Gain the Edge Over Your Competitors – A guide to the Facebook Newsfeed Algorithm

Facebook ranking algorithm (optimisation)

You may have noticed in your personal Facebook news feed that recent posts with a high level of engagement float towards the top, as do posts from people you interact with on a regular basis. There are reasons for this, and something you should be exploiting if you are responsible for a brand’s presence on Facebook.

Facebook’s ‘EdgeRank’ is a term that not many social media marketers have heard of, much less know how to influence positively for increased exposure of a brand’s Facebook business page and updates. If you utilise Facebook pages for your business or work with Facebook on behalf of a business or brand you need to read on.

What is EdgeRank?

Facebook refers to each content post as an “edge” – this means photos, videos, links, status updates, check-ins, likes, shares, etc are all called “edges”. Once upon a time, not too long ago, these posts (or edges) in the news feed would appear in chronological order by default, much like Twitter and Google+. Now Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what posts are likely to be of more interest to you based on historic actions and populates your news feed accordingly – this is now the default setting named “Top Stories”. Facebook gives you the option to revert back to the “Most Recent” chronological setting but it is believed that 95% of users almost exclusively use the default setting.

Facebook news-feed options

A recent ComScore study revealed that on average only 16% of fans see a business page’s edges in the news feed as Facebook looks to filter out irrelevant content and make space for content that is likely to interest the individual using it’s EdgeRank algorithm. The ‘EdgeRank’ algorithm uses three main factors to determine how prominently an edge is displayed in an individual’s news feed – Affinity, Edge Weight and Time Decay.

Affinity

An Affinity score is a weighting based on how close or connected the edge-creator is to the individual news feed owner. The more a user interacts with content you post, the more prominently future posts will appear in their news feed. For example, if you have ever stalked an old flame, perhaps flicked through their photos to see how well they are getting on without you, or checked up on their relationship status (no? just me?) chances are they are now popping up all over your news feed, seemingly rubbing it in your face! This is because the EdgeRank algorithm has detected a high affinity between you and them.

Please note, this doesn’t work both ways – just because you have been snooping around their profile doesn’t mean they will see each and every jealousy-inducing post of yours!

If you are a business page owner your level of Affinity with fans is extremely important – just because you have 10,000 fans doesn’t mean you have 10,000 sets of eyeballs on your updates. If these updates are uninteresting and don’t engage fans, the affinity score will be low and they will likely be buried under numerous posts from ex’s!

Right from the start of a campaign you should be concentrating on quality, not quantity in order to obtain a healthy edge-engagement ratio. Simply posting every 5 minutes about products you stock is unlikely to inspire many likes and comments and this will lead Facebook to believe your posts offer nothing of value. Not only will you be losing touch with your fans, but when you come to make a big announcement there will be no one to hear it!

Get it right however, and building Affinity with your fans will become a self-fulfilling prophecy – the better your content, the more prominently it will appear in your fan’s feeds when they log on. With more of your fans seeing your edges, proportionally your likes and comments will go up. With this increased engagement (plus extra exposure to friends of your fans who see when they interact with you), the more prominent your posts will be in future feeds and so on.

Edge Weight

This can be looked at from two angles – engagement and content type.

Each type of user action is weighted in terms of the effort exerted. For instance sharing a piece of content is worth more than commenting on a piece of content which is worth more than liking a piece of content which is worth more than viewing a piece of content. The sum of all these actions for a particular edge gives it its edge weight.

Secondly, the type of content that you post also has an effect on its visibility. For instance posting a photo or video has a greater weighting than posting a link or just some text. However, these are weighted on a per-user basis so if I tend ‘like’ or comment on photos more than links I am more likely to see photo/video-related content in my news feed. Using Facebook Page Insights data, you can find out what type of content resonates with your brand audience and optimise your content strategy accordingly. This article by Facebook gives some tips on what works well in driving engagement.

Time Decay

As time passes, posts start to lose their value and get overtaken by newer edges in order to keep the news feed fresh and interesting. No edge is immune to time decay regardless of the level of interaction, as with any news the latest stories take a higher precedence. You may have noticed in your own feed that although some posts stay prominent for hours, others get buried rather quickly. It is the edges that attract the most attention and engagement that are likely to remain more prominent for longer.

Try to coincide edge updates when your audience is most likely to be logging on and will see it because it will never be more prominent than the moment you hit the post button. It is no good posting a critical announcement when no one is online to see it for it only to get relegated into the ether as more and more edges stack up on top.

Using Insights, you can track the optimum time when fans are most likely to comment on, or ‘like’ an edge in order to optimise your edge-engagement ratio.

EdgeRank = Affinity x Weight x Time Decay

It is important to understand how these three factors contribute to your brand’s presence on Facebook. The algorithm itself is not that sophisticated (relatively speaking) but knowing how the components mesh together and understanding what content appeals to your audience will help you make intelligent decisions and achieve success.

…or you could fork out to reach that remaining 86%!

Of course, if this all sounds like too much work Facebook gives businesses paid options to gain exposure…much to the dismay and dislike of former Star Trek actor George Takei!

First of all FB’s Reach Generator lets businesses reach a “guaranteed 75% of fans” each month with sponsored posts seen in both the right-hand side bar of your homepage or within the news feed. “Highlighted Posts” is altogether another beast which allows anyone to amplify their status update so that it shows longer and more prominently fans’ news feeds and ultimately to the other 86%. Plus as people interact with the post, so their friends will see it. Read More…

Top Tips

  • Campaigns built on constant, varied interaction with fans deliver the most value.
  • Ask open-ended questions, get a debate going or launch a poll to build your affinity with more people.
  • Always follow up on comments, and thank individuals for “liking” a page. Gratitude will show you are not too big to interact with your fans and if they have a query they are reassured they will get a response.
  • Posting easily-consumable content such as humorous videos and photos are easy ways to generate engagement.
  • If you have a low number of fans, look to reach out to individuals and other pages who have a large following and try to incite reciprocal engagement by tagging them and appealing to them directly. This way they will get a notification and it will be harder to overlook (or ignore) you.
  • If you are hoping to make a big splash with an important announcement, invest some time ahead to of the announcement to lay the groundwork to ensure the maximum number of eyeballs. Tease the update, ask questions, generate content that will appeal to the masses.
  • Number of fans/page likes is not a true measure of success. Remember, if these people don’t have a close affinity to you, they won’t see your message anyway.
  • If you have nothing interesting to say or nothing of value to share, don’t.
  • Use EdgeRank Tracker to follow your Facebook page stats and make informed campaign strategy decisions.

UPDATE: Recent research conducted by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot looked into the best ways of achieving maximum likes, shares and comments on Facebook. The following is an overview of the findings:

  • Visual content (photos) attract the most engagement, news stories the least
  • Using lots of self referential words (such as “I” and “me”) attracted the most likes
  • Be passionate in posts (highly positive or highly negative) – don’t be neutral or sit on the fence
  • Post when others aren’t, such as evenings (6-8pm) and weekends and earlier in the week if possible – Thursday is the least active for likes

For the full infographic click here

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London based SEO agency, Reload Digital specialise in Social Media Management, PPC Management as well as SEO (search engine optimisation) and all forms of Online Strategy & Reputation Management.

Rick Eliason

Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

Rick is Reload's most senior SEO expert, and started his digital marketing journey way back in 2007 as an in-house online marketing executive. Now with over three years under his belt at Reload Digital, he handles search and conversion campaigns for a wide range of clients from e-commerce and start-ups to large service-based businesses and not-for-profits.