It’s okay to admit it – Facebook’s algorithm is confusing.
It’s mysterious. It has a million different parts. Trying to understand how it works is like trying to build an IKEA nuclear reactor – without the instructions.
The algorithm is what determines who sees your posts and when, and it only gets more complicated as time goes on.
Back in the olden days – around the time cavemen first live-tweeted the invention of the wheel – improving your reach was relatively simple. Anymore, though, it’s a lot more complex than just, say, getting people to Like your posts.
You want to expand your organic reach and be seen by more of your Facebook fans? It’s not as simple as making one or two changes.
So, what ARE some of these factors that affect your reach? What does Facebook’s algorithm look at when it’s deciding how many people should see your latest update?
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise – in fact, it’s kind of a classic.
Facebook told us way back in 2013, and it remains true today: it wants to deliver quality content for its users, and one way that it determines what that looks like is by checking the engagement on your updates. Likes, clicks, shares, comments – they all matter.
Want better engagement for your posts? Take a peek at your Facebook Insights to see how the ones you’re sharing now are performing, and remember that everything from the times of day when you post to the types of content you share can make an enormous impact.
(Plus, if you like posting a lot of videos to Facebook, note that factors like the average amount of time someone spends watching a video can impact its reach.)
What else is being posted
Of course, it isn’t all a matter of what you share and when – it’s a matter of what other people share and when.
Facebook treats timely content differently from more evergreen stuff, and will factor in whether the things you share are related to a particularly time-sensitive topic.
How does it figure that out, exactly? One way is by tracking trending topics, which you’ve probably seen in your News Feed’s sidebar. Another way is by monitoring how quickly people engage with an update.
This is one reason why you should think of pre-scheduling updates as a way to make time for more live interaction, rather than a way to replace live interaction. When trending topics take precedence, you want to be ready to jump in on the conversation!
Your number of followers
When you’re a small business, it can feel pretty unfair trying to compete online with businesses that have a million-jillion fans.
(Which is a real number, by the way.)
Anyway, Facebook knows it, so historically, it tries to level the playing field by giving smaller Pages better reach. The average reach for different types of updates can vary depending on how many fans your Page has, and there can actually be an enormous difference in overall reach between small and large Pages.
So, if the size of your following has you feeling like a small, scrappy dog competing in a professional wrestling match against a muscular adult man, have no fear: your size isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.
The types of content you share
Facebook’s algorithm changes are generally inspired by the way people interact with content in the News Feed – and that means the type of content you share matters.
For example, Facebook found that users prefer clicking updates that share URLs using a link preview, rather than by slipping them into the captions of image posts – so link previews get better reach.
Similarly, Facebook found that people tend to like live video broadcasts more than pre-recorded ones, so now live video takes precedence in the News Feed.
Facebook doesn’t just look for the stuff it likes when it’s figuring out the reach for your posts, though – it looks for the stuff it DOESN’T like.
Click-bait links, for example, have been a major victim of algorithm changes – mostly because they’re tailored to boost clicks and drive traffic without necessarily being all that valuable. It’s a tactic that worked in its prime, but users kind of hated it, too, so Facebook started devaluing those kinds of links and giving them less reach.
(One way it learned to identify click-bait was by monitoring engagement, but Facebook can also determine how long you stay on a page after clicking through to it from your News Feed. If you’re not there very long, it might indicate that the link was click-bait.)
Another type of update Facebook doesn’t like to see? Like-baiting.
(Probably best to avoid any strategy that regards your followers as comparable in intelligence to a largemouth bass.)
Like-baiting is another way of trying to rack up big engagement numbers with low-quality content – in this case, updates that ask your followers to engage in a specific way, like this:
Facebook and its users prefer content that gets engagement organically.
Because Facebook can detect like-bait, it can limit the reach for an update like the one pictured above – and a Page that habitually posts that sort of content may see its overall reach drop over time.
On the other hand, an alternative type of update that encourages engagement – by starting a conversation, for example – works much better.
A marketing strategy doesn’t have to have “bait” in the name for Facebook to dislike it, though.
For example, Facebook has found that users hate feeling tricked by a headline – whether it’s a hoax post or intentionally misleading, it’s the type of content that’ll hurt your page’s typical reach over time.
Facebook determines whether a post is misleading largely by user feedback and reports – and those types of reports are actually just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.
What users want
Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t rely just on engagement to determine if users like what they see – because as we’ve seen, metrics like those have been easy to manipulate in the past.
Instead, by soliciting and tracking user feedback over time, it’s learned how to accurately predict how valuable you might find the content in your News Feed, even if you don’t engage with it.
The lesson? Focusing on quality first is way more valuable than trying to work the system.
Actually, that’s not the only lesson. There’s one more important thing to keep in mind:
Facebook’s algorithm never stops changing
The algorithm that determines how many people see your posts is a living thing, so maintaining a Facebook marketing strategy is a bit like cuddling a porcupine – no matter how much you love it, you can only get so comfortable.
Take the February 2016 introduction of Reactions, for example. When Facebook rolled ‘em out, it also mentioned that in the future, the algorithm may assign different values to different types of Reactions. (Don’t worry – it hasn’t happened yet.)
The bottom line is that no matter how much you understand Facebook’s algorithm, it changes all the time. So focus on posting quality content, play by the rules, and keep your eyes peeled – because if there’s one thing that’s always true about the algorithm, it’s that it never stops evolving.