If you work in digital marketing, you’ve probably already heard about the most recent updates to the Facebook algorithm. The first of those updates, announced by Facebook on August 4, will reduce the number of News Feed stories with clickbaity headlines (think: “She took her cat to the water park, and what happened next will SHOCK you!”).
I don’t know a single person who appreciates this crap, and I’m certain that even the people publishing these headlines do so with great shame. In Facebook’s statement explaining this decision, they cite one of their core values for News Feed, which is to foster authentic communication, and they note that this nonsense is not authentic. I couldn’t agree more.
The second update to make a splash this month was Facebook’s blocking of ad blockers. For those unfamiliar, AdBlock and Adblock Plus (two totally separate tools by totally separate companies) are plugins that hide ads within your browser. Adblock Plus is particularly effective at hiding all the ads—Google ads, banner ads, even Facebook ads—until recently.
A Social Media Slap Fight
Facebook made updates that nullified ad blockers. Adblock Plus, determined to go down swinging, wrote a workaround. Facebook quickly stomped out that workaround, and we’re back to ads on Facebook (but only in News Feed). If you’re a marketer, there was much rejoicing.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Facebook said:
“We’re disappointed that ad blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook as these new attempts don’t just block ads but also posts from friends and Pages. This isn’t a good experience for people and we plan to address the issue. Ad blockers are a blunt instrument, which is why we’ve instead focused on building tools like ad preferences to put control in people’s hands.”
I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that showing ads to people who don’t want to see ads creates a bad experience, but in an age where the lines are blurring between advertising and authentic content, Facebook might have a point. I’m already not seeing the vast majority of updates from Facebook Pages that I like unless a Page boosts its posts. So one could argue that Facebook is just trying to ensure that we get the content we claim to have asked for. The fact that they won’t show it to us without payment from the object of our FB affection is a whole other conversation.
What It Means for Marketers
These two updates bear clear significance for marketers, but I’m also interested in the philosophy behind these updates, and how they play into the arc of the history of the internet.
Google updates its algorithm roughly 500-600 times per year. PER YEAR. No wonder we can’t keep up. If you have a few spare hours, you can learn about every documented update since 2002. While these updates often cause excitement or headaches for SEOs, they’ve quietly and consistently been creating a better experience for Google users.
Google continues to tweak and refine its search algorithm so you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for every time, and keep coming back for more. And as much as Google Doodles may suggest otherwise, it’s not because they love you. It’s because you’re worth a fortune.
In the fourth quarter of 2015, Google brought in about $19 billion in ad revenue. That’s a 17% lift, year-over-year, even after average prices per click declined by 13%. But people clicked on 31% more ads than they did a year ago, and that was certainly by design. More relevant search results equal more clicks, whether you’re talking organic or paid results.
So what does all this have to do with Facebook? Google has essentially become synonymous with the internet for the average bear. We turn to it for everything, and it doesn’t often fail us or piss us off. And I think that Facebook is hot on its heels.
Facebook’s Grand Plan
Facebook has over 1.71 billion monthly active users, and the average visit lasts 20 whole minutes. One in five of all pageviews in the U.S. occurs on Facebook, and 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared there every day. Facebook is where many people get their news and decide which family members to avoid. When I’m mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and my husband asks what I’m looking at, I often respond, “the internet.”
For those who participate in it, Facebook is nearly as omnipresent and impactful as Google, and it’s because they’ve been making the same kind of quality user experience updates that Google has been making for years. They’re doing it with great care to not only benefit users, but advertisers and their bottom line, as well. They want people to keep coming back for more and to keep clicking on those ads, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure those things happen.
The internet is still in its infancy. The companies that failed to adapt are falling by the wayside (*cough* Yahoo *cough*), and certain companies and communities are rising to the top. They’re bringing order to the Wild West, and shaping the internet based on what We The People want. It’s really quite democratic. And capitalistic. But this is America, isn’t it?
Make no mistake: You can count on Facebook being one of those companies at the top for the foreseeable future—and don’t ever let some Snapchat-loving 20-something tell you otherwise. Unless that Snapchat-loving 20-something is Turner.