Digital Publishing Platforms
3 mins read

Publishers could be “missing out on valuable reach and traffic”: Links posts outperform photo posts on Facebook, study finds

“Sharing a mix of link posts and photo posts has a negative effect on performance for publishers, compared to exclusively sharing link posts,” according to a new study by social publishing platform, Echobox

Any publisher sharing content regularly on Facebook could be missing out on valuable reach and traffic that can have a significant cumulative impact. 

Should publishers post photos on Facebook? (Echobox report)

The findings contradict Facebook’s earlier advice to publishers regarding post types. At the 2017 Online News Association conference, Peter Elkins-Williams, Facebook’s US Lead for Newspapers at that time, presented publishers with best practices for posting to Facebook. One of the recommendations was for publishers to introduce a mix of photo posts and link posts into their sharing strategy, rather than link posts alone. 

“Beyond this general recommendation from Facebook, no publisher studies exist on the impact of mixing post formats,” according to the researchers at Echobox. “Moreover, this question is complex for any single publisher to answer, due to inherently small datasets, a changing news cycle and in some cases, a lack of statistical knowhow.”

The Echobox study, “Should publishers post photos on Facebook?” measures the impact of introducing photo posts into a publisher’s sharing strategy. The company partnered with 11 leading publishers from around the world to study how Facebook performance is affected by alternating the use of both link posts and photo posts. 

Researchers analyzed tens of thousands of Facebook posts in the course of the study, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the industry. They automatically converted a certain number of link posts into photo posts. For example, a link post like the one on the left below, was converted and shared as a photo post with a link in the share message (right).

Source: Should publishers post photos on Facebook? (Echobox report)

The study was carried out in four phases: 

  • Phase 1: 100% link posts and 0% photo posts (4 weeks) 
  • Phase 2: 80% link posts and 20% photo posts (2 weeks) 
  • Phase 3: 60% link posts and 40% photo posts (2 weeks) 
  • Phase 4: Return to 100% link posts and 0% photo posts (6 weeks)

The key metrics measured included:

  • Absolute pageviews from Facebook 
  • Percentage of pageviews from Facebook 
  • Facebook impressions 
  • Click-through rate (CTR) 

The aggregated results across the four metrics measured for all the publishers after the first three phases of the study:

It’s clear from Phase 2 and Phase 3 values above that the introduction of photo posts had a negative impact on performance compared to the baseline established in Phase 1, when 100% of shares were link posts. 

All 4 metrics decreased across Phase 2 (when photos posts were introduced) and Phase 3, when their percentage was increased from 20% to 40%. The largest drops occurred in the percentage of pageviews from Facebook and Facebook impressions. 

In Phase 4 the researchers went back to publishing 100% link posts. They found that all the four metrics studied recorded increases and returned towards the baseline values established in Phase 1.

According to the researchers, the data indicates that using a mix of link posts and photo posts has a negative effect on all the main performance metrics for publishers, compared to using link posts exclusively.

Based on the research, the researchers advise publishers against introducing photo posts into their Facebook posting strategy. However, they add, “publishers must remember that post format is just one factor that can contribute to the success of posts and their capacity to drive Facebook traffic. 

“Many other factors will determine whether a post performs well, including the quality of the post’s content (including images and headline), the time it’s shared, and how frequently posts are shared, to name a few.”

“This study shows publishers how crucial it is to use data to help build an effective social strategy, rather than following assumptions or general guidance,” says Antoine Amann, CEO of Echobox. “In light of this eye-opening research, many publishers may wish to re-evaluate their own Facebook sharing strategies.”

The full report can be downloaded from Echobox:
Should publishers post photos on Facebook?