The Evolution of the Facebook Algorithm

Posted May 23, 2016 | By csponline

Abstract timeline containing Facebook profile pictures, mobile phones and laptops.

The Facebook we know today looks very different from the social media platform’s original appearance. With the addition of a “Trending” section, various News Feed filters, profile elements and more, the site is becoming more interactive and personalized. However, design isn’t all that has changed. The content users see when they log on is different as well, and it’s determined by something called the Facebook algorithm. For marketers in particular, understanding what content is shown to viewers and how it is filtered is important for success. By understanding the nuances of the Facebook algorithm, marketers can develop a social media strategy that works.

Frequent algorithm changes mean that opportunities for digital marketing are often shifting as well. For example, when the News Feed was first introduced, advertisers were able to reach users directly by appearing there. However, today’s Facebook algorithm determines which advertisements align with users’ interests based on their onsite activity, listed interests and interaction with other pages. This means that, according to Wallaroo Media, marketers must create ad campaigns with a focused and targeted audience to take full advantage of Facebook advertising.

On Facebook today, users can determine the types of ads they want to see in their News Feed. When a user hides an ad, Facebook notes the activity and makes a change. The site is much more in tune with user feedback concerning ads than it was in the past, so marketers have to create higher-quality content to ensure that it reaches (and continues to reach) their intended audience. If done correctly, this can lead to increased interaction and better conversion rates.

One of the most important things marketers can do is stay cognizant of each algorithm change and fully understand the implications. You can find out about algorithm changes by following relevant blogs like the ones mentioned in this article and staying abreast of Facebook’s business announcements about changes in the days leading up to launch. Because the News Feed algorithm has changed many times since the site’s inception, the strategies that worked in the past don’t necessarily work now. Marketing teams have to stay current on how the site evolves because, with around 1.3 billion active users, a thorough understanding of the platform is key to a successful social media marketing strategy.

Notable Changes

Though there have been a litany of changes to the Facebook algorithm over the years, a few of the alterations had major repercussions for marketing teams. In October 2009 for example, Facebook made its first major change to the News Feed. While it previously showed content in chronological order, the new version became a filtered page of highlighted activity. Then in September 2011, Facebook combined the News Feed and Live Feed to create a streamlined viewing experience. Perhaps the biggest change of all came in August 2013. This is when the simple EdgeRank algorithm became much more complex and sophisticated. After this, user-guided content like posts by close friends and family began to outweigh page content. This had major repercussions for marketers because reach and referral traffic declined as fewer users saw posts by pages. According to Social Media Today, very few users view page content organically — perhaps as little as 3 percent. 

Some other, more recent changes to the Facebook algorithm include the following (via Wallaroo Media):

  • June 2015: The News Feed is prioritized with See First, allowing users to choose the types of posts that appear at the top of the page.
  • October 2015: Facebook expands real-time news search, enabling users to search for any news story through Facebook and access search results.
  • January 2016: The site introduces organic audience optimization, allowing publishers to set preferences to target a specific audience based on interests, demographics and geographic location.
  • February 2016: Facebook begins to gauge the likelihood that a post will be highly rated with lots of interaction, putting likely posts at the top of the News Feed.

What It Means for Marketers

It’s no secret that many marketing teams strive for great organic reach on Facebook. However, the latest changes to the algorithm mean they have their work cut out for them. Now, creating engaging social content is still important, but many are turning to paid media as a means of reliable engagement. To ensure that your team’s social media presence remains effective, create engaging content that will stand out among other posts on the News Feed. You should also employ paid media to achieve long-term customer engagement on the site.

In the coming years, advertising will continue to adapt as the Facebook algorithm is updated. And with mobile technology gaining in popularity, it is important to optimize for mobile compatibility. The right balance between quality content and thoughtful strategy can lead to continued growth on what is by far the most popular social media platform.

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