The Facebook algorithm. Whether you love it or hate it, you need to understand it to be successful in advertising your business on the world’s largest social network.
The average organic post on a Facebook page has only a 0.07% engagement rate. To increase this percentage for your brand, you have to learn to understand the algorithm. You want the algorithm to know that your content is valuable, authentic and worth appearing in your followers’ feeds.
What is the Facebook algorithm?
The Facebook algorithm determines which posts people see each time they view their Facebook feed, and in what order those posts appear.
Basically, The Facebook algorithm evaluates each post. It scores posts and sorts them in descending, non-chronological order of interest to each user. This process happens every time a user – and there are 2.9 billion of them – updates their feed.
We don’t know all the details of how Facebook’s algorithm decides what to show people (and what not). But we do know that, like all social network recommendation algorithms, one of its goals is to keep people on the platform to see more ads.
In fact, Facebook faced criticism in 2021 because the algorithm prioritized controversial content. Controversy often gets the most engagement and can even trigger “compulsive use” of the platform.
And back in 2018, critics feared the algorithm was increasing outrage, division and political polarization while promoting misinformation and borderline content.
For its part, Facebook says the algorithm aims to help users “discover new content and connect with the stories that matter most to them,” while ” keeping spam and misleading content at bay.” As you’ll see below, Facebook’s recent algorithm changes have aimed to address concerns about content as well as privacy.
History of the Facebook algorithm
The Facebook algorithm is not static. Meta has a whole team of people working on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Part of their work involves improving the algorithms that connect Facebook users with the content most valuable to them.
Over the years, the algorithm’s ranking signals have been added, removed and adjusted in importance. It all depends on what Facebook thinks users want to see.
Here are some of the most notable moments and changes in the development of the Facebook algorithm
- 2009: Facebook debuts its first algorithm to place posts with the most Likes at the top of the feed.
- 2015: Facebook begins downgrading the ranking of Pages that post too much promotional content. Introduces “See First” feature so users can indicate that they want a Page’s posts to be prioritized in their feed.
- 2016: Facebook adds a “time spent” ranking signal to measure the value of a post based on how long users have spent with it, even if they don’t like or share it.
- 2017: Facebook starts weighting reactions (e.g. hearts or angry face) more than classic Likes. Another ranking signal is added for videos: completion rate. That is, videos that keep people watching until the end are shown to more people.
- 2018: Facebook’s new algorithm prioritizes “posts that spark meaningful conversations and interactions.” Posts from friends, family and Facebook Groups were prioritized over organic content from pages. Brands would now have to earn much more engagement to signal value to the algorithm.
- 2019: Facebook prioritizes “high-quality original videos” that keep viewers for more than 1 minute, especially videos that hold attention for more than 3 minutes. Facebook also starts uploading content from “close friends”: those with whom people interact the most. The “Why am I seeing this post” tool is introduced.
- 2020: Facebook reveals some details of the algorithm to help users understand how it serves content, and allows users to take control of their data to give the algorithm better feedback. The algorithm begins to evaluate the credibility and quality of news articles in order to promote substantiated news rather than misinformation.
- 2021: Facebook releases new details about its algorithm and gives users better access to their data. This is their explanation of the algorithm in 2021.
How does Facebook’s algorithm work?
Facebook says Feed “shows you stories that are meaningful and informative.” Starting in 2022, The Facebook algorithm calculates what those stories might be using three main ranking signals:
- Who posted it: You’re more likely to see content from sources you interact with, including friends and businesses.
- Content type: If you interact more often with videos, you’ll see more videos. If you interact with photos, you’ll see more photos. You get the idea.
- Post interactions: The feed will prioritize posts with a lot of engagement, especially from people you interact with a lot.
Each post is ranked based on these top signals to determine where it appears in your feed.
Facebook also offers users options to help them train the algorithm and customize their feed:
- Favorites: Users can select up to 30 people and pages to add to Favorites (formerly known as “See First”). Posts from these accounts will appear higher in the feed. To access Favorites, click the down arrow at the top right of Facebook, then click Settings & Privacy, then News Feed Preferences.
- Feed options: Click on any post and you will see the option I don’t want to see this. Then choose Hide post to tell Facebook that you want fewer posts of that nature in your feed. For ads, the equivalent option is Hide Ad. Facebook will then give you a series of options to indicate why you want to hide the ad. This will help Facebook understand what kind of advertisers you want to hear from and which ones you prefer to avoid.
And finally, Facebook will remove content that goes against their community standards. They can also “remove or limit audiences for certain types of content”.
7 Tips for the Facebook Algorithm to Like You
1 Find out what your audience likes
Facebook indicates that it prioritizes content that is “meaningful and informative.” What exactly does that mean?
- Meaningful: Stories that the user will want to talk about with friends and family or want to spend time reading (based on past behavior), and videos they want to watch.
- Informative: Content that someone will find “new, interesting and informative,” which will vary by user.
Understanding what will be meaningful and informative to your specific audience means that you need to understand their
2 Create quality content
Facebook says that “people on Facebook value accurate and authentic content”. They also specify that the types of posts that people “consider genuine” will rank higher in the Feed. Meanwhile, they are working to reduce the ranking of posts that people consider “misleading, sensational and spammy.”
A couple of tips to tell the algorithm that your content is accurate and authentic:
- Write clear headlines: Make sure your headline clearly describes what users will find in our post. You can be creative, but don’t use misleading titles.
- Be honest: In short, tell the truth. Don’t sensationalize, exaggerate, or lie. Clickbait will not endear you to the Facebook algorithm.
On the other hand, there are some things to avoid:
- Links to sites that use stolen or non-value-added content
- Borderline content (content that is not entirely banned but probably should be)
- Misinformation and fake news
- Misleading health information and dangerous “cures”.
- “Deepfake videos” or manipulated videos flagged as fake by third party fact checkers.
3 Do not attempt to manipulate the algorithm
But wait, isn’t this post about how to manipulate Facebook’s algorithm? No, this post is about understanding how the algorithm works so you can learn what Facebook considers valuable to its users.
You have to do the work to figure out how those general principles apply to your specific audience. Then create content that resonates with them and in turn sends positive ranking signals to the algorithm.
Trying to manipulate the algorithm to get more distribution than your content deserves based on those ranking signals is a big mistake. This can include, for example, paying for engagement or comments or engaging in other strategies to manipulate reach. Facebook considers it spam. Don’t do it.
The message is simple: Work with the Facebook algorithm, not against it.
4 Connect with your audience
The Facebook algorithm prioritizes posts from pages that a user has interacted with in the past. This means that the key is to improve responses.
If a person takes the time to comment on your post, don’t waste the opportunity. If you make them feel heard with a response, they are more likely to continue commenting on your posts in the future. This, of course, sends more of those juicy engagement signals to Facebook’s algorithm. Ignore them and they’re likely to shut up in turn.
5 Get your audience to interact with each other
Remember we said that the Facebook algorithm values content that people want to share and discuss with their friends? Well, a pretty easy way to send that signal is to get people to share your content and comment on it with their friends.
Facebook itself says that if a post triggers a lot of conversation among a user’s friends, the algorithm applies “action logic” to show that post to the user again.
To get your audience sharing and discussing, check out our tips for increasing engagement on Facebook.
6 Make the most of Stories and Reels
Reels and Stories live in a separate world from the main News Feed algorithm. Both appear in tabs at the top of the Feed, above the rest of the content, offering you a bypass strategy of the Facebook algorithm.
In February 2022, Facebook expanded Reels from its initial U.S. launch to worldwide. Facebook says that half of the time spent on Facebook and Instagram is spent watching videos, and “Reels are our fastest growing content format by far.”
They are designed to drive discovery of new things. On the other hand, the feed primarily offers relevant content from people and brands you’re already connected with.
If you’re looking for what’s new, Reels are an important part of your strategy. Facebook says, “We’re focused on making Reels the best way for creators to get discovered.” Brands can also find new connections through Reels if they make quality content.
In addition to the tab at the top of Feed, Reels can be shared in Stories and viewed within the Watch tab. Within Feed, Facebook is starting to add suggested Reels from people the user does not yet follow.
7 Don’t forget the basic posts
Although videos are undoubtedly the most shared content and get the best results in terms of interaction, it is essential that you also add basic posts that only contain text or images. This will help you to give variety to your content and your audience.