The exact logic and machinery behind the Facebook algorithm is a mystery to most. Brands, businesses, and keen Facebook users have long been concerned with how Facebook News Feeds are ordered and personalized. But with every update that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team bring to the table, it seems that the mystery of the News Feed becomes more and more elusive. Even with Facebook’s informational articles on how the algorithm operates, many marketers are still left scratching their heads and blindly adjusting their strategies to try to stay afloat.
Well, that’s where we come in.
In this guide, we’ll cover all you need to know about the Facebook Algorithm, from its inception to the most recent updates in 2020. We’ll go over the factors Facebook uses to rank content on News Feeds, and how you can create posts that will help your brand stay on top. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
What is the Facebook Algorithm?
The word “algorithm” makes things sound slightly more complicated than they are. Sure, the Facebook Algorithm is complex. But at its foundation, the algorithm is just the method behind a user’s News Feed. There’s an abundance of content on Facebook: information, posts, stories, links, and more from hundreds of different sources. Friends, family, coworkers, brands, businesses, and even news rooms are all posting on Facebook. The order that posts are shown and whether or not they are even shown at all is left up to the algorithm.
In a Q&A session in 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg summed up the News Feed and its algorithm cleverly. He said, “Our goal is to build the perfect personalized newspaper for every person in the world.” Facebook looks to maximize the time users spend on their app by showing users exactly what they want to see.
But what does this mean for marketers?
Why is understanding the algorithm important for brands?
People that use Facebook for leisure are often concerned with the algorithm because they want to be in control of the information they are exposed to. But for marketers, the algorithm is an important step in reaching audiences. It controls what users will see first on their feed, or whether they see certain content at all.
Anyone that uses Facebook knows that a user’s attention usually splinters the further down their feed they get. So, marketers have the important task of making sure their brand is being featured at the top of users’ feeds as often as possible. Facebook has also begun to prioritize friends and family over brands and businesses. Because of this, it’s every marketer’s job to figure out how to create genuine engagement with users so they are still present on feeds. In addition, brands need to ensure they are creating quality content, because users are easily able to control what they see. If they don’t like what you’re posting, it takes one click of a button to hide your content. (Ouch.)
If you want your brand to be seen on Facebook, it’s important for you to understand the algorithm. It can be tricky, but we’ve figured it out to the best of our ability, and can give you what you need to know.
Before we dive into mastering the algorithm, let’s take a look at its history and the major updates its undergone.
A Timeline of Major Updates
Facebook is constantly changing and adjusting the News Feed Algorithm based on feedback from users. To better understand what it is in 2020, it’s important to look at where the algorithm started, and how it has been shaped over the years. Here’s a timeline of all the major changes that have gone down since 2006.
In 2006, Facebook launched the News Feed and status updates. Prior to this update, Facebook was pretty simple: logging in brought you to your profile page, where you could edit your own information. To look at another person’s profile, you had to directly search it up. In a way, Facebook was a digital phone book.
In 2007, Facebook introduced a monumental aspect: the Like button. This button allowed users to interact with posts by giving them a “like”. After bringing in the Like button, Facebook begun to work on an algorithm that would be based on what people like.
Up until this year, Facebook utilized the reverse-chronological feed: users would see most recent posts first and go back in time the further down they scrolled. In 2009, they introduced the first “algorithm”: feeds were based on popularity instead of time. Users were shown posts that were deemed popular based on how much engagement they received. Unfortunately, Facebook received a lot of backlash from users who wanted their original feed to return. People were unwilling to adjust to the new changes Facebook had implemented.
Instead of the most popular posts, Facebook moved towards showing users the most relevant posts at any given time. In addition, they introduced the News Ticker to the right of the News Feed.
The News Ticker showed users what their friends on Facebook were up to. You could see what your friends were liking, commenting on, who they were adding, and more.
The algorithm underwent small changes in 2013. One of the most notable changes was Facebook’s vow to show users more high-quality content.
In 2014, Facebook cracked down on posts that users did not want to see on their feeds. The algorithm was changed to eliminate clickbait and engagement-bait posts. Clickbait posts are those with attention-grabbing, cliff-hanger (usually exaggerated) headlines, like the one below:
Engagement-bait posts are those that explicitly ask users to engage in some way. They may ask for likes, comments or tags.
Clickbait posts were monitored through bounce rates, or how long a user spent on a link after clicking it. If a user spent a very short amount of time on a link, it probably meant it was not what they thought it was. This would down-rank the post and label it as clickbait.
Engagement-bait posts were monitored based on their success on Facebook compared to other sites. If a post was widely successful on Facebook, but not anywhere else, its content was looked at and was likely to be classified as engagement-bait.
In addition to these changes, Facebook also decreased overly-promotional content on users’ feeds. This meant brands that were consistently posting promotional material were not shown as often.
This year was another big one for the algorithm. For one thing, Facebook moved towards showing more videos on News Feeds. They saw videos as a way to keep users on the app for a longer amount of time.
2015 also saw huge changes for marketers. After surveying users on what they preferred to see, Facebook begun to prioritize family and friends over promotional posts. Changes were made to decrease the visibility of ads and to put posts by family and friends at the very top.
Facebook also began giving more control to users. The “See First” button was introduced. It allowed users to choose who they would see at the top of their News Feed as soon as they log in. This could be a brand page, profile, business, or group.
Another notable addition: Shopify merchants that used Facebook were introduced to the Buy button, which allowed users to buy product directly from the Facebook app.
In 2016, Facebook introduced Audience Optimization. This feature allows publishers to target audiences based on their interests. Not only this, but they were also able to limit their audiences. Audience limitations could be based on location, gender, language, or age. This meant publishers limited audiences that would not find their posts useful or engaging. Lastly, publishers were able to gain insight into their audiences based on interest tags, allowing them to optimize for future posts.
In addition to this feature, Facebook took a step towards transparency by revealing the core values of the News Feed.
The main values of the News Feed are:
- Friends and Family
Above everything else, Facebook wants to prioritize close friends and family on News Feeds. Most people join Facebook with the intention of keeping in touch with the people in their lives. With this value, Facebook acknowledges the need for human intimacy.
- A platform for all ideas
Facebook wants to ensure that they aren’t picking and choosing what users will read about on their feed. The Facebook platform claims to be open and inclusive of all ideas and perspectives. Don’t take this the wrong way, though—Community Standards are still in place to make sure all users feel safe while using Facebook.
- Authentic communication
Facebook prioritizes real, genuine stories. They’re constantly working to diminish misleading information or fake news from the algorithm.
- You control your experience
News Feeds have been altered so that they are customizable to what a user wants to see. Facebook has given users control through the “See First”, “Hide”, and “Unfollow” buttons.
- Constant iteration
Facebook commits to constantly evolving their algorithm based on feedback from its users. They are always looking to improve and stay transparent with every update.
Lastly, 2016 saw a huge addition: Reactions.
Facebook recognized the need for reactions other than the original like, so they introduced several other emotions. This included an angry button, a sad button, and a love button.
In this year, Facebook continued to alter the algorithm based on feedback. Posts with links that took too long to load were shown less. Videos were monitored for completion rate, and longer videos began to rank better. In addition, Facebook gave Reactions the same weight as the Like; so even if a user reacted with the “Angry” button, they might still be shown similar posts in the future. Finally, Pages that were known for sharing false news were no longer allowed to run advertisements.
Facebook also began to work on an Explore Feed, a place for users to discover content outside of the Pages they follow.
Mark Zuckerberg vowed that Facebook was working towards more social engagement over relevant content in 2018. They wanted users to take part in meaningful interactions. Posts that sparked conversation between users were prioritized. The goal was to increase the quality of users’ time spent on Facebook.
2018 was a scary year for marketers using Facebook. The platform had already started their move towards family and friends, but this year saw a significant decrease in brand, publisher, and marketer visibility on News Feeds. Instead, there was a shift in focus towards news sources that were trustworthy, informative, and local to users.
Last year, Facebook realized that “fringe” content was on the rise in News Feeds. “Fringe” content are posts that are so controversial, they cause users to react and spread the information rapidly (e.g. fake news). This was made evident when it was revealed that Fox News, known for reporting heavy opinions that often evoke strong reactions, was the top publisher on Facebook based on engagement.
To combat this, Facebook moved towards more close-friend content. They looked at who a user was interacting with, tagged in photos with, or checked-in with and gave these users’ content higher rankings. They also continued their push for more high-quality, original videos to be shown on feeds.
In addition, they changed the way text is displayed. Only three lines of text are shown before the “See More” button. This means more content in a smaller amount of space on News Feeds.
How the algorithm works in 2020
Today, Facebook is more determined than ever to commit to transparency. They want their users to understand the algorithm and have control over their feeds.
Facebook currently uses four main factors to determine the ranking of posts on a user’s feed:
This refers to all the available content that can be shown on a user’s Facebook feed, from friend posts to publisher posts.
Signals are data that Facebook collects from all content. They can be comments, likes, engagement, or shares.
This is based on a user’s profile and previous behaviour. Facebook uses this information to decide what to show a user based on what they are most likely to interact with.
This is a value assigned to content based on its relevance to a user. This means scores are different for every individual user.
Facebook also factors in how often a user interacts with a profile, group, or page, with friends and family being prioritized. They look at the type of content they are interacting with (i.e. photos, videos, links), the recency of the post, and the amount of engagement the post has received overall.
To give users ultimate control, Facebook has added News Feed Preferences to Facebook settings. Through these settings, users are able to choose who they see first, snooze a page or person, or hide/unfollow them. This means marketers not only have to understand the Facebook Algorithm, but also what their audience wants to see.
Here’s a quick recap…
Facebook prioritizes these posts on a user’s feed:
- Posts that receive lots of engagement (likes, shares, comments)
- Content that the user often interacts with (either photo, video, or link)
- Posts that are interacted with by a user’s friends
- Posts that refer to a trending, relevant topic
Facebook reduces the amount of these posts on a user’s feed:
- Clickbait, engagement-bait posts
- Spam links
- Posts that are frequently reported
- Overly-promotional content from brands
What does this mean for marketers?
As you can see, the Facebook Algorithm has become a marketer’s nightmare. If your brand isn’t consistently working to genuinely engage and connect with your audience, your posts will fall into the deepest depths of the News Feed, where nobody scrolls.
All of the changes that are geared towards more authentic, quality social engagement just mean that brands have to work extra hard to be seen. You’ve got to prove to the algorithm that your Page’s posts will create genuine connections.
How to outsmart the ever-changing Facebook Algorithm
Facebook is constantly changing their algorithm based on what users are asking for. They’ve made significant moves every year, so it’s important for marketers to evolve their marketing strategy with these changes.
Here are some tips to help you outsmart the algorithm, use it to your advantage, and keep your brand on top.
1. Time your posts
The timing of your posts is one of the keys to staying on top. You should keep track of when users are most active on Facebook. Posting when there are large audiences using the app increases engagement. If you post at popular usage times, this will increase the possibility of your post being seen by more people.
In addition, recency is a ranking factor that Facebook uses in choosing what is shown on a user’s feed. When you time your posts perfectly, you can be right at the top of your audience’s feed.
To figure out the best time to post, check out this article.
2. Create conversations
As Facebook moves towards a focus on meaningful interactions, brands will have to work to engage audiences in a genuine way. You can do this by asking open-ended questions, making jokes, or polling your audience. Encourage users to discuss viewpoints in your comments. In the example below, Intrepid Travel creates a conversation about food:
But remember, avoid engagement-bait posts that outright asks users for likes, comments, or tags.
3. Use video
As you can see from our extensive timeline, Facebook has been gradually making a push towards video on News Feeds.
The best thing you can do for your brand is create a long but engaging video that showcases who you are while keeping viewers interested. Facebook has said videos over 3 minutes that are engaging are prioritized on feeds, so keep this in mind when creating content. For a little inspiration, you can check out this article of some of the best Facebook videos out there.
Also, don’t be afraid to use Live Video! While it is a bit more unrefined and opens up the possibility of stumbling in front of a live audience, this video feature is promoted heavily on Facebook. In fact, Facebook claims that Live Videos are engaged with 6x more than regular videos.
4. Use real people
There’s only so much your branded Page can do on Facebook. Interactions between real users is always going to be prioritized, as made clear by Facebook’s move towards meaningful social engagement. One thing you can do is reach out to influencers to talk about your brand with their followers. Or, even better, ask the employees of your company to spread the word. They can share brand posts through their personal pages to reach their own friends and family. This will increase audience reach and grow your brand in an organic way.
5. Avoid down-ranked content
Certain types of content will get your post down-ranked and flagged on Facebook. It might even have a permanent effect on your Page, so it’s important to avoid these things. For most people, it’s common sense. But just in case, here’s a list of content you should always avoid:
- Fake news
- Misleading health claims
- “Deepfake” videos
- Borderline content (i.e. content that is not prohibited, but is on the border of being so)
6. Be consistent
This one is pretty straight forward. You should be posting often enough on Facebook so that your brand stays relevant and seen. Don’t go ghost and have your followers forget who you are. But at the same time, Facebook has said that posting too often can get your brand down-ranked. So it’s important to look at when your audience is online and build your strategy from there. Find a balance that works for your company. Like we’ve always said, consistency is key!
7. Engage with audience
Driving engagement on your posts is important. You want people to comment, like and share your content. But engaging back with your audience is just as essential! Reply to your audience when they comment on your posts. Even shooting them a like when they say something awesome is a great way to let them know you’re reading their comments, and you’re listening to what they have to say. This builds your brand reputation and your relationship with your audience.
8. Invest in paid ads
At the end of the day, paid ads are the best way to reach audiences. When you use Facebook ads, you can adjust your targeting in a more specific way and reach wider audiences. After all, there are over 2.7 billion people using Facebook—a.k.a., over 2.7 billion potential customers. Paid ads also give you access to the Facebook Ads Manager, which is a hugely beneficial tool to any marketer.
9. Prioritize in-app content
When posting on Facebook, try to stick to in-app content as often as you can. Post photos and videos that are readily visible right there in a users’ feed. External links are necessary in some cases, but the first step in beating the Facebook Algorithm is keeping users on the Facebook platform in the first place. In-app content also gets rid of that pesky loading screen that comes with external links.
10. Utilize Facebook Groups
Recently, Facebook has made a push towards prioritizing Groups on the platform. This is because Groups are often formed based on a specific interest, so they generate a lot of meaningful conversation and interaction amongst their members. Brands have steadily been moving towards using Facebook Groups over Pages.
11. Analyze and optimize
You should always be analyzing your posts in order to optimize your next one. Look at which of your posts are most successful, and which aren’t. Take note of the time, type of content (e.g. photo, video), and copywriting of your successful posts for use in the future. But with that being said, you should still be original. Avoid copying and pasting old content; keep things fresh by making small alterations.
12. Ask your audience to put you first
Since Facebook users have so much control over their feeds, one thing you can do is (indirectly) ask your audience to click that “See First” button for your page. Now, don’t rush to create a post that literally asks users to select “See First” for you. You can do it in a subtle way, by letting them know your brand always has fresh and exciting news that they’ll want to stay updated on. If you are creating top-quality, useful, and relevant content, then your audience will have no problem putting you first.
The Facebook Algorithm is a tricky thing to manoeuver as a marketer. With time and work, you can overcome it and keep your company at the top of News Feeds with ease. But to help you get started, you can always contact us here at SH1FT. We’ve been doing this stuff for years. 😎