The Facebook Algorithm | How It Works and How to Master It

Last year advertisers spent a colossal $39.4 billion on sponsored content for Facebook. However, most of them would struggle to explain to you how Facebook ranks their content on the News Feed.

It’s the million billion dollar question.

Here’s a rundown of how Facebook’s algorithm ranks content, with some best practices on how you can improve the visibility of your content on the News Feed.

Facebook is taking a cue from Google to curate content based on a metric of relevance, or trust. Like Google’s use of backlinks, Facebook has been forthcoming about their use of engagement for ranking content. This transparency is an opportunity for advertisers to better understand the algorithm and optimize.

 

nii ahene coo and co founder cpc strategy

-Nii Ahene, Co-founder and COO at CPC Strategy

 

What Is The Facebook Algorithm?

The Facebook Algorithm is a process that ranks all available posts that can display on a user’s News Feed based on how likely that user will have a positive reaction.

Facebook’s Algorithm for ranking and displaying content on your News Feed is based on four factors:

1. The Inventory of all posts available to display.

2. Signals that tell Facebook what each post is.

3. Predictions on how you will react to each post.

4. A Final Score assigned to the content based on all factors considered.

 

The process is based on the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves algorithm, which “operates as a closed auction,” in which advertisers’ bids are kept hidden from one another, prompting them to bid their real value.

 

facebook algorithm 2018

 

The Facebook Algorithm Change

Since the data controversy erupted around the social network in late 2017, Facebook has worked to improve transparency around how it ranks content on the News Feed.

Between Facebook’s F8 conferences, News Feed webinars, and algorithm presentations — we can now say that Facebook’s ranking algorithm is no longer a complete black box.

Facebook went public with changes to the algorithm in their post “Meaningful Interactions” update back in January 2018.

Source: Facebook

In short, Facebook’s algorithm now prioritizes content posted from friends over publishers, with a focus on “meaningful interactions.”

 

The Four Factors That Determine Your Content Ranking

It’s important to understand that the goal of the News Feed is to “show stories that matter to users,” according to Adam Mosseri, VP of Facebook’s News Feed Management.

The goal of News Feed is to show people the stories that are most relevant to them.

Let’s take a look at the four major factors that determine if a story is relevant for a user’s News Feed.

 

signals predictions score inventory facebook algorithm cpc strategy

Facebook revealed the four factors at this year’s F8 conference. Source: Social Barrel

1. Inventory

Inventory represents the total stock of all content available that can display to a user on Facebook’s News Feed.

 

facebook algorithm inventory

 

This includes everything posted from friends and publishers.

 

2. Signals

This represents all the information that Facebook can gather about a piece of content.

Signals are the single factor that advertisers have control over.

What type of content, the publisher, its age,  purpose, and more.

 

facebook algorithm signals

You want your content to signal to Facebook that it’s meaningful and relevant to your target audience.

 

3. Predictions

Predictions represent the behavior of a user and how likely they are predicted to have a positive interaction with a content piece.

 

facebook algorithm predictions

 

4. Score

Score is the final number assigned to a piece of content based on the likelihood the user will respond positively to it.

 

facebook algorithm score

 

Meaningful Interactions Are Heavily Weighted

As advertisers, the only part of the process that we have control over are the signals of our content.

These signals can be divided into two categories: passive and active.

facebook algorithm meaninful interactions active signals

Passive signals include view time, story type, time posted, and other metrics non-active metrics.

Active signals include likes, shares, comments, and other active events that prompt engagement.

You should tailor your content to promote positive engagement, or what Facebook has defined as “meaningful interactions.”

Active signals drive meaningful interactions:

  • Comments
  • Replies
  • Likes
  • Shares

 

Best Practices for Making Your Content More “Meaningful”

Here are some guidelines for keeping your content meaningful in Facebook’s eyes, based on Matt Navara and Paul Armstrong’s coverage of Facebook’s News Feed webinar.

 

1. Be a conversation starter

You want your content to start conversations and positive interactions between your followers and others.

Don’t just focus on consumption — your content should prompt people to stop, interact, and share with one another.

 

Sephora, which consistently ranks #1 in L2’s Digital IQ Index — always strikes a balance between advertising and conversation starting with well-crafted organic and sponsored content.

 

2. Focus on your audience

Your content should always be relevant to your core audience — the people you want to build a community around.

Products, education, lifestyle imagery — it should all build on your identity as a brand answering to a specific audience.

 

 

3. Put ad dollars behind content with organic momentum

The Facebook algorithm places value on content that performs well organically.

Content that already has strong organic traction means lower CPCs — which combined with ad dollars can create a snowball effect for your content.

Conversely, don’t waste ad dollars behind poor-performing organic content. It will have higher CPCs and cost you more while offering less in return.

Nii Ahene says,

If a post is performing well with engagement, likes, and shares — then there’s an opportunity to place additional ad dollars behind to drive that performance even further.

 

4. Avoid click bait

Remember all of those “like if…” and “share if you are…” posts?

This is engagement baiting; they don’t add value or interaction for users.

 

Source: Forbes

Stay away from asking people to “please comment, like, and share.” Your content should inspire them to engage without having to ask.

See Sephora’s example of promoting discussion around healthy skin care for conversation starting done right.

What values or issues is your brand building conversation around?

 

5. Track your content performance

After you’ve published your content, remember to use Facebook Insights to track the performance of your content.

Keep track of how your different content pieces are performing engagement-wise.

Learn from your Insights data and then optimize from there.

 

facebook insights

 

Why Should Advertisers Care?

Advertisers looking to become more effective in their content strategy, both paid and organic, stand to benefit from a basic understanding of the algorithm.

If you’re aiming to reach Facebook’s 2.2 billion + active users, you are up against some steep competition content-wise (Zephoria):

  • 4.75 billion pieces of content shares – daily
  • 300+ million photo uploads – daily
  • 510,000 comments – every 60 seconds
  • 293,000 statuses – every 60 seconds

 

If you want to improve your social performance and grow your community, you don’t want your content drowned out by the other 4.75 billion pieces of content on Facebook daily.

 

The Final Takeaway

The Facebook algorithm is incredibly sophisticated — and no amount of information is going to help you hack it.

The little information that we do know, however, is just enough for advertisers to build a better content strategy and improve visibility on the News Feed.

Keep your content meaningful by being a conversation starter, an advocate for your audience, and boosting your best-performing organic content.


 

Want to learn more about driving performance with Facebook advertising?

The 2018 Facebook Advertising Guide

5 Lessons To Better Your Facebook Ad Creative in 2018

5 Facebook Ad Templates From the Experts

How To Use Facebook’s “Info and Ads” To Outshine Competitors

 

 

About the AuthorGreg graduated from CSU Sacramento with a degree in International Relations. After teaching English in Istanbul, he returned to California to pursue writing about tech and digital marketing. See all posts by this author here.