• 10/04/2012
    3:52 PM
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Facebook Cuts Organic Reach As It Promotes Ads

Facebook makes it tougher for posts to brand pages to reach a wide readership. At the same time, it plays up "sponsored stories" advertising. Deliberate or coincidence?

Facebook doesn't seem to have made any formal announcement of a change. Wittman said page owners have told him their advertising representatives have communicated with them about it, mostly to assure them that the site engineers were seeking to boost the relevance and quality of each user's feed, not to extract more ad dollars.

"Personally, I don't believe they want to turn the screws on everybody and make more money--although I wouldn't put it past them--but I think it's probably a supply-and-demand thing," Wittman said. That is, as the number of brand advertisers on Facebook has grown, the service has had to tune its algorithms to prevent users from being overwhelmed by commercial messages, he said.

Wittman said he tends not to buy into conspiracy theories about Facebook's motives, although he added that the latest move on promoted stories "is very suspect--when I see things like that, it makes me second guess myself."

Wittman said he will have a better understanding of what's changed once he is able to make month-over-month comparisons, rather than comparing one week to the next. However, his initial take is that Facebook is sharpening its focus on providing the greatest reach to the most engaging posts--leaving the less-engaging ones to fade into the background.

The brand advertisers who became active early on Facebook were spoiled by the free advertising they got through Facebook pages, Wittman said. The evolution Facebook is going through mirrors Google's pivot from initially focusing on providing the best natural search result to any query to introducing search advertising -- also keyed to the search keywords, but more visible because it was paid for. "I think the similarities are too close for it to not happen like that," he said.

"Organic search results are amazing if you can get them on your own," Wittman said, but if you want a #1 ranking for a search like "New York lawyer" you're going to pay a search engine optimization consultant, pay for advertising, or both. Similarly, his analysis did show some pages actually gaining reach under the new algorithm, so those who can figure out the right formula for "really amazing content" may still be able to reach those they want to reach for free. The rest will have to reach for their wallets.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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