Judging by the growth in companies offering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO) services, it seems that an industry analogous to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) may be in development. The SEO industry has had its fair share of critics comparing many offerings to “snake-oil”. Will the same happen here? Can you really optimize messages for Facebook’s News Feed?

The short answer is yes, but Facebook’s Edge Rank algorithm is a “black box” and  in constant flux, which makes it hard to come up with a definitive list of tips and tricks, as I’ll illustrate toward the end of this post. However, there are a few best practices – which can be best understood by understanding the purpose of the Edge Rank algorithm. Before we get to that, let’s look at NFO and SEO in context.

Both NFO and SEO are about optimizing content in a way that maximizes its exposure and reach. However, Google’s Page Rank algorithm operates in a fundamentally different way from Edge Rank. For one, the Facebook News Feed is a push channel while Google search is a pull channel. Furthermore, Google doesn’t care who you are (although they are working on personalizing search), while for Facebook, your identity drives everything.

The purpose of Edge Rank

The primary purpose of Edge Rank is to protect Facebook members from information overload. Once you, as a Facebook member, reach hundreds of friends, Like dozens of Facebook Pages and hundreds of Open Graph pages, you may have several hundred stories queued up and ready to hit your News Feed on any given day. Edge Rank works like a filter that decides which handful of stories to “let through” based on how relevant and interesting the algorithm “thinks” you’ll find each story.

Edge Rank is calculated the following way: Weight x Affinity x Decay (time)

Weight = Weight for the edge type (create, comment, like, tag, etc). For example, publishing a post may be more important a like, sharing photo might be more important than a comment.

Affinity = For page posts (status updates), this is a score that quantifies the quality of the relationship between publisher and recipient of a story, e.g. how often members interact with content generated by the edge creator (publisher). I would assume that the number of common friends between the two parties plays into this as well, especially if those friends also have a high affinity score with the publisher.

Decay = How long ago the edge was created. E.g. Who cares about yesterday’s news?

Given that every recipient is different, it may seem impossible to come up with a way to optimize page posts, but it isn’t. There are a few rules of thumb that will help increase each post’s exposure. Just Google “Facebook News Feed Optimization” to educate yourself on the latest insights.

Is popularity a bad thing?

Like I said, Facebook’s algorithm is in constant flux, and your Google search may not uncover this interesting piece of information that showed up in my email inbox this morning. According to Page Analytics company, Pagelever, your Page’s Fan count affects your ability to break through to your Fans’ News Feed. According to the company, pages with:

  • 10,000 fans reach about 30-40% of their fans per status update
  • 100,000 fans reach about 20-30% of their fans
  • 1,000,000 or more fans reach about 10% of their fans

It may seem, then, that the more popular your page is, the harder it will be to get your content in front of a large share of your fans. Sounds counter-intuitive, or maybe not: I suspect the underlying cause is that the most popular Pages in terms of Fans may also score low on affinity with their Fans.

Has anybody seen data to support or refute this?