Facebook Local is the social network’s stab at Yelp, Foursquare

Facebook’s year-old Events app hasn’t turned into the Google Calendar competitor it was primed to become. So the social network is relaunching it and redirecting its aim at local search platforms like Yelp and Foursquare.

Last week, Facebook debuted Facebook Local, a refurbished version of its Events app that aims to help people find nearby things to do and places to go and make Facebook more of a player in local search.

[Read the full article on Marketing Land.]

Facebook third-party partnerships bring huge trove of used car listings to Marketplace

Facebook launched its classifieds Marketplace in October 2016 and has been building out content, categories and geographies since then. Yesterday the company announced major new third-party deals to bring more used car inventory into Marketplace.

The company named partnerships with Edmunds, Cars.com, Auction123, CDK Global and SOCIALDEALER. In the Edmunds case alone, that represents 4,000 local car dealers and 330,000 listings.

The tools and functionality in Marketplace allow car buyers to:

search and browse car inventory (now including these local dealers).filter by key criteria (year, model and so on).interact with dealers through Facebook Messenger.

In addition to autos, Marketplace categories include housing, jobs, deals, tickets and products (shops). There’s no public data on user numbers or transactions, but Marketplace clearly has the potential to be a major player and source of leads and volume for key classifieds categories. It’s not a threat to eBay at this point but could be in the not-too-distant future.

Facebook launched Marketplace for SMB and peer-to-peer sellers but has expanded to include enterprise sellers, as the automotive partnerships illustrate.

Facebook officially rolls out food ordering as part of longer-term commerce evolution

Last October, Facebook announced a number of tools and partnerships supporting local discovery and commerce on the app. Among them were the following:

Booking and food ordering for PagesSocial recommendationsLocal event discovery

Last week, Facebook “officially launched” food ordering on Facebook. The platform is working with delivery aggregators and restaurant chains directly in order to be comprehensive:

Facebook combines options from a number of food ordering services like EatStreet, Delivery.com, DoorDash, ChowNow and Olo, as well as restaurants like Jack in the Box, Five Guys, Papa John’s, and Panera, so you don’t have to search through multiple places to find what you’re looking for. From local spots to national chains, Facebook connects you with old favorites and new discoveries in just a few taps. You can even check out what your friends have to say about a restaurant before you order your food.

Everything is managed within the Facebook app. Indeed, the company anticipates you’ll search for food, read reviews and then complete the transaction all through the app.

This kind of end-to-end experience adds greater utility for consumers and ultimately generates more revenue for Facebook via paid media — apparently there are no transaction fees for Facebook in this product.

Food ordering should be seen in the context of a larger and longer-term evolution at Facebook. Beyond its transition over time into a media company, Facebook has been building commerce tools and capabilities, many of which are directed toward local and offline transactions.

Oculus looks to improve VR app discovery with content-based search

Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock.com

Oculus is giving developers more options for getting their virtual reality apps in front of the right people.

Oculus plans to roll out content-based app search for Gear VR “soon,” said Oculus product manager Florence Koskas during a session at the company’s annual developer conference on Wednesday.

[Read the full article on Marketing Land.]

A search marketer's view of Facebook's advertising platform

I’ve been doing some work recently for a non-profit working on hurricane relief in Texas, TeamRubiconUSA. I consider myself mostly a paid search guy, but amidst a pretty chaotic week, I’ve found myself helping out running paid social campaigns on a variety of platforms, including Facebook Ads. As the old saying goes, “When the enemy comes over the hill, even the cook picks up a rifle.”

This has been a golden opportunity to take some notes from the perspective of a paid search guy who’s been thrown into the world of paid social. If the Facebook Ads team is listening, here are some thoughts about various annoyances — all of which, if solved, would translate directly to more rapid campaign creation, not to mention money spent by Facebook advertisers.

So, with no further ado, here are my initial reactions to being immersed in the various Facebook Ads interfaces.

Cloning posts, for separate tracking purposes, is quite tedious

You really can’t easily clone an existing organic post and use the clone in a paid campaign. You can boost a post, sure, but then any UTM tagging that you built into the URLs in the post will remain, tracking (and miscrediting) the organic and paid versions! Not helpful. Really, you need a separate version of the post with “utm_medum=paid-social” (or whatever your preference is) in the tracking code for the Website URL.

Another approach I dug into was creating a “dark” (unpublished) post; but when you do this, although the GUI explicitly promises that you’ll be able to edit the title and description later when you turn it into an ad, this does not appear to be the case.

So apparently, if you want full control over the post, you need to create a second version of the post via the “Creative Hub” feature. This is painful because first, you have to hand-duplicate every element of the post into a new “mock-up,” then you have to go through a clunky process to import the mock-up into your ad account before you’re able to select it in Power Editor when you create the actual ad based on it.

This is all extremely tedious. How about just letting me clone an existing post into an ad? Then I could just edit and change the tracking code — easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Inaction seems to be the default, not action

What’s with all this “Confirming” stuff? There are Campaigns, Ad Sets and Ads. Why, when I create something, does it often seem to just sit there with an inactive status? That is, until I realize I have to click on the little up arrow next to it, then review and confirm its “Status” change in a dialog box that tells me almost nothing other than that there was a status change — a change, in fact, that I initiated, so I darn well know about its existence already!

In AdWords, once you create an ad, unless you select “pause,” it just runs! Why all this confirming? It’s a barrier to spending. I put up several ads at one point and had no idea they weren’t running for a number of hours. Not acceptable.

My suggestion to the Facebook Ads team would be this: Just put in a “pause” toggle at every level, in the creation process, right before people finish creating an object, then let them un-toggle it later if they want to make it a draft before they save it. Then, have the default be for all objects to be “Active.”

Isn’t it time to discard the stone knives and bearskins?

Advertisers who use Facebook Ads are stuck in the early 2000s concept of tagging every little thing about every link — this, in contrast to AdWords, where it all happens automatically with “Auto-Tagging.”

It’s incredibly hard to believe that Facebook has not yet bought a website analytics company, integrated it with Facebook Ads and created an ID that tracks 50 things about the click, which can then be shared automatically between Facebook Ads and the analytics service. Wait, you say… they have! Well, at least, apparently they’ve had a “Facebook Analytics” product for quite some time now. (The fact I did not even know this until today, doing some background research for this article, is a whole other problem. Why are they not marketing this heavily?) At any rate, Facebook Analytics does not appear to have an auto-tagging feature.

When I described to TeamRubiconUSA’s CMO, Trip Henderson (a veteran marketer who did a lot of Display Network stuff himself back in the day), what I was doing to tag campaigns and creatives, his reaction was, “Wow… I would have thought they would have solved all that by now.”

Yes, exactly. What are they waiting for? This is the most obvious strategy in the world, and it would make marketers’ lives much easier by eliminating all of that odious UTM tagging work. Not to mention, Facebook is tolerating Google Analytics being the primary means by which most marketers analyze results across all their online marketing channels? If I were in charge of Facebook strategy and product management, heads would be rolling every day of the week until that feature came out.

Being forced to use UTM tagging for tracking is akin to Spock trying to get his tricorder to play back with 20th-century technology. It can be done, but what a hassle — tagging is a major pain point for Facebook advertisers.

There are a few third-party products that provide auto-tagging capability for Facebook Ads, but this is a feature that clearly should be in Facebook’s wheelhouse.

How about some real placement reports?

I was amazed some time ago to find that Facebook Ads’ reporting does not give detailed breakouts of performance by site (or “placements,” the standard industry parlance).

Sorry, breaking out performance in the way that Facebook Ads does, by channel (Facebook, Facebook Audience Network, Mobile vs. Desktop) is not a real placement report. That’s a misleading name; it should, more properly, be called a channel/device report.

How about actually telling advertisers what sites the ads run on, in a real placement report that lists the actual placements? Hello, it’s 2017… brand protection… anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

While it’s laudable that one can now at least load a block list of domains (once your CEO has called you to ask you why your ads are running on some crazy site, which is always a wonderful experience for a junior marketer to go through), how about showing specific sites in a real placement report, just like the entire rest of the display industry has been doing for over a decade, so the junior marketer can get ahead of the curve?

I’m not talking asking for site targeting (which would be great, too, don’t get me wrong)… but can I at least understand where my ads are showing? Seems a reasonable ask!


I have to say, these annoyances aside, Facebook’s targeting is truly amazing. I’ve been doing a lot with it, but I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface. The fact that I’ve been able to figure it out at all, get our campaigns tagged and track everything in Google Analytics and evaluate campaigns beyond simple engagement metrics is a testament to how much Facebook has gotten right with this platform. Generally, the usability is pretty good; I just hope the Facebook Ads team continues to evolve and improve it!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Facebook will stop displaying Instant Articles within Messenger

Fourteen months after Facebook’s Messenger added support for its parent company’s proprietary article format, Messenger will no longer display the Instant Article version of a link when opened within the messaging app. The news was first reported on Tuesday by TechCrunch and confirmed by a Facebook spokesperson.

To read more about Messenger’s decision to remove support for Instant Articles, check out the full version of this article on Marketing Land.

Augmented Reality: Where are we now, and what does it mean for marketers?

Summer 2016 seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Barack Obama was president, the Chicago Cubs were carrying on their 108-year losing streak and swimmer Ryan Lochte was busy fabricating a story about getting robbed at gunpoint while representing the US at the Rio Olympic Games.

One of the biggest digital stories to come out of last year was the meteoric rise of Pokémon Go. The mobile game brought augmented reality (AR) to the masses and effectively demonstrated the technology’s potential as a new platform for customer engagement.

Pokémon Go disappeared from the limelight almost as quickly as it appeared, solidifying its place as a pop culture curiosity that will almost certainly be covered in an “I Love the ’80s”-esque retrospective 20 years from now.

Pokémon Go’s story may be over for most, but what about its underlying technology? How has that fared over the past 12 months?

Well, augmented reality isn’t just for gamers anymore. It can be a major asset for brands and their local marketing initiatives.

Tech giants pick up the AR torch

In many ways, Pokémon Go served as a proof of concept for AR’s potential as a marketing tool. Imagine billboards and advertisements that exist purely in the virtual world and offer exclusive deals and promotions to AR users. It’s a whole new ballgame, and some of the biggest names in tech are racing to cash in on that awesome potential.

Apple, for instance, is making a concerted push into this space, with hopes of building its forthcoming iOS 11 operating system into the world’s premiere AR platform. The tech giant recently ramped up its hiring efforts to bring in dozens of professionals with skills like “geospatial information services” to support AR software projects.

Meanwhile, Facebook demonstrated its growing interest in this technology, releasing a closed beta for its own AR mobile platform earlier this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed the company’s commitment to AR at the recent Facebook F8 conference:

“Over time, I think [augmented reality] will be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones and all our technology,” Zuckerberg said. “This is the type of technology we love to build.”

Where does AR fit in for local marketers?

It’s encouraging to hear that the big boys are throwing their full support behind AR, but what does the technology mean for digital marketers within the local space today? Over the past year, companies have made strides in the AR field, developing new use cases for marketing applications.

For example, Blippar has worked with a number of widely recognized brands to create AR-based banner ads that don’t require an app to view. When mobile users click on the ad, AR functionality is enabled, and they can interact with both their physical and virtual environments in new and innovative ways.

By pointing their cameras at particular objects, users can receive suggestions on similar or complementary products. A couple at a restaurant for dinner, for instance, could get wine pairing recommendations just by opening their camera apps.

Marketing teams could take advantage of this capability by providing information on local promotions. So, if users direct their phone’s camera to a bottle of Pepsi, the AR platform can show them where to find it on sale in their area.

Bridge the divide between digital and in-store experiences

We’ve all been spoiled rotten by digital platforms. Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and connected devices, consumers expect to have an enormous amount of information about any given product at their fingertips at any time.

In this environment, comparing product labels in a brick-and-mortar store seems pretty quaint. Companies like watch retailer Jura have developed AR applications that allow shoppers to find out more information about products as they walk through store aisles and compare different brands in far more detail. In Jura’s case, customers can virtually try on different watches and see which styles suit them best without getting near the display case.

It works the other way too. AR can enhance the digital shopping experience by putting products into consumers’ homes before they make a purchase. IKEA, for instance, has experimented with an AR functionality that would allow shoppers to view how, say, a dresser would look in their bedroom. More recently, the company announced a deal with Apple to develop an app for iOS 11.

With AR, the line between purely digital and physical shopping experiences starts to blur, creating untold possibilities for customer engagement.

“This technology makes it easier to make buying decisions in your own home, get inspired and try many different products, styles and colors in real-life settings with the swipe of your finger,” said Michael Valdsgaard, the leader of digital transformation at Inter IKEA Systems, in a press release. “I think that augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game changer for retail in the same way as the internet. Only this time, it will be much faster, and accessible to billions of customers.”

As companies continue investing in this technology, new marketing applications will arise. Now that tech giants like Apple and Facebook have committed to AR, it’s safe to say this is more than a flash-in-the-pan fad. The future of AR is filled with incredible potential. Be sure you’re ready to take advantage of AR when it truly comes into its own.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Facebook expands Marketplace categories and content in new push for growth

Facebook launched its classifieds site Marketplace in October of last year. Now the company is rolling it out to more countries and adding new categories and content from (local) business owners.

Considered by some as a “Craigslist clone” or potentially a “Craigslist killer,” the social site originally positioned Marketplace as a peer-to-peer selling platform, responding to the organic creation of specialized buy-and-sell groups on the site. Now it’s expanding participation to businesses and introducing content from a range of listings and data aggregators. 

Last week, TechCrunch discovered that Marketplace was featuring daily deals from eBay for a selection of its US user base. It was characterized by the company as a test. (It will likely expand beyond eBay if users respond positively.)

To learn more about Facebook’s plans, I spoke with Deb Liu, who is in charge of Marketplace. She confirmed that Facebook will be expanding the scope and content available to users.

For existing categories in Marketplace (e.g., Autos, Property), Facebook is going to add listings from businesses and content aggregators. These categories will feature side-by-side presentations of individual and “professional” listings. Facebook will also be introducing new categories that will be more business-centric:

Jobs (live now — US, Canada, Mexico)Daily deals (eBay partnership test)Tickets (Eventbrite and Ticketmaster), which are also presented on event pagesShops (products from Shop section of business Pages)

Liu told me that in developing the roadmap for Marketplace, Facebook is largely being responsive to its users and taking something of an organic approach. The content expansion represents users’ desire for more inventory and selection. She said the company also looks at search queries and what users are clicking on and engaging with to determine where to go next.

She indicated that each category will feature specialized filters to enable users to navigate and drill down into an increasing volume of listings. Filters will be uniquely adapted for each category — e.g., Jobs, Cars and Apartments.

For businesses selling products (or jobs listings), content will be pulled from Pages. To add products, businesses add content or inventory to the Shop area of their Pages. That will get pulled into Marketplace automatically. If businesses are working with commerce platforms such as Shopify, products can be published to Facebook through their tools.

Facebook sees a mix of both offline and e-commerce transactions through Marketplace. Listings pages enable buyers and sellers to communicate when an offline transaction is contemplated (e.g., buying furniture or a car), but Facebook will manage the transaction for e-commerce purchases.

“Our goal is to make it easy to interact and complete a transaction,” Liu told me. “It’s about how you make that last mile connection.”

Regarding the inevitable topic of monetization, Facebook has tested ads in Marketplace. Listing fees and transaction fees are also potential money-making scenarios. At high enough volume levels, these could make considerable revenue for the company. But that’s my speculation.

For now, Facebook is focused on getting the user experience right and establishing Marketplace as a valuable tool for buyers and sellers. It can afford to take its time.

At its peak, newspaper classifieds ad revenue (print + digital) in the US was worth almost $50 billion. A 2013 study by two business school professors argued that Craigslist siphoned off more than $5 billion from newspapers between the years 2000 and 2007. And it has been estimated that Craigslist revenue in 2016 was more than $700 million.

So whether it’s $700 million or $7 billion, there’s a significant opportunity here for Facebook and Facebook sellers, which could also extend to service for local businesses in the future.

7 changes by Facebook that make it a real local search player

The race to steal market share from Google in local search has been futile. Google dominates search with over 63 percent market share, and in mobile, where the growth is, Google almost holds a monopoly at 95 percent. The dark horse in the race is Facebook — the one who can match Google’s Goliath size, audience and resources.

Yet it has never seriously challenged Google in search, and both companies have seemed somewhat satisfied to retreat to their respective corners of strength — Facebook deferring in the area of search, and Google shelving its Google+ social network.

With its huge base of users and volume of personal data on them, Facebook has great potential for helping users in their search for local products/services and helping businesses get found. All the components are there: millions of business pages, location data, behavior data, demographic information, social networks and engagement.

Yet despite the potential, Facebook hadn’t in recent years been able to effectively compete with the likes of Google in local search. Facebook is a great place to engage with existing customers and reach targeted audiences with sponsored posts in news feeds. However, customers still largely left the platform to find local businesses and information.

The Local Search Association (disclosure: my employer) recently released a report about how consumers in 12 cities of varying populations look for local business information. Search engines still dominate local search at 80 percent usage, compared to 48 percent for social networks.

But Facebook seems to be steadily improving its search function, preferring to move at a deliberate pace in developing its own proprietary technology instead of contracting with others (as it did previously with Bing).

About 18 months ago, I looked at Facebook’s search capability and concluded that it lacked complete and accurate data, returned poor search results and generally offered a bad user experience. It just didn’t work.

Since then, Facebook has made huge strides in improving that experience and is further beta testing some functions that incorporate social media data into local search to return results in a way even Google can’t match. And that might make Facebook search a threat to Google.

Below are seven ways Facebook is changing the way search works on its platform that may alter the local search landscape.

1. Facebook is using location much more effectively

Location is at the heart of local search, as reflected by Google’s emphasis on proximity and physical address in ranking local search results. Facebook now prominently highlights maps and directions at the top of local business pages on both the Home page and the About page.

Many searches from the top search box also automatically return results based on the user’s location – truly local search results. In earlier test searches, when location was not specified in a general search for “Italian restaurants,” I received results from India and New York. Today, only restaurant listings within two miles of me are listed, and the results include an address and map location. Clicking through to see all results opens the Places tab and provides more results all within three miles.

Below is a comparison of screen shots from November 2015 and June 2017 of results for Italian restaurants in Frisco. This illustrates the difference location information makes to a listing.

2. Places is given priority

Not only is location being used more effectively, but places are given much higher priority. Previously, the functionality of the Places tab was sorely lacking, indicating the low priority Facebook had assigned it. In my earlier test, a search for “Lawyers in Frisco” returned only one result: Tupy’s. If Tupy was once a lawyer, he answered a greater calling: He’s been serving tasty Mexican food in the Dallas area for over 60 years.

Facebook Places today is not only highly functional, it is the first information provided when relevant (i.e., when a search is made that implies a place or local business). For example, a search for “Texas Beaches” or “Plumbing services” returned Places results at the top, followed by pages of local businesses. And Facebook recognizes when location is not relevant — a search for “Wonder Woman movie” returned videos, news and a Wikipedia page.

3. Search results are much more robust and complete

The single non-relevant result in the search for lawyers described above was a common problem with many searches 18 months ago. That search for lawyers in Frisco today? It now returns 48 results of attorneys and law firms within 4.5 miles.

The results are not only much deeper, but they provide more valuable information. The lawyer listings show profile pictures, address, distance from me, whether it is still open, and star rating. The listings even describe what type of law the firm or attorney practices, such as family law, criminal law or estate planning.

4. Facebook improved indexing of its information

Another problem that Facebook had with search was poor indexing of information. I’d visited a pizza vendor in Washington, D.C. called Jumbo Slice Pizza. It’s not a small unknown joint — it’s been profiled by the Travel Channel and is the source of frequent posts by Facebook users showing off slices of pizza that are three times the size of the talking head about to consume it. Yet a search for “Jumbo Slice Pizza DC” didn’t pull up the place, or even my post from when I’d checked in at the restaurant.

Today, Facebook has fixed that indexing problem. It also helped improve its search function by adding suggested search terms that show up when a user is typing in the search box. These suggested search terms frequently pull up business categories that Facebook offers its business users to identify what kind of business they are. Thus, Facebook helps the searcher use search terms that will provide better results as indexed on the platform.

5. Facebook is beta testing new features, including integrating friend posts and local search

Facebook needs to make its search unique, not a lesser version of Google search. It’s doing that by incorporating its social media data with search results. First identified by TechCrunch, Facebook is testing with some users including mini profile pics below place listings of friends who have checked in or posted about the place or business.

This extra bit of information could make a world of difference for Facebook search. Word of mouth has long been considered the best lead generator for quality leads and conversion. It’s like reviews on steroids.

Consumers trust their friends, and that relationship provides important context for the review. They know whether this friend is a bargain hunter or enjoys the finer things; whether the friend has similar or different taste; whether he or she is analytical or jumps head-first into decisions. Knowing a friend you trust chose the business means that oftentimes, words aren’t even necessary. With the number of users and volume of information that Facebook has, this could be a game-changer in local search.

Facebook also is integrating interactive maps with pins for business locations.  Previous map results provided only a static map. While this isn’t an innovative development, given the importance of location to local search, this is a necessary addition to Facebook’s search function. The map functions much like Google or Apple Map local searches, providing business listings with pin locations on the map that can be pinched in or zoomed out.

6. Facebook is using crowdsourcing to build out its database

Facebook has one of the largest crowds on the planet, so leveraging that manpower for free seems like a pretty good idea. Google does it via its “local guides,” so it’s a somewhat proven idea.

Some users are being asked to provide input into details about places that they’ve checked into via Facebook Editor. When the user checks in or tags a place, a series of yes-or-no questions are asked, such as “Does this place have parking?” or “Is this the right location on the map?” or “Is this the same place as [another name]?”

Based on the information that I’ve been asked to verify, it appears that Facebook does have a fair amount of inaccurate information — leftovers from allowing users to create new place listings themselves. What appears to be a selective “trusted” editor function is an attempt to rectify that, but it also is making some users unhappy. Facebook didn’t ask users to be editors and just automatically asks those questions once a new post is created. A Google search for Facebook editor suggests searches for “delete Facebook editor,” “remove Facebook editor” and many other similar search terms — so it’s unclear how long Facebook will essentially force its users to help clean up its database.

Nevertheless, more accurate and comprehensive information would help further improve Facebook’s search function.

7. Facebook introduced City Guides

One subject users love to post about is travel. In fact, it’s been suggested that social media is helping boost travel, food and entertainment spending as users seek out experiences that they can share with friends and that reflect positively on themselves.

Facebook created City Guides that provides information on popular places such as restaurants and sights for frequently visited cities. Its distinguishing feature is a list of friends that have been to the city, and tapping on each friend brings up a list of places they’ve visited. Next, the City Guide lists “local favorites.” USA Today reports 56 percent of vacationing Americans prefer local dining experiences, so users are likely to find this information very helpful. The guides have a TripAdvisor feel that is more personalized or targeted and adds a rich surf-and-discover function to Facebook’s local search experience.

How to make sure you’re found on Facebook search

All of the above improvements to Facebook’s search function give users more reason to stay on Facebook, spend more time on the platform and consume more content. Facebook is finally making a realistic foray into local search and has the potential to significantly grow usage, which in turn can help small businesses that already love the engagement it provides to existing customers.

Thus, it makes sense for a local business to review its business page “About” section and the way its information shows up in search results to make sure it captures the increasing search traffic Facebook hopes to deliver. Here are a few tips to get started:

Review your Facebook business profile and make sure it is complete. This is similar to the Google My Business (GMB) profile that includes contact information, details about your business and interactive functions you can adopt.Verify that location information is accurate and returns a physical map location that shows up at the top of your business profile when your page is displayed. While the map pin should be automatically generated when you provide an address, I have seen some businesses that do not display the location or map even when an address was provided.Add business categories that further describe your business. Although you are only asked for one business category when you create your Facebook page, you can return and edit the “About” section to add two more business categories that may help improve visibility, depending on the search terms used.Activate buttons that Facebook offers, such as call-to-click and appointment schedulers that help convert traffic to your page.Don’t leave blanks in any section that might trigger Facebook to crowdsource answers. Your answers will be the most reliable answers, even if you answer, “No,” or you indicate the question doesn’t apply to your business.

In closing, Facebook is making significant strides in local search, particularly in melding social media data with local search results. This may be enough to start turning the tide toward making it a major local search player as users discover and enjoy the search experience. Keep an eye out for even more developments, as Facebook’s unique data set will continue to allow it to provide more targeted and customized results. Will we see Facebook AdWords or Facebook SEO any time soon? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Is AMP the answer to format fragmentation?

Disclosure: at the time of the writing of this article, the author was the head of product for an AMP conversion platform company. That company’s technology was acquired by Google on October 9th, 2017.

Facebook says the idea for adding Accelerated Mobile Pages and Apple News support to its Instant Articles toolkit came from frustrated publishers asking for an easier way to produce all three formats.

That rings true; format fragmentation is a growing burden for news publishers. But generating Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) from Instant Articles seems like a strange answer to the wrong question. Instead of looking for incremental improvements to the underlying problem, publishers and platforms should revisit the premise that all of these formats are necessary in the first place. What if one distribution format could work across multiple platforms?

Consider AMP, Instant Articles and Apple News, which are essentially three different ways of presenting news articles.

Of those, AMP is the only non-proprietary format — and by far the most flexible. Instant Articles policy forbids ads above the fold, limits ad frequency and blocks ad networks except Facebook’s Audience Network. Facebook restricts the types of links allowed and where they can appear. With no navigation to the publisher’s website, Instant Articles keep the consumer in Facebook’s app.

Facebook’s restrictions (and lack of compensatory reach) have led several major publishers to pull back or abandon Instant Articles entirely, shifting their focus to the more open, revenue-friendly AMP format. In that light, it’s hard to see how an AMP generated from an Instant Article — inheriting its limitations — would be very useful. Publishers could modify the AMP code to insert the elements Instant Articles disallows, but then how much effort is saved by using Facebook’s tools?

It makes more sense to use AMP as the common distribution format. The AMP standard didn’t exist when Instant Articles and Apple News were first launched — but now that it’s established and ubiquitous, it can provide the control and performance platforms require and improve publisher ROI. It could lower the cost of participating in walled gardens and possibly lure back some of the defectors.

There are a couple of ways this could work; here’s one idea using Facebook as the example:

A Facebook AMP cache?

Contrary to common belief, AMPs don’t have to be served by Google. For example, web performance and security company Cloudflare has a white-label AMP cache to serve AMPs on publishers’ own domains.

Facebook could manage an AMP cache as well, which would allow it to do three things:

    Ensure super-fast delivery, like Instant Articles.Serve validated AMPs from its own cache instead of cdn.ampproject.org.Make certain modifications to the AMPs it presents in its own environments.

Such modifications could include stripping out forbidden elements, or even replacing ad tags and analytics tags. Publishers could consent to these modifications as part of their inclusion in the platform’s products. (Arguably, Facebook should just present AMPs in their original state as long as they pass validation and let publishers make their money; the point is that platform-specific rules are possible.)

The experience might be less pristine than today’s Instant Articles, but it could be just as fast — and still much cleaner than standard mobile articles. Publishers could focus on optimizing a common format, and Facebook could become an influential partner in the AMP Project instead of trying to sustain Instant Articles.

Platforms already using AMP

Other platforms have already embraced AMP. Twitter recently started linking to AMPs from its mobile web app and plans to start surfacing AMPs in its iOS and Android apps soon. LinkedIn presents AMPs in its news feed, and Bing displays AMP results in it search app. (None of these platforms has its own AMP cache; they’re using Google’s cache, Cloudflare’s cache or linking directly to the publisher AMP.)

For most platforms, using AMP is a no-brainer. They get the performance benefits of a standardized format without having to convince publishers to build anything new. At this point, only a platform with the clout of Facebook — or the installed base of Apple News — has the ability to make publishers jump through hoops to produce a proprietary format.

And there’s still a big, valid reason why they’d hesitate to give that up.

Control and governance

Here’s the hang-up: It would be surprising for Facebook or Apple to make a significant investment in AMP while Google holds so much influence over the format’s direction and features. The AMP Project is collaborative and open-source, but Google still manages the roadmap.

Hopefully, this state is temporary. Google seems to want to help AMP leave the nest, and the company takes every opportunity to disavow proprietary ownership of the format. Participation by Facebook, Apple and other platforms would provide a counterweight to Google in the AMP Project, opening the door for even greater ecosystem investment and ultimately benefiting everyone, including publishers and Google. The transition to a new governance structure will be delicate and bumpy, but necessary.

Publisher influence

Rather than simply reacting to the choices platforms put in front of them, publishers can guide this discussion. Platforms are more engaged with the publishing industry than ever before — and they are looking for wins. The AMP Project itself was the result of publishers working with Google to address major performance and engagement problems with the mobile web — and publishers continue to advance the AMP standard by advocating for the capabilities they need.

When it comes to the problem of proprietary format fragmentation, publishers must continue to use their collective leverage and ask for the right things. In this case, that means challenging all of the platforms to live up to the principles of collaboration and efficiency they espouse. That would be a huge win for everyone.

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