Commentary

Facebook's Instant Articles Revamp Wins Over Publishers

After decidedly mixed reviews when it debuted last year, Facebook’s Instant Articles publishing platform is winning over publishers with new options that make it easier to monetize their content, which in some cases are comparable to ads appearing on their own mobile sites and apps, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook Instant Articles allows publishers to host their content directly on Facebook in order to speed content delivery to mobile consumers, but received a wave of criticism from publishers citing onerous restrictions on how they can place ads alongside content -- for example, limiting them to one large banner ad for every 500 words of content they publish.

In December, Facebook responded to these complaints by allowing publishers to sell more ads, lowering the minimum ratio from one ad for every 500 words to one ad for every 350 words. Facebook also announced it would allow publishers to sell campaigns limited to the social network instead of tied together with inventory on their own properties -- giving them the option of positioning these Facebook-only campaigns as differentiated, premium products for marketers. Facebook had previously prohibited this because it wanted to avoid confusion among advertisers.

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Last but not least, Facebook said it would allow publishers to link to content -- including sponsored posts from marketers -- hosted on their own Web sites via the “related articles” section on their Instant Articles pages.

The new, relaxed restrictions are a hit with publishers, the WSJ reports, with ad revenues per page rivaling their own sites at least on occasion. The WSJ cites Joe Speiser, co-founder of LittleThings.com: “The biggest stumbling block with Instant Articles was that we were making less there than with visits to our own site. We are now seeing parity with our mobile Web version.”

Similarly, WSJ quotes Joe Alicata, vice president of revenue product and operations at Vox Media, as saying: “The changes definitely had a positive effect. The greater ad load has probably had the biggest impact for us.” Business Insider president Julie Hansen also praised the new approach: “We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the monetization is so strong. It’s every bit as good as on our own site.”

This column was previously published in The Social Graf on February 15, 2016.

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