Facebook announced yesterday yet another incremental change to its News Feed. This time it made it clear that the load time of sites linked to from Facebook would factor into how it ranks stories from those sites in the algorithm. So if your site is load, updates with links to the site have less of a chance of showing up in people’s feeds than posts with links to sites that load more quickly, especially on mobile.
As always, Facebook includes a comment about how this won’t impact the distribution or performance of most Pages and reminds publishers of some basic tips to make sure their sites are working well.
But…if this change won’t impact distribution then what’s it doing? Isn’t the whole point of making a change like this that the distribution and reach of pages with slow-loading sites will be hurt?
Aside from the rhetorical inconsistency on display, it can’t be over-stated how much Facebook has contributed to the environment in which publisher websites load more slowly. By siphoning off ad revenue, Facebook put publishers in the position of doing whatever their remaining advertisers wanted them to do. So they agreed to ridiculous viewability rates, autoplay ads with sound on by default and more. And they loaded up each page with dozens of ads, each running their own scripts. That slowed down page loading time just as readers became less patient.
It also coincided with Facebook and others making appeals for their own native publishing platforms such as Instant Articles. The primary appeal to readers was their fast loading time, with publishers offered a slice of the ad revenue that was better than nothing but less than they got at the height of the of web’s growth.
In short, Facebook backs publishers into a corner then says it’s punishing publishers for doing what it takes to survive.
The last several years have been littered in News Feed changes Facebook has presented as “small” and promised wouldn’t seriously impact Page performance. Those promises are usually followed by substantial drops in post reach as stories are degraded in the feed and fewer people see them. There’s no reason to believe this will any different.