Beating the Facebook Algorithm

In an earlier article, I wrote (at probably irritating length) about Beating the Google Algorithm and why that was a course that would no longer work for most of us. This article is an extension of that one, so you should probably read it first.

facebook-sdumpFacebook has become an increasingly important player in the Internet marketing game. I mean, come on, it has over a billion users and all of us would like a piece of that action. However, as Facebook’s importance has increased, its impact has subsequently declined.

One billion sets of eyeballs sounds impressive, but a FB Page only gets to reach a small subset of that group. And the size of that subset seems to shrink almost daily. Facebook calls it Organic Reach; they not only admit it’s declining, but they tell us why.

top-storiesWhat is commonly called the Facebook Algorithm is the method that Facebook uses to sort the posts in your News Feed so the content they think is most important to you shows up first. If you sort your feed by ‘Top Posts’ instead of ‘Most Recent’, the Algorithm decides which posts you see and in what order. Ninety-five percent of users sort by the default Top Post, so yea, the Algorithm has become a stumbling block for most marketers.

Facebook claims there are over 100,000 factors integrated into their Algorithm. Prior to 2011, however, their algorithm (with a lower-case ‘a’) was called EdgeRank and was based on just three factors. Most analysts would agree that those three factors are probably still the most important. Those three factors are:

Affinity – Takes into account the relationship

Weight – Takes into account the action a user has taken on the content

Decay – Takes into account how current the content is

edgerank

Facebook Pages, like you and I have, can exercise little control over Affinity (a Like is a Like is a Like) and no control at all over Decay. That leaves us with only Weight to consider, and that pretty much boils down to Engagement.

engagement-metricsIf you want to reach your Fans organically you first have to entice them to become engaged with your content. There are lots of different ways they can engage with you, from that first Like to Sharing to Commenting, and there are vastly more ways you can get them to engage. Too many of the latter, I’m afraid, to cover in this article. (See my earlier piece on optimizing for Facebook.)

Engagements on Facebook, like links on Google, are not necessarily equal. A Share counts more than a Like, and a Comment (usually, but not always) counts more than a Share. At its simplest, the more effort an Engagement requires the more it will count and the more likely your Page posts will reach THAT individual.

Can Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm be gamed?

Not really. A whole cottage industry has developed for buying FB Fans, but those Fans are almost completely useless unless you can entice them to Engage with your Page (and trust me, purchased Fans don’t Engage and, indeed, don’t usually even exist). At best, you can expect about six percent of your total Fans will see your Page content, and the more Fans you have the lower that percentage will be. Pages with 500,000 Likes are typically seeing just a two percent reach.

Are Facebook Pages useless then?

Absolutely not. But Facebook Pages are just like web sites in the sense that they have to actually offer the visitors something of value if they are to be valuable. Content is still King, on Facebook just as everywhere else.

Having said that, your Facebook Page will probably NEVER reach the majority of your Fans, at least not organically. It can, however, help you better reach those Fans (and their Friends) through the use of judicious FB advertising. That subject, too, is well beyond the scope of this article.

In closing, I’d like to return the Google Algorithm article I cited in the opening.

In that article, I talked about the way gaming the search engines was easy in the Nineties, which then led to a very tumultuous decade opening the new century, and has ultimately resulted in a time when even TRYING to manipulate Google can be dangerous. History has a way of repeating itself and, as with everything else about the Internet, I suspect those repetitions become condensed.

Facebook, like Google, prides itself on hiring the smartest people it can find. Those people are unlikely to ignore the lessons Google learned the hard way. Right now, Facebook appears to ignore most attempts to game its Algorithm. Obvious link bait, for example, doesn’t work any more if only because no one gets to see it. Even today, however, Facebook will “quarantine” pages that have the temerity to ASK for Likes, Shares or even Comments.

Facebook penalties are only to going to grow more ubiquitous. If Facebook follows the Google model, ridding yourself of a penalty once it’s been strapped to your back is not going to be easy. I advise caution now to prevent heartache later.

The best way to do that is to concentrate on creating GREAT content that people will Like and Share naturally.

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