing the likes and comments section.
WordPress users have it easy
If your website is powered by WordPress and you’re seriously considering adopting Facebook Instant Articles, you’re in luck.
Facebook has partnered with Automattic, WordPress.com VIP’s parent company to create a free plugin that will make the entire task straightforward and automated.
Simplifying the process of creating and publishing posts directly from your WordPress powered website to improving user experience, the plugin seamlessly adapts and readies the original content for Instant Articles.
So, if you are bogged down with the technicalities and end up making a bungle of everything Instant Articles, the plugin would be a saving grace. It automatically detects the right media size and chooses the correct markups to make it suitable for Instant Articles, and it also supports native autoplay videos and graphic embeds.
When you activate this plugin, a new type of feed based on the similar RSS format but including Facebook specifications will be added to your site. Depending upon what your permalink settings are, the address would either be/?feed=instant-articles or /feed/instant-articles.
While the plugin does the chunk of the work for you, you might still have to work in some coding. It has a built-in suite for additional features like image galleries, video embeds and hooks and filters giving you the option to put in something extra. But for advanced engagement like maps you’d have to add some markups in your code to integrate that.
Chances are you have already heard about PageFrog if you’ve been considering Facebook Instant Articles or Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The plugin cuts down your work in half while optimizing content for Instant Articles and AMP.
With page load time and social media interactions being a part of the ranking factors – whether directly or indirectly – it is important to think about optimizing content for these two platforms.
PageFrog comes with complete support for ads and analytics making optimization and tracking easier. With preloaded content you can boost your visibility and therefore rankings.
What PageFrog does is it takes existing content and optimizes it for Instant Articles with real-time previews so you’re in tune with how your post would eventually show up as an Instant Article.
Plus despite the formatting guidelines, the plugin gives you the bandwidth to customize as per your chosen and branding and styling requirements and within the interface of your CMS.
As Instant Articles allow for ad monetization, PageFrog helps you to place ads on your preferred location of the page. All you need to do is connect your Facebook Audience Network in case of Instant Articles or Google AdSense if you’re using the plugin for AMP.
You can also retarget your posts on Facebook through Facebook Retargeting. For using Facebook Retargeting you need to follow a few steps which we have explained in the article on How to add Facebook Retargeting Pixel on WordPress site.
You get tons of information on your Facebook Insights page, but with PageFrog you can both connect third party analytics and source Facebook Insights data right on to your WordPress.
Although Facebook Instant Articles does need some groundwork, it is speculated to turn out to be big for both publishers and marketers. And therefore, it’s recommended to both gain knowledge on Instant Articles and start toying around with the idea of adopting and implementing the same.
Did you find this information on Facebook’s Instant Articles useful? Let me know in the comments below.