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“It is worth a try, clearly”: How publishers are seeing significant gains in traffic, engagement and revenue via Instant Articles

Brazilian publishing company CARAS went from managing one site with 4M monthly unique users to 20 sites with 81M users in three years. Facebook’s Instant Articles (IA) played an important role in this. It helped the publisher grow its audience, and increase IA revenue by 47% YoY.

This is one among several case studies Facebook has shared in recent months looking into how publishers have made significant gains in traffic, audience engagement and revenue using Instant Articles. They range from legacy publishers to young digital media houses and television broadcasters from Asia, Africa and Europe. The case studies include strategies used by these publishers which can serve as valuable guides to others.

“This one was attracting our largest audience”

IA offered CARAS the opportunity to reach new audiences. “In Brazil, mobile data limits are an issue for a very important slice of the population,” says Nicholas Serrano, Digital Platforms Director at CARAS. 

When we understood we could provide an Instant Articles experience where browsing would be faster and our readers would have access to information without consuming their data in a quick and efficient way, it sounded perfect.

Nicholas Serrano, Digital Platforms Director, CARAS

He recommends using IA as part of a holistic content and distribution strategy. The publisher treats IA as its own platform, “as if it was a second website for each title, and we can track results all the time to make any changes whenever we need. For example, we track page-views, reach and revenue generated by Instant Articles published on Facebook App surface daily to optimize results,” explains Serrano.

CARAS began small with a single account posting 100% of the link posts as Instant Articles. “We then realized that this one was attracting our largest audience, so it didn’t make sense to keep selecting what articles should be published or not on Instant Articles,” says Serrano.

“Can produce great success in terms of interactions and visits”

A similar strategy was followed by German international public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). The company has 5,000 partner TV stations and 197M weekly users as of this year; 61M of those people come from digital platforms (majority from Facebook). 

Sebastian Katthöver, DW’s Head of Audience Development says they were “curious if Instant Articles could help us increase our article performance in markets with bandwidth issues or generally poor internet penetration.”

People tend to hesitate leaving Facebook in a couple of countries, due to local internet costs, and for the past years we have been struggling a little bit with increasing our social referrals from those markets. Instant Articles load very fast compared to standard online articles.

Sebastian Katthöver, Head of Audience Development, Deutsche Welle

They launched IA with one account for Africa in October 2018, posting only a few articles. The results were inconclusive so they added eight other accounts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Iran in March 2019. “We attained up to 1.9M monthly visits to our articles while keeping the amount of other Facebook referrals steady,” said Katthöver. 

“Total interactions on link posts more than doubled from around 1M a month in early 2019, up to 2.3M a month by fall 2019. Interaction rate more than doubled from 0.03% to 0.07% for all DW links on Facebook.” The publisher is now expanding IA to 60 accounts in 30 languages.

It is worth a try, clearly. With a careful and iterative rollout process, it can produce great success in terms of interactions and visits. For us, it didn’t affect us negatively. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting.

Sebastian Katthöver, Head of Audience Development, Deutsche Welle

Publishers can place ads in Instant Articles. CARAS was able to increase revenue from digital advertising by 47% by focusing on audience engagement and growth, “CPM is not our primary concern,” said Guilherme Ravache, Consultant and former Content Director, CARAS. “First grow and then see how you will monetize. You can only monetize if the platform is large and relevant.” 

“It has been the stronger performer”

Facebook allows publishers to add call-to-action (CTA) units to their Instant Articles. Currently, publishers can add such units for page likes, app installs, and email newsletter signups. Among publishers worldwide, CTAs have generated more than 23M email newsletter sign-ups and 6.3M mobile app installs since 2017.

Source: Facebook Journalism Project

Malaysian newspaper Sin Chew Daily, founded in 1929, was able to grow its newsletter database by 120%, between January 2018 to January 2019 using CTAs. The publisher launched Instant Articles in 2017 and now posts all its articles in the format. 

“Since going ‘all in’, our interactions have significantly increased,” says Tan Lee Chin, Sin Chew’s COO of Content and Commercial. 

We have utilized the increased engagement with Instant Articles to acquire a database for our newsletter, complementing our strategy of growing our own digital assets. 

Tan Lee Chin, Sin Chew’s COO of Content and Commercial

The team tests each CTA individually, setting and monitoring it for 2 weeks at a time. “We have experimented with the CTA function on Instant Articles in a few ways, including sign-ups for our newsletter and app downloads,” explains Lee Chin. 

“We have seen constant growth in our newsletter with this approach, it has been the stronger performer,” she adds. Overall, using CTAs has improved traffic to the publisher’s own site and other off-Facebook communities. 

Lee Chin also recommends investing in a dedicated data analytics resource. Sin Chew uses CrowdTangle to analyze competitor activity within Malaysia as well as Chinese language publications across Asia. The insights are delivered to the newsroom as they become available. 

“It’s a two-step process: first, track over-performing posts and stories your readers are following. Next, test these topics and stories on your own page,” says Lee Chin. It helped Sin Chew understand that human interest stories are a high-performing topic. The editorial team began producing (and sharing) more human interest stories as videos and Instant Articles which has had a positive impact on revenue.

9x increase in traffic, 3x increase in newsletter sign-ups

Other publishers that have benefited from CTAs include The Guardian Nigeria and China Times. The Guardian Nigeria has seen a 9x increase in traffic to its owned platforms since launching Instant Articles in 2017. The publisher has also seen a 3x increase in newsletter sign-ups and 12% increase in page followers after adding CTAs in their articles. 

“What matters in the CTA messaging is communicating the value that an audience stands to gain from reading your content,” comments Jelil Adedoyin, the publisher’s Media and Growth Manager. In their case it meant emphasizing the value of The Guardian Nigeria as an independent newspaper that promotes the best interests of the country with no partisan interests.

Taiwan based China Times uses CTAs to move readers through the subscription funnel. “Whether it is liking a fan Page, subscribing to newsletters, or downloading an app, the new features of Instant Articles have become an important mechanism for building our news product architecture and content strategy,” says Executive Deputy Editor-in-chief, Jim Ho. 

“We believe that under the torrent of digital media, as well as focusing on content, you must also constantly take advantage of the latest digital tools,” he adds. 

Understanding and adopting new technologies is essential if you want to make an impact and influence more readers with captivating stories. 

Jim Ho, Executive Deputy Editor-in-chief, China Times

Publishers interested in implementing Instant Articles or improving engagement and revenue with it can learn more at Instant Articles Bootcamp.