Facebook Announces "Prefetching", Prompts Advertisers to Improve Mobile Response
Mobile is very clearly where it's at for the world's biggest social platform, and as such, they're constantly working to improve their mobile offerings, adding new tools like Instant Articles, Canvas ads and improving Page to Messenger connection options for better mobile results.
And now Facebook's looking to put some of the onus back on businesses to also up their mobile game.
In a small announcement at the end of a new Facebook blog post about the efforts they've been making to improve mobile performance, there's a note about a new process they're calling "prefetching" for ad content.
"Today, we're introducing prefetching - pre-loading mobile content in the Facebook in-app browser before a link is tapped. This can shorten mobile site load time by 29 per cent or 8.5 seconds, improving the experience and decreasing the risk of site abandonment."
That load time reduction is significant - when Instant Articles was first launched, Facebook noted that one of the major pain points the option was designed to address was load times, with the average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook being around eight seconds. On the face of it, eight seconds seems relatively minor, a few seconds isn't long to wait for an article to come up. But on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook, that time is significant. For example, if every one of Facebook's 1.033 billion mobile daily active users were to open just one link per session, that eight second load time on each would equate to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, every day, for posts to load. That's 228 years in cumulative global load time. Every day.
But in addition to prefetching, Facebook also added another important note to their post, an extra qualifier that seems more significant than a final paragraph comment in an otherwise generic update.
"Over the coming months, we're working to improve advert experiences for people by considering website performance and a person's network connection in our advert auction and delivery system. In this way, we can better match adverts to the moments when people can best engage with content."
Essentially, Facebook's saying that landing page speed will soon become a factor in how their system decides which ads to serve to users. If your page is not mobile optimized and the person you're trying to reach has a poor internet connection, your ad is less likely to be shown to them.
As Facebook's VP of monetization product marketing Matt Idema explained to Forbes :
"What we're seeing is businesses have yet to invest across the board in their mobile experiences as much as in their legacy desktop experiences. It's really a problem we're looking to work with the industry to help solve"
As such, Facebook has also added a list of notes on how brands can improve the mobile performance of their sites, including:
- Minimizing landing page redirects, plugins and link shorteners
- Compressing files to decrease mobile rendering time
- Improving server response time by utilizing multi-region hosting
- Using a high-quality content delivery network to reach audiences quickly
Really, Facebook's just trying to make sure that advertisers, in particular, up their mobile game to ensure users are getting the best possible experience, but it is interesting that this announcement is buried in a post about all the ways Facebook is offering improved mobile options for businesses. Like, maybe brands shouldn't even bother updating their websites, they can just use all these cool, mobile-optimized tools on Facebook instead.
On top of all this, when you look into the additional notes on prefetching, Facebook also says that the new process could skew your stats and make it seem like you're getting more referral traffic from Facebook than you actually are:
"Prefetching may cause an apparent increase in traffic for publishers and an increase in clicks for third-party, tag-based measurement companies. These increases may occur when marketers manually place third-party click tags in the website URL of their ads. Setting the tags up this way causes the prefetch to redirect to the third party tag, and the prefetch may then get counted as a click."
Again, pretty relevant information for publishers, but not highlighted in any particular way, just noted in amongst a few other details and stats.
Really, if you've not optimized your site for mobile, you're likely already suffering the consequences to some degree - with this announcement, Facebook's simply saying your Facebook ads could also suffer as a result. The simple answer, of course, is to update your site, but if you're prohibited by time or cost, maybe it is worth looking at Facebook's other options to ensure you're providing your audience with the best possible experience. You don't want to build too much reliance on Facebook on this front, but if any of the above potential limitations concern you, it's worth considering your options.
Also, keep an eye on your stats - if you suddenly see a big jump in Facebook referral traffic, make sure you look a bit deeper and cross-check with your Google Analytics data.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter