Publishers saw success with Facebook’s Instant Articles in 2020

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Instant Articles, Facebook’s native reading experience for news articles, produced some surprisingly positive results for publishers in 2020. A growing number of publishers have joined or re-joined the program following updates and enhancements.

The takeaways:
  • Instant Articles was launched in 2015 as a way for publishers to monetise and distribute their journalism directly on Facebook. By 2018, Tow Center research suggested that more than half of the launch partners had abandoned the format, citing struggles with monetization, limited user data, and conflicts with subscription strategies.
  • A recent post on the Facebook Journalism Project blog suggests that updates and enhancements added by the team at the start of 2020 have succeeded in bringing publishers back to the format. Facebook says that more than 5,700 new publishers have begun using or rejoined Instant Articles.
  • Globally, the top 500 publishers saw RPM (revenue per thousand impressions) growth of 27% year over year. In the US and Canada, the top 100 publishers saw growth of 48%.
What’s changed? 

Following “dedicated feedback sessions” with users and publishers, Facebook released a number of enhancements to Instant Articles at the start of 2020:

  • Recirculation and navigation changes made it easier for users to browse headlines and articles from the same publisher. 
  • A new ‘smart’ integrated CTA and ad yield model which serves either a CTA or an ad based on whichever provides a greater estimated value to the publisher.
  • Support for Instant Articles in Facebook Stories, including those created from Pages and those crossposted from Instagram. Given over 300 million people use Facebook Stories each day, this is an important change to aid article distribution.

These changes have led to “strong uptick across revenue, traffic and engagement” from publishers using Instant Articles. Facebook has also been working to improve the tools available for subscription-focused publishers, with enhanced functionality in Instant Articles around subscriptions and paywalls.

The highlights: 
  • The Atlantic sold nearly 8,000 subscriptions in four months via Instant Articles. In March 2020, almost 9% of its headline-grabbing 36,000 new subscriptions were “made possible” through Subscriptions in Instant Articles.
  • The Guardian Nigeria increased traffic to its owned platforms 9x since signing up for Instant Articles. They also saw a 3x increase in newsletter sign-ups and a 12% increase in Page followers. 
  • Brazilian publishing company CARAS used Instant Articles to increase audience reach and grow revenue by 47%, with average monthly referral traffic growing 190% year over year. One CARAS site, Aventuras na História (Adventures in History), went from 300,000 monthly uniques to 12 million monthly users after the launch of Instant Articles.

What next? Instant Articles will continue its evolution, with the tech giant looking to experiment more with video ads and improved performance metrics this year.

Whether these results will encourage more publishers to have another go at Instant Articles remains to be seen as the relationship between the Duopoly and publishers continues to be strained.

But for those testing Facebook’s News tab, the revamped Instant Articles and options available for subscriptions may make the risk worth it.

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