Inside Facebook, NFO (News Feed Optimization) is the new SEO

Everybody with a website knows that Google owns two of their most important marketing channels: organic search (SEO) and paid search (SEM). In fact, entire cottage industries have developed around them:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – gaming Google (and the other search engines) into thinking you’re authoritative on a given topic and deserve to be listed highly in its search results.
  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) – paying Google (and the others) to put you next to sites that it thinks are authoritative on a given topic.

Inside Facebook, however, Google is irrelevant. Instead, Facebook owns your most important marketing channels: the News Feed, Notifications, and Messages. And marketers and application developers have analagous marketing options with Facebook as with Google on the open web:

  1. NFO (News Feed Optimization) – convincing Facebook to display the Feed items that your application publishes in your users’ friends’ News Feeds.
  2. NFM (News Feed Marketing) – paying Facebook to insert your ad next to Feed items that it thinks are important enough to be shown.

News Feed Marketing is fairly easy for marketers to understand: give Facebook your credit card number, and they’ll stick you in the News Feeds and guarantee a certain quantity of targeted traffic to your Facebook application or sponsored group.

News Feed Optimization, on the other hand, is a bit trickier:

  • Like Google’s PageRank algorithms, Facebook’s proprietary “FeedRank” (my term) algorithms determine which Feed items are shown to whom and which items are not.
  • Like Google’s undisclosed PageRank algorithm, the variables that contribute to your Feed item’s FeedRank are unknown to you (and everyone except Facebook).
  • Like companies dependent on their SEO’d Google PageRank, companies dependent on their NFO’d Facebook FeedRank will experience similar trauma when the algorithm unpredictably or inexplicably changes.

Welcome to the new world of NFO–the new SEO for Facebook marketers. Optimizing your product’s News Feed items is the single most important thing you can do as a marketer on Facebook. Not only should Feed items be designed for optimal conversion, but they should also be invoked by your application in ways that will maximize their distribution.

Designing High Performance News Feed Items

1. The most important thing you can do as a Facebook application marketer is to publish engaging, authentic Feed items. Whenever a user performs an action within your application, consider whether hearing about that action would be valuable to that user’s friends. If so, publish a Feed item about that event.

For example, the Moods application invokes a Feed item when a user changes their mood. The feed item simply contains this contextually appropriate “news” about my friend Holly–she has updated her mood within the Moods application (I’m glad to hear she’s feeling happy).

Likewise, the Books application publishes a Feed item when a user indicates that they have started or finished reading a book. This is also news that I find appropriate and interesting about my friend–I might even casually follow up with Jonathan about this “news”.

2. Be sure you optimize your Feed items for all of the Feed item elements made available to you by Facebook: title, body, and images. The Facebook Developers Feed Item documentation describes the requirements and limitations of each Feed item element as the following:

  • The title is required, and is limited to 60 displayed characters(excluding tags).
    • The a tag is allowed, and there can be zero or one instance in the title.
    • One fb:userlink tag is allowed, and the uid parameter must be populated with the user id on whose behalf the action is being published. If there is no such fb:userlink tag found, then one is automatically prepended to the title.
    • The fb:name tag is allowed, and there may be multiple instances of this tag.
    • No other tags are allowed.
  • The body is optional, is limited to 200 displayed characters (excluding tags), and can include the tags fb:userlink, fb:name, a, b, and i.
  • Up to 4 images can be displayed, which will be shrunk to fit within 75×75, cached, and formatted by Facebook. Images can either be a URL, or a facebook PID. If it is a URL, you must own the image and grant Facebook the permission to cache it. Each image must have a link associated with it, which must start with http://

As you notice above, both Moods and Feeds use short titles to get your attention and longer, more descriptive bodies. Moods also includes an image, which is very attention grabbing.