From the Editor’s Desk: The not-so-instant setup for Facebook’s Instant Articles
In this month's column, we talk about the ongoing challenges of getting approved to publish via Facebook Instant Articles -- many of which are caused by Facebook's own plugin.
Like many publishers, we get a lot of traffic to MarketingLand.com and SearchEngineLand.com from Facebook. It’s our No. 1 social media referrer most months, but not all. And like many publishers, we’re interested in allowing Facebook users to enjoy our content through the Facebook Instant Articles service — that’s where Facebook hosts content for publishers and serves it up to readers in a fast, mobile-friendly setting while still allowing publishers to monetize their content.
We’re hopeful to have our content available soon via Instant Articles, but getting to this point has been… ironically… a slow, laborious process. In this month’s Editor’s Desk column, I’ve invited our VP of Technology, Michelle Robbins, to share some of what she’s gone through to get Marketing Land set up on Instant Articles. We hope it offers some help to any readers whose companies may be thinking about doing the same.
If WordPress is your CMS, and you’re keen to publish your content via Facebook’s Instant Articles program, there are some nuances to the implementation and review process that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with first.
The process itself is pretty straightforward:
- Sign up for Instant Articles.
- Install and configure the WordPress plugin.
- Submit your feed for review.
- Start publishing.
Note: For each feed review you submit, it’s three to five business days before you are notified of being approved/rejected. If it’s rejected, you have to fix the issue, resubmit your feed, and the clock starts over. In our experience, it was a solid five days each time we resubmitted.
The plugin (developed jointly between Facebook and WordPress/Automattic), though easy to install and configure, has proven not ready for prime time. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with both the Git repo and the current outstanding bugs/issues reported there.
Once you are accepted into the program by Facebook, you will see “Instant Articles” under the “Publishing Tools” section in your Facebook page. There, you’ll configure your feed settings and the (limited) style options for your articles. Facebook will capture your current feed items, and you’ll be able to see how they are being pulled in and would appear if published on Facebook as Instant Articles. You’ll also see if/which errors and warnings are presenting in the feed, and be able to fix these before submitting your feed for final review.
Submitting a clean/error-free feed is key to approval. And this is where is gets less straightforward.
The first problem we encountered was Facebook caching scheduled posts in the feed as empty/having no content. Feeds with empty items are not approved. As a news organization, not scheduling posts is not an option, so we were stuck in approval limbo until the plugin was updated by the FB/Automattic developers — which took about three weeks from the issue first being reported.
Once we got over that hurdle, another plugin problem surfaced: Facebook was crawling posts while in draft and caching them as 404s. Any time an article was shared via URL from the site into Facebook, Facebook showed the shared link as a 404. This was happening before we were approved to publish via Instant Articles (and continued after we were approved). This rather significant issue remains unresolved, though we’ve implemented a workaround until the plugin gets updated again.
There are myriad other more minor issues to contend with, which will vary depending upon your specific WordPress setup, plugins you are using and your own publishing process. The takeaway is that nothing is ever as plug-and-play as it may seem, and with more than 100 unresolved outstanding issues, the WordPress plugin for Facebook Instant Articles remains very much a work in progress.
Thanks, Michelle! As mentioned above, we’ve now been approved to publish via Instant Articles. We hope to begin doing so soon, and we will update you on how the program is working for us in future editions of this column.
This is the third edition of From the Editor’s Desk. It’s a monthly column where we talk directly with our readers about the work we do (and why we do it) on both MarketingLand.com and SearchEngineLand.com. If you have a question or topic you’d like us to write about, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to tweet to me (@mattmcgee) or send me an email through this website. Use the contact page, and choose my name from the drop-down menu.
Thanks again for reading!