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Facebook is secretly penalizing publishers, new research reveals

Facebook’s hidden penalization algorithm was revealed in new research published by Echobox, the AI-powered social publishing platform. 

The study, entitled Facebook’s penalization algorithm revealed: How Facebook secretly penalizes publishers, pulls back the veil on one of the biggest secrets in social media publishing:

Publishers are routinely being penalized by Facebook algorithms for posting at the “wrong” frequency. And most publishers are completely unaware.

The research analysis was carried out by Echobox data scientists in August 2020 and is based on more than 250,000 unique Facebook posts. The report found that Facebook algorithms, whether directly or as an indirect consequence, penalize publishers for posting either too frequently or too infrequently.

To understand precisely how these penalties are impacting publishers, and to quantify their effects in terms of lost traffic, the researchers studied how different intervals between posts affected Facebook traffic for leading news, lifestyle and sports publishers.

The data science team studied hundreds of thousands of Facebook posts, analyzing the time elapsed in minutes (from 1 to 60) between two published posts and the average change in referral traffic from Facebook for each interval. This allowed to determine:

  • when a publisher could post, within any given hour, before being penalized
  • when a publisher should post to generate a traffic increase

For example, they examined data for 2 top news publishers and observed that for both, posts spaced less than 10 minutes apart resulted in decreased Facebook referral traffic. The decline in traffic was particularly steep on posts spaced less than 5 minutes apart:

Posts spaced roughly 10 to 40 minutes apart resulted in a slight increase in Facebook traffic, appearing to be the “sweet spot” for these publishers. However, the relationship between post frequency and penalization is nonlinear: beyond the 40-minute mark, penalization occurs again and referral traffic dips

In the case of news publisher #2, posting at intervals of anywhere between 40 and 52 minutes apart results in more penalization, yet at the 52-minute mark, the trend reverses and results instead in a traffic boost. It would be difficult for a publisher to divine this kind of precise information, all the more so as this data continuously fluctuates.

The report suggests that while both news publishers would be best advised to space their posts by at least 10 minutes, it’s important to note that the shape of their curves across the hour are not identical. News publisher #1 faces less dramatic penalization effects than news publisher #2, and both news publishers have their own optimal post spacing. This illustrates that while both are affected by Facebook’s penalization, this penalization is unique to their publication.

The trendlines are very different for other types of publishers. For example, for lifestyle publishers, a very different picture emerges from the news publishers’ traffic shown above. Facebook’s penalization would appear to be more severe for these publishers.

According to the report, Facebook is constantly tweaking its algorithms and the variety of “ranking signals” it uses to prioritize certain News Feed content while penalizing other posts. When publishers post at certain frequencies (whether that’s too often or not often enough), Facebook algorithms appear to penalize that publisher’s  Facebook Page by not displaying its posts as often in the News Feed.  

As a result, these publishers miss out on reach and traffic for each post. Over the course of a  single day, these “hidden” penalties result in significant traffic opportunities essentially being wasted. 

However, the study also determined that the yardstick for what constitutes posting “too frequently” or “too infrequently” varies by publisher, and that Facebook penalization thresholds are therefore unique to each publisher.

There are no one-size-fits-all recommendations that can be made with regards to post frequency and penalization. Yet publishers of all types and sizes are subject to these penalties, whether they’re delivering breaking news or resharing evergreen content.

In summary, following analysis of hundreds of thousands of Facebook posts from some of the world’s leading publishers, Echobox found that: 

  • Facebook penalizes many leading content publishers for posting at what it considers to be the wrong frequency 
  • Many content publishers are unaware and/or not taking mitigating measures 
  • Huge swathes of content, including those from leading news, fashion, lifestyle and sports brands may never make the News Feed as a result 
  • Any company that publishes regularly on Facebook could be missing out on valuable reach and traffic that can have a significant cumulative impact 
  • Penalizations are unique to each publisher 

Publishers who regularly post content to their Facebook Pages are likely to be suffering from Facebook penalization without even knowing it. These “hidden” penalties mean they could be missing out on substantial referral traffic over time.

The full report can be downloaded here:
Facebook’s penalization algorithm revealed

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