Facebook Instant Articles: A reason to go ‘all in on IA’ for smaller publishers

“Facebook is public enemy number one for newspapers, and journalism” one alarming headline rang out recently.

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade isn’t the only one to think so, with many divided over Facebook’s increasing share of online advertising revenue, which may (or may not) present an existential threat to media companies digital dreams.

Essentially between Facebook and Google where is a newspaper to find the revenue to keep funding quality journalism? I understand the fear, well at least in part, especially if you are a big publisher.

However I’m a firm believer as a smaller publisher (with big ambitions) that Facebook is an opportunity to be grasped. I’ve watched how directly uploading our video content to our feed has created massive engagement, giving us extra numbers to sell to advertisers.

I’m also ‘all in’ on Facebook’s Instant Articles. As a recent adopter I’ve seen it quickly account for 12 per cent of all pageviews, second only to the homepage which roughly gives us 30 per cent. Yes it took us some fine-tuning to get Google Analytics to capture all the hits but now it’s working well,

Geek alert: I am about to nerd out on analytics but hear me out if your site is pulling in under 100 million pageviews per year and your technology platform isn’t up to scratch for growth.

Three years ago Times of Oman was a little lost, our content was not relevant and hence we hardly generated seven million pageviews a year. In some ways that was a blessing as the site just could not take the traffic, anything more than 5,000 pageviews per hour and it blew a leak and crashed.

Fast-forward three years and we’ve a team focused on delivering strong relevant content, we’ve redesigned the site across desktop, tablet and mobile and invested in good technology (with a great partner Layout International) and are aiming for 55 million to 60 million pageviews this year.

So there was a small swell of pride when recently the site coped with its biggest ever surge in traffic without stuttering with Google Analytics marking us at 65,000 pageviews over the hour.

Watching the real time analytics though also highlighted an interesting bonus that comes with adopting Facebook’s Instant Articles. At the height of the traffic surge while watching the real time stats it was great to see that 25 per cent of that was coming from the Facebook Instant Articles.

More importantly that also meant that Facebook’s giant servers were handling a quarter of that surge, leaving my far humbler server free to capture the maximum amount of traffic locally without slowing down. The combination of the website and Facebook IA meant record traffic.

I’ll be fascinated to see whether the same bonus holds true for Google AMP when we launch that in the coming weeks (in theory it should).

There are of course other arguments for adopting IA, it is a better mobile experience for your Facebook followers, you still get to capture the analytics and you can sell advertising into them and keep 100 per cent of the revenue.

Putting those very good reasons to go all in on IA aside, I know the heartache of being first with a story, seeing traffic soar only for your site to crash, so for smaller publishers anything that can lessen the load when the big crowds come calling has to be worth considering.

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