Facebook announced yesterday that its news feed algorithm will now favor articles that users spend a long time reading. While likes, clicks, comments, and sharing counts are all valuable metrics, they are not always reliable determinants for what users want to see. Facebook discovered this by gathering feedback via its Feed Quality Program.
As a result, the social network updated its algorithm last June to factor in how much time users spent reading posts within the news feed, regardless of whether users even opened the article. Two years ago, Facebook also began factoring in instances where a user clicks on an article but then comes straight back to the news feed. This could be because a site loaded too slowly or the article was click-bait and not what the user was expecting based on the preview.
“Building on this work, we’re learning that the time people choose to spend reading or watching content they clicked on from News Feed is an important signal that the story was interesting to them,” Facebook representatives said. “We are adding another factor to News Feed ranking so that we will now predict how long you spend looking at an article in the Facebook mobile browser or an Instant Article after you have clicked through from News Feed.”
Facebook will not be counting loading time towards this new ranking signal but will calculate the actual time spent reading/watching once the content has loaded. But before you think you can game this algorithm by simply publishing longer articles, Facebook will be measuring this time as a threshold so that longer articles are not preferred by default.
The social network also announced that it will be diversifying its display of posts from different pages so as not to bombard users with too much content from the same source.
“We’ve also heard from people that they enjoy reading articles from a wide range of publishers, and it can be repetitive if too many articles from the same source are back to back in their News Feed,” representatives said. “We’ll also be making an update to reduce how often people see several posts in a row from the same source in their News Feed.”
Publishers who depend on Facebook for a significant amount of their referrals will want to take note of these changes to the news feed algorithm. The social network has already started rolling them out and will continue over the next few weeks.