Facebook Is Changing Its News Feed Algorithm to Focus Less on Publishers’ Content

Will emphasize posts from family and friends

Expect to see more pictures of your friends' pets and wedding announcements from extended family members in your Facebook news feed in the coming weeks. And expect to see less news.

In yet another blow to publishers that have spent years building audiences to build traffic and revenue, the social network is starting to de-emphasize news in favor of posts from friends and family. Facebook, in a blog post today, said it plans to make a number of changes to its news feed algorithm to help users see more posts relevant to their personal lives.

"Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family," wrote Adam Mosseri, Facebook's vp of product management. "That is still the driving principle of news feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to—starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That's why if it's from your friends, it's in your feed, period—you just have to scroll down."

According to Mosseri, the company's research suggests that users want their news feeds to inform and entertain. And while what's informative or entertaining to one person might not be to another, he said the engineering team is working to provide more personalized recommendations that will appear higher up.

According to an April report from Parse.ly, an analytics company for digital publishing, 41.4 percent of all referral traffic to publishers' websites comes from Facebook. That's slightly more than Google, which accounts for 39.5 percent. Yahoo came in third place with less than 10 percent, followed by Twitter and Bing. Per Parse.ly, Facebook first surpassed Google for total referral traffic last summer.

It's now been a decade since Facebook first introduced the news feed in 2006, and since then it's come out with a number of updates—both publicly and privately—that change how it prioritizes content. In a separate blog post published today, Facebook engineering director Lars Backstrom wrote about how the updates might affect posts from publishers and marketers.

"Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some pages," he wrote. "The specific impact on your page's distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience."

That could mean if a publisher's referral traffic comes from people engaging with a story via sharing, liking and commenting, it could be business as usual. However, if it's something that is not seen as interesting to readers, there might be more of a hit.

While it's unclear when the changes went into effect or will go into effect, some publishers have already seen a dramatic decline in traffic.

According to recent data compiled by SocialFlow, overall publishers' Facebook reach from January to May was down 42 percent. Frank Speiser, SocialFlow's co-founder and chief product officer, said how media companies respond to these updates is "critical" to the value they get from Facebook. 

"This is a signal that publishers and content houses must evolve their approach to social," Speiser said about today's announcement. "The idea of paying for access to audiences has always been a part of marketing strategies and that's what you're seeing here. Facebook is doing this in the service of the audience and is responding to demand from their users."