Facebook launches comparison tool to prove Instant Articles beat mobile web

One-third of all link clicks on Facebook already go to its self-hosted Instant Articles. Facebook claims they drive more referral traffic click for click because people don’t abaondon them mid-click as they do with slow-loading mobile websites. Now Facebook is teaming up with Nielsen to prove that individual publishers benefit when they post with the Instant Articles format.

Today Facebook is launching an analytics comparison tool for Instant Articles publishers. It looks at the referral traffic from a test group of people who see Instant Article versions of links, and a control group that sees mobile web versions. Facebook hopes publishers will see for themselves that they get more traffic from Instant Articles. The tool is now rolling out to publishers who’ve posted enough of both formats, and Facebook plans to add more metrics to the tool in the future.

Facebook says that on average, here’s how much more people click and read Instant Articles over mobile web in different parts of the world.

  • US and Canada click and read over 25% more
  • Europe click and read over 30% more
  • Middle East and North Africa click and read 80% more
  • Southeast Asia read and click 60% more
  • Latin America read and click 60% more
  • India read and click over 75% more

That leaves out of whether these Instant Articles monetize better. That’s something that publishers are increasingly worried about with good reason.

Facebook launched Instant Articles in 2015 with a sterlized style, tons of restrictions on how many ads they could show, and no way to include subscription purchase, newsletter sign-up, or recirculation units that drive revenue. That year, I warned publishers they risked becoming ghostwriters feeding dumb content into Facebook’s smart pipe, with no differentiation between publishers or opportunities to build long-term relationships with loyal readers. You can watch my rant about the problem below.

Recently, Facebook has been working to fix some of those problems. It let publishers start showing more ads, introduced Page Like and email sign-up buttons, and is now testing recirculation units so news outlets can drive readers from one article to another. Facebook plans to start testing a paid subscription paywall feature in the Fall.

Still, the News Media Alliance representing 2000 newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, recently asked Congress for anti-trust exemption so they could collectively bargain with Facebook and Google over who gets ad revenue. Money that used to go to buy ads on publishers’ sites is rolling up to the content aggregators through which people find their news. That threatens to defund newsrooms in favor of social and search platforms.

With the new tool, publishers should be able to compare the referral traffic and their montization of Instant Articles vs mobile web, and see which ends up making them more money overall. That could inform them about whether Instant Articles are a deal with the devil or a match made in heaven.

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