Facebook Instant Articles, AMP and Apple News for local news publishers

March 15, 2018
March 15, 2018 msuproductions

Facebook Instant Articles, AMP and Apple News for local news publishers

Note: This post was written by Stefanie Murray and Ned Berke, and was last updated March 2018. It is intended for members of the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), the Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), the Detroit Journalism Cooperative and NJ News Commons organizations under a Knight Foundation-supported program to enhance the social media skills of small, independent and nonprofit news organizations. The program is being coordinated by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

Considering whether to publish content via Facebook Instant Articles, AMP and Apple News can be a confusing proposition for independent news organizations. Here’s a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

The following tip sheet compiles information regarding Facebook Instant Articles, AMP and Apple News, as well as guidance surrounding the pros and cons of using each for independent news organizations. Note that the “what it does” and “how it works” sections are highly condensed, non-technical descriptions. You’ll need to access the links for more detailed information.

Facebook Instant Articles

What it does: Pulls and caches your content in Facebook’s platform when someone clicks on a link of yours from inside Facebook’s app. The content is served to the user instantly and has a clean, easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate design.

How it worksMost, but not all, major content management systems offer an Instant Articles plug-in or integration. You’ll sign up for Instant Articles first, then set up your integration. Once you install the plug-in, you’ll configure several items including some design parameters, connect your ad server and Google Analytics, and submit your links for review. After Facebook reviews your articles to ensure they are populating cleanly, you’ll be approved.

Pros:

  • It provides a faster, better mobile experience for users, especially if you have a significant amount of mobile traffic coming to your site via the Facebook mobile app.
  • For publishers who have a light-to-medium amount of direct-sold advertising, you likely will see no negative impact on your ad impressions.
  • For publishers with unsold ad inventory, you can integrate Facebook’s audience network to backfill that inventory at a 70/30 revenue split. (That’s 70% to you).
  • It’s fairly easy to turn off if you don’t want to use Instant Articles any more.
  • You can use the built-in call-to-action unit to collect email addresses.
  • Instant Articles advertisements are unaffected by ad-blockers.

Cons:

  • For publishers with a high amount of customized content (lots of custom databases, video players, VR, etc.), it’s possible Instant Articles won’t work on those pages, so they would be excluded.
  • For publishers with a high number of direct-sold ads that are dense on article pages, you may lose ad impressions. Facebook allows ads only every 250 words.
  • It’s easy to collect email addresses, but it’s not easy to access them. You have to manually download the email addresses from Facebook and them upload them to your email client to ensure they get into your workflow, and you need to do that frequently. You can pay for services like Zapier to automate the process somewhat.

Things to note:

  • Remember Instant Articles only applies to readers who are reading your content through Facebook’s mobile app.
  • Instant Articles works best with an ad server that can integrate easily with it, such as Google DFP. Proprietary systems, smaller vendors or manually-uploaded ads will be a bit more work.
  • Some third-party comment systems may require additional integration work.
  • You should begin tracking traffic and CTA responses immediately after IA is set up so you can assess whether it works for you.

AMP

What it does: AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is an open-source project that essentially translates your web pages into a format (with minimal HTML, limited Javascript) that is able to be hosted in the AMP cache and then viewed almost instantly inside devices and platforms that link to AMP pages. (You know who links to AMP pages? Google. Plus Bing, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.)

How it worksAMP currently has integrations with several content management systems, including WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, Tumblr, Canvas and others. This makes the process much easier; for WordPress, you’ll install a plug-in, and you’ll need to connect your ads platform and analytics to AMP pages. Then you’ll need to validate and debug your AMP articles to ensure they are working. Last, there are some steps to ensure your AMP pages are being indexed and discoverable

Pros:

  • AMP pages are light, and load time is nearly instantaneous, making it particularly effective in areas with limited mobile connectivity.
  • Google gives a boost to fast-loading pages in its search results, and few pages load as fast as AMP pages. 
  • AMP content isn’t just shown in the regular search results, it’s in other places like the search carousel and Google Assistant. It’s also used by Twitter, LinkedIn, Flipboard, Bing and others.
  • Since AMP is an open-source project with multiple partners, it is continuing to evolve. That means it’s likely that AMP will become more important, and hopefully easier to use. It’s not dependent on just Google.
  • So long as your ad formats comply with AMP’s specifications, they will bypass the most common ad-blockers.
  • Dozens of ad platforms and vendors offer integration with AMP, making it (hopefully) easy for you to serve ads on AMP pages the same way you are serving them on your mobile pages now.
  • Close to 40 different kind of analytics platforms offer integrations with AMP including, of course, Google Analytics.

Cons:

  • Since AMP is built with limited HTML, Javascript and CSS, it means some widgets and features with customized code won’t work.
  • It’s a bit more complicated to disconnect AMP than it is Instant Articles.
  • Some third-party comment systems and plugins may require additional integration work.
  • Some ad formats may not work, or work differently than expected, in AMP. Advertisements on AMP load after everything else, so some could go unseen.
  • AMP’s analytics have more limited capabilities than standard Google Analytics, though most commonly used metrics are accessible. AMP can also inflate session counts and bounce rate, and deflate pages/time per session.

Things to note:

  • You should begin tracking traffic and user experience immediately after AMP is set up so you can assess whether it works for you.

Apple News Format

What it doesApple News Format is Apple’s proprietary publishing format for the Apple News app, a newsstand available on all iOS devices.

How it worksContent creators sign up for News Publisher, obtain an API key, and connect their content management system to the Apple News API. Most major content management systems, including WordPress, Drupal and Squarespace, have established plugins. Once connected, publishers need to submit at least three articles for review.

Pros:

  • The Apple News app offers readers another way to follow your publication. Users can save articles for offline reading, and new readers can find you using Apple News’ search function or through personalized recommendations.
  • Your publication appears in a dedicated news environment adjacent to global news outlets and glossy magazines.
  • Apple News allows you to include ads in your content and keep all revenue. You can also choose to let Apple backfill your advertising, for which you’ll keep 70 percent of the revenue.

Cons:

  • Apple News is only available to those who use Apple devices.
  • Apple News doesn’t offer integration with Google Analytics or other third-party analytics platforms; it has its own analytics dashboard.
  • The app’s analytics only reflect usage in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia – so if you have a sizable audience outside of those countries, it won’t be reflected in Apple News.
  • There are no comment sections on Apple News articles.
  • Even more than Facebook, Apple News is a closed ecosystem. There are no email signup forms or obvious ways to capture users outside of Apple News, though most integrations include a path back to the publisher’s website with a swipe up to “Read Original Story.”

Things to note:

  • Apple News may best be viewed as additive for local news publishers, letting their content be discovered through search and recommendations for Apple users who might not be active on social media.

If you have any questions, let us know! Email murrayst@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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