Using Timing to Maximize Facebook Traffic

My take on the best way to schedule out for Facebook posts.

Originally posted December 2017. Information still relevant as of Feb 2019.

While speaking to many Mavens at the finance publisher conference in Dallas, I noticed that many people didn't have much experience in scheduling out posts on Facebook, so on my flight back I wrote up this article about how to use timing to maximize Facebook reach. I could write 50 of these sort of articles on Facebook, but you may not see too much more from me, depending on my availability. However, I should be able to answer some quick questions, if you have any.

TL;DR Summary:

Schedule content to post every 2 hours between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific for maximum reach.

Don't repost the same content in a close date range.

Get time-sensitive articles up quickly, even if it means bending the rules.

Facebook is the number 1 source of traffic for many publishers, so if you aren't currently using Facebook to distribute content, then you probably should be. However, posting to Facebook requires a proper strategy and timing to maximize your reach.

Intro:

Proper information is scarce about how to maximize reach on Facebook. Facebook doesn't release a lot of information about how their posting algorithm works, which largely leaves people to figure it out on their own.

A quick internet search on the topic is likely to yield a lot of garbage results. The fact is that most of the people writing about the topic are bloggers who don't know anything about posting to Facebook, they just mass-create crap content and generate revenue by using SEO to get people to their crap sites.

Facebook provides some limited information in their Blueprint training program (it's free) but even some of that information is misleading.

Among the Facebook publishers I've talked to, there is a lot of wild speculation and opposing theories about what works best. Because of the complexity of Facebook's distribution algorithm, it can be very difficult or impossible to properly test out some of these theories and get solid numbers that can be analyzed. With that said, it's very possible that some of the information to follow may not be accurate, as it's based largely on my experience.

NOTE: If you are a large-volume publisher and are posting over 200 articles per week, then this advice may not be the best for you and you may want to seriously consider a specialty analytics service ($$$) for high-volume publishers that can tell you what the best time to post each piece of your content is.

About Me:

I run all of the Facebook scheduling for Blue Lives Matter to generate over 15 million link clicks per month from around 320 articles per month. I spend all day, every day, looking at numbers and analyzing performance to optimize our reach per post as much as possible.

Thanks to our optimization efforts, we have some of the most engagement per post for news articles out of most other news publishers of any size on Facebook.

While I can't guarantee you that everything I'm going to tell you is 100% accurate, I think that our success is a good indicator that I'm at least on the right track.

Timing of Posts:

It should be no surprise that you want to post your content when the largest number of people are on Facebook. This mostly means posting when the most people are awake.

There are many other smaller factors to consider, such as what day of the week it is, if it's during work hours (this will also be impacted by what each audience member's job is; stay at home moms are going to be impacted differently than construction workers), if it's a holiday, seasonal trends, etc, etc, etc.

If you really want to fine tune your scheduling then you will have to analyze the performance of your articles over time to figure out what works best for your specific audience. But 95% of this is really just about posting when people are awake.

I've found that the best times for posting are between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time. Although, posting outside of this time can still yield excellent, if not optimal, performance. I generally post at least between 4 a.m. and 8 p.m., but I plan my less-compelling content in the slower hours.

If you look in your audience insights on Facebook, they conveniently tell you when your audience is usually online. For us, our most active time is 6 p.m. Pacific. I'm sure this is leaving you wondering why I said that the optimal time to post ends at 4 p.m. The reason for this is because after the peak time at 6 p.m., people quickly start to drop off as they go to sleep.

When Facebook is considering what post to show to people, they VERY heavily consider the age of the post.

If you look at the top of your newsfeed at any point in time, odds are that the posts at the top of your feed are very recent, and as you scroll further down you start to see more older posts.

So just imagine that you make a post at 6 p.m. and then Facebook doesn't show that post to a large part of your audience within the next hour before they go to sleep. By the time they wake up and get back on Facebook, your post is now 9+ hours old. Then, because Facebook cares so much about the age of the post, Facebook is MUCH less likely to show that post to your audience.

In fact, that piece of content from 6 p.m. then has to compete with any of your own content that you may be posting in the morning. And because Facebook knows that your audience likes your page, and they value post age so highly, they are much more likely to show your most recent morning post instead of your killer 6 p.m. article.

I've found that posting your most compelling content in the late morning is the best way to maximize its performance; you'll have people awake all day to engage with your content.

You may see different results based on your audience, so you'll have to pay attention to the specific trends of your audience if you really want to dial this in more.

Frequency of Posts:

The amount of time between posts has an enormous impact on distribution, although Facebook may say differently. This is one area I strongly disagree with Facebook's official advice.

Facebook suggests that you just throw up your content as often as you please and their algorithm will decide what audience subsets among your followers like each piece of content the best and then Facebook will distribute it appropriately. This advice is awful, because it assumes a few things about your audience. It assumes:

  1. You're a large-volume publisher and already have a massive amount of content ready that is just waiting to be distributed.
  1. Your content is very broad and that different subsets within your audience like different content. That is - you have a lot of content that is targeted to specific parts of your audience, not audience as a whole.
  1. Each piece of your content is roughly the same quality, and you won't want to give preference to any individual piece of content.

Some of these points may be true for you. If you run a parenting blog, then you likely do have different segments among your audience based on the age of their children.

If you run a chocolate blog, then the performance among each of your articles is going to be much more consistent than a publisher who covers politics. But even if some, but not all, of these points are true for you, then you can still benefit by ignoring Facebook's advice.

How content distribution appears to work (with completely fabricated numbers):

Let's say that you have 40 articles that you publish each day, but you only post 20 of those articles to Facebook in one day. Those 20 posts then reach 100k people. Now let's say that you change your strategy and you post all 40 articles to Facebook in one day. You may then reach 150k people. Facebook is right by saying that by posting more, you will have reached more people. However, your reach per post was actually reduced. If maximizing the amount of reach per post is your priority (and it should be if you publish only a handful of articles or less per day) then you absolutely want to ignore Facebook's advice.

I have found that spacing out posts 2 hours or more apart will have very little negative impact on the reach of your articles. Posting any closer together appears to have a negative impact on the distribution of your articles.

If you only publish a couple of articles per day, I believe that you will see even better performance by spacing out your articles even more, because they will be less likely to compete with each other.

Bend the Rules if Necessary:

Let's say that you've just posted an article on Facebook about the changing value of the Euro. Then, immediately after the post goes up, the U.S. government announces that they will be abandoning the dollar in favor of bitcoin. This is a very time-sensitive topic, and requires you to get your content up ASAP. The longer you wait, the more likely that people will hear about it from another source or they will no longer care as much about the topic. When you have very time sensitive content, just post it immediately, and then resume your normal time-gap in posting.

Don't Anger the Facebook Gods:

I believe that Facebook has an algorithm which ranks pages by the quality of their content. Quality is judged differently between memes, videos, and links, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'll be focusing on links.

If you consistently post high-quality links, then Facebook will reward you with more overall distribution. If you post a lot of low-quality links, then Facebook will punish you by lowering your quality score, and throttling your distribution.

I have come to this conclusion because Blue Lives Matter somewhat regularly experiences around a 50% reduction in our distribution after posting lower-quality content, and the situation appears to correct itself after we post viral content.

So what causes a low quality score? It's not all clear, but we have some good hints.

From my experience, we have a greatly increased chance of lowering our quality score when we post breaking news articles.

Think about the difference between breaking news about an in-progress active shooter, and a non-breaking news article.

The details on the breaking shooting are likely developing, so there is very little content. This may result in very little time on site. The lack of details leaves people searching for more, so they may go to google to try to find another news site with more info rather than sharing our article after reading. Some of the most important metrics to Facebook are time on site and engagement AFTER clicking a link. It's reasonable to assume that those important metrics are in the gutter for breaking articles.

Slow news days could also lower our quality score. If we're publishing less interesting content because there's not much interesting news, then our click-thru and engagement will be garbage.

I consider occasional dips in page quality to generally be unavoidable to some degree and just assume we will have our highs and lows, but I want to avoid doing anything which may prematurely place us into a lower-quality category.

What this means for you depends largely on your publication, but if you focus on quality content over quantity, then you may do much better on Facebook. But don't feel like you should only be posting your most compelling content. You should be able to post all of your content on Facebook, just focus on making all of your content as high-quality as you can.

Something else which angers the Facebook gods is re-posting an article in a relatively short time period. If you post an article in the morning, and then you post that same article in the evening, you will no-doubt see reduced distribution on the second post.

But what you don't see is that Facebook is going to start to lower your page's quality score because you're reposting the same content. I'm not sure exactly how much time needs to pass before you can safely repost old content, but I believe it's around one month. I really don't want to lose money testing this one out too much, so I haven't narrowed down the time period, but I can tell you that two months is certainly safe.

Note that Facebook will still penalize you even if you delete the old post before making a new post with the same link.

If you post to Facebook and immediately notice that you had a typo in your headline because you were half-asleep, then you can't delete that post and repost the corrected copy without incurring a penalty on performance for that article and affecting your quality score. The only way around this is to repackage your article in a new article. That is, you can make a brand new article on the site with the same content, then delete your old article on the site, and share your new article link on Facebook.

You may be wondering if there's a way to check if your quality score is high or low. The simple answer is that you can't. However, you can pay attention to very significant changes to your Facebook distribution pattern to clue you in. Once your quality score is cut, there's very little you can actively do to get out of it short of making sure that you're posting more high quality content.

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