Recently, many Facebook page admins have experienced a significant decrease in Total Reach—specifically, organic reach. For pages that want to keep their ad budget as low as possible, maximizing organic reach is vital.
To best understand how to make a change like this work for you, and not against you, we need to examine what happened—and what you can do about it.
We analyze and monitor this type of data for thousands of pages with a tool called EdgeRank Checker. By monitoring metrics such as reach and engagement over time, we can get a better understanding of how to advise companies to continue to optimize their strategy. We’ve collected this data over the past few months against roughly 1,000 anonymous Facebook pages.
Facebook page admins most often run into two metrics: reach and engagement. Facebook presents this data when viewing your posts by showing the number of likes, comments, and shares, along with how many people saw the post.
What does “1,000 people saw this post” actually mean, though?
Facebook adds up everyone who saw the post, whether you paid for people to see it, people shared it with their friends, or Facebook gave you free distribution in the news feed. The people who saw it for free combine with the people who shared it to create “organic reach.” When people see your post because you paid for additional exposure, they call it “paid reach.”
- Organic Reach = Free distribution + People who share
- Paid Reach = People who saw it because you paid
- Total Reach = Organic reach + Paid reach
On December 2, 2013, Facebook announced that they would be placing an emphasis on links while continuing to punish meme content in the news feed.
Around this time, we noticed a significant drop in organic reach for many pages. Page admins around the world were reporting a drastic drop in their organic reach. Not all pages were severely impacted by the change, but the majority seemed to be impacted negatively.
We’ve seen changes like this in the past. In fact, every time we’ve ever studied organic reach (we’ve been monitoring it closely for ~three years) we’ve found it has decreased over time. The reason being that the past three years have seen steady growth from Facebook, which means increased competition to get into the news feed. During this time, Facebook has continued to improve its news feed algorithm to focus on quality content—raising the bar for any page on the platform.
Examining the numbers
In the graph below, the first bar represents September 2012 (for a reference point), while the rest of the bars represent months within 2013. Over a year ago, organic reach fared much better than it does today. In the past few months, we’ve seen a decrease from 12.6% to 7.7%.
We specifically examined the 28 days before and after December 2nd:
When changes like this have occurred in the past, Facebook has tended to defend its news feed changes by attempting to keep engagement rates roughly equal. How did engagement data fare?
In general, engagement levels for pages fluctuated within normal variations. In some cases, engagement actually increased. From Facebook’s perspective, this is a good change for their news feed; it provides a better experience for the typical Facebook user, as they are seeing less of the stuff they don’t want to engage with.
How did different content types fare?
All of the content types experienced decreases over the time period analyzed. Status updates continue to outperform videos, photos, and links for organic reach. Status updates have held strongly over the past year as the top-performing content type for organic reach.
A look at individual pages
Not all pages were impacted the same. We saw some pages experience drastic decreases, while others were positively impacted by the change. We examined a few of these pages to dig deeper into theories on why they may have been impacted so extremely.
Some pages experienced significant, and abrupt, decreases in reach:
The page above experienced a significant decrease closer towards December 5th. After the change, not a single post experienced more than 15% organic reach (compared to their previous average around 25%). This page posted mostly status updates and often asked for engagement. Take a look at their status updates when asking for engagement:
In the graph above, you can see a clear and abrupt change around December 6th.
However, other pages experienced significant improvement:
The page above experienced an increase after the change (we found a few of these). This page exclusively posted photos over this time period and did not regularly ask for engagement. Let’s take a look at their photo posts:
Around December 8th, this page experienced an increased average in organic reach. It benefited from the change. After that point, this page did not have as many low-reaching posts, and had many more high-reaching posts (note: our system maxed them out at 100% impressions / fan).
What did these pages do differently?
|Page A||Page B|
|Posted mostly status updates||Posted mostly photos|
|Asked for engagement frequently||Rarely asked for engagement|
|Saw a significant decrease in organic reach||Saw a significant increase in organic reach|
Interestingly, Facebook did specifically reiterate that they would be focusing on “high quality content” that isn’t often using drastic calls to action to attract engagement. This may be the reason behind the difference in organic reach.
In an informal poll of Facebook admins, a vast majority of respondents self-reported drastic decreases. Sprinkled throughout the responses were some admins who were able to reduce the impact of the change (or even improve it). In our data, we found ~80% pages experienced a decrease over the time period.
7 tips to gain reach instead of losing it
The pages that were least impacted by the changes tended to focus on avoiding meme content, as well asavoiding frequent use of calls to action. Facebook is attempting to decrease these types of tactics in the news feed. Pages that have heavily used these tactics in the past may be more severely punished.
Facebook has said (and always maintained) that it is ideal to structure your content in the most logical way. Stories that include links should be posted as links. Many page admins like to include links within the descriptions of photos, however this is against Facebook’s general wishes. We always suggest to deliver your content in the best way for your audience to actually consume it.
- Focus, focus, focus on engagement.
- Study, analyze, and understand why your fans click the like button for your content.
- Avoid overusing strong calls to action.
- Avoid using memes.
- Analyze outbound links to determine which source is the most well received.
- Increase post frequency.
- Test different times of day for different types of content (e.g. news stories in the morning and product promotions in the evenings).
How was this data studied?
We examined ~100,000 posts over 11/4 -12/30 from approximately 1,000 pages. For any general metrics we averaged each page’s metrics and looked at the median of all the pages when examining aggregate data. Any “per-fan” data examined the metric divided by the number of fans for that page on the the day of posting.