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Last year Facebook unveiled Instant Articles, which aims to help deliver a better experience for mobile users by natively hosting publisher content on Facebook. 

Facebook offered a sweet revenue sharing deal, and prominent publishers like The New York Times signed on. 

Up until now, Instant Articles has been available to select publishers only, but the world's largest social network this week announced that it will be opening Instant Articles to all publishers in April.

In a blog post, Josh Roberts, a Facebook product manager, explained:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem - slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.

With that in mind, our goal from the beginning was to open up Instant Articles to all publishers and we’re excited to be able to do that in a way that makes it fast and easy for all publishers to reach their audiences on Facebook.

According to Roberts, "media organizations and journalists are an integral part of Facebook," and in an effort to lure more publishers to the Instant Articles program when it opens up in April, Facebook will offer new publishers the same deal it has offered publishers like The New York Times.

That means publishers will have the ability to keep 100% of the revenue from ads they sell directly against their Instant Articles inventory, and 70% of the revenue generated by Facebook's ad sales.

The technical nitty gritty

To use Instant Articles, publishers will need to supply Facebook with their content in the Instant Articles format.

Instant Articles are HTML5 pages that use a relatively small number of elements and publishers can automate the syndication of properly formatted Instant Articles pages to Facebook using RSS.

Facebook also provides a web-based editing tool.

Ads and analytics

As noted, publishers can keep 100% of the revenue generated by ads they sell that are included in their Instant Articles.

Publishers can serve ads into Instant Articles using an iframe and their existing ad serving providers.

Publishers that opt to use ads from Facebook's Audience Network can just as easily incorporate those ad placements into their Instant Articles as well.

As far as analytics is concerned, publishers are able to use their existing analytics services, such as Google Analytics, in Instant Articles, with one caveat:

Analytics code is sandboxed from the article interactions as well as other webviews embedded in the article and so it does not have the ability to record specific actions taken in the article.

Facebook, not surprisingly, offers its own analytics data to publishers, which includes reach and engagement metrics, such as scroll depth.

Important requirements

Publishers that want to take advantage of Instant Articles should note several key requirements:

  • Publishers must have a Facebook Page to publish Instant Articles.
  • Because Instant Articles are only available on Facebook's mobile app, publishers must publish a web-based version of every piece of content that is published as an Instant Article and supply Facebook with a URL to that content.
  • To access support for Instant Articles, publishers must have or set up a Business Manager account.

Is it worthwhile?

So should publishers jump on the Instant Articles bandwagon?

While Facebook says that Instant Articles are not favored and won't affect organic reach, many publishers will no doubt find Instant Articles attractive because it could help them better tap Facebook's massive audience.

Of course, they should also consider that by handing their content to third-party distribution platforms like Facebook, they're arguably making themselves more dependent on these increasingly powerful platforms.

This could have significant long-term consequences both good and bad.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 February, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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