Facebook Instant Articles vs AMP vs Apple News for WordPress
A mobile content revolution is afoot. Content distribution giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple are delivering content to mobile users in new and innovative ways, leaving content publishers scrambling to keep up. It wasn’t very long ago that having a fully-responsive site was enough, but that is no longer true.
In the past month, AMP articles have been added to Google Search results and Apple News has opened its doors to all publishers. And in April, the Facebook Instant Articles program will begin accepting applications from interested publishers.
Content publishing is a tough game. Publishers have to be at the leading edge of change as the web evolves to avoid losing viewership to more nimble competitors while simultaneously publishing the best content possible. As a publisher, if you take your eye off of either prize there’ll be bounce-rate-hell to pay.
WordPress is the most popular content publishing platform on the web, and the WordPress community has proven itself wonderfully adept at accommodating the constant evolutionary demands that are thrown at it. But before you start integrating the latest mobile optimization plugins into your WordPress website, you need to know which new formats to embrace and which ones you’re better off skipping.
A Tale of Three Platforms
Facebook Instant Articles (FBIA), Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), and Apple News (no acronym necessary) are similar in concept but used in very different ways. All three make static content such as blog posts and news articles load more quickly on mobile devices and provide a more immersive and app-like experience. However, each platform is implemented quite differently:
- Instant Articles are only shown to users of the Facebook mobile app;
- AMP format is being used by Google search (but only in mobile browsers for now) and by Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Medium, and Nuzzel; and
- Stories published to Apple News are only available to iPhone and iPad users.
In this article, we’ll explore all three publishing platforms so you can decide which formats make the most sense for your content and audience.
Facebook Instant Articles
Facebook OpenGraph allows any website to control the appearance of its content when shared on Facebook and several other social networks. WordPress plugins like SmartCrawl and Ultimate Facebook have made it easy to add OpenGraph markup to a WordPress website.
Facebook Instant Articles take things several steps further than OpenGraph. Rather than just controlling how content appears when shared on Facebook, FBIA actually creates a mobile-optimized copy of the article and partially preloads it in the background when it appears in a user’s newsfeed. As a result, FBIA content loads up to ten times faster than standard content in the Facebook mobile app. Facebook users prefer content that loads quickly and are expected to interact with and share FBIA content more frequently.
As we recently discovered, joining the program and integrating a WordPress website with FBIA is not for the faint of heart, and there are few issues publishers should consider before applying to join the program:
- Publishers won’t be added to the program unless they have at least 50 articles ready for Facebook to review.
- Using the program requires publishers to maintain a Facebook Page and use Facebook’s Business Manager application to format and control Instant Article presentation and ad placement.
Who Should Consider Joining FBIA?
While Facebook is allowing any content publisher to apply to the program as of April 12, 2016, websites that publish content on a regular basis, such as news organizations and very active blogs, are who the program is designed for. If your website publishes content regularly and relies on Facebook sharing for a significant portion of your traffic, joining the program really isn’t optional, it’s mandatory.
You can learn more about this program by reading the official program documentation and by learning how to get your WordPress website ready for Instant Articles.
If you have an iPhone or iPad and noticed the News app show up and replace the old Newsstand app after an iOS update back in September 2015, then you’re already familiar with Apple News. When the program launched, it was initially only open to 20 publishers. However, as of March 2016, the platform has been opened up to all publishers.
There are a few different ways to get content onto the Apple News platform. You can create new content using Apple News Publisher, use a WordPress plugin, or submit your website’s RSS feed.
Submitting the URL for your website’s RSS feed is the most straightforward way to connect your website to the platform, but the Publish To Apple News WordPress plugin provides many additional configuration options. While the plugin is a bit rough right now due to its relative infancy, this plugin, and others that are sure to follow, will provide a greater degree of control over how content looks when it is pushed to Apple News.
WP Tavern recently published an article about their efforts to get onboard Apple News. Based on the WordPress news site’s experience, of the three platforms covered in this post, Apple News looks to be the most straightforward to join and configure.
Who Should Join Apple News?
Clear statistics of how many users actually use Apple News are hard to come by (even for Apple!). So it’s hard to say definitively who should consider signing up for the program.
Interested publishers should consider that some of the biggest names in publishing are already on Apple News. The New York Times, CNN, HuffPost, the Atlantic, NPR, Buzzfeed, Vox, and virtually every other major news publisher seems to have embraced the platform. A search for “WordPress” reveals that several publishers in our corner of the world are already active on the platform as well.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project
AMP is an open source project that formats static web pages in such a way that they load very quickly on mobile devices. AMP article format has been embraced by more than 200 content publishers, including WordPress.com, and is already being used on several different popular platforms such as Google search, LinkedIn, Medium, Nuzzel, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Without a doubt, AMP articles load much faster than standard mobile web pages. Pinterest’s Engineering Blog has published research confirming that this is true, and personal hands-on experience validates those claims.
There are a couple of plugins already in the official WordPress Plugin Directory which can be used to generate AMP format articles automatically.
- Facebook Instant Articles & Google AMP Pages by PageFrog was released in late January 2016, and can be used to generate an RSS feed for FB Instant Articles and properly formatted AMP articles, just as the name suggests.
- AMP is a succinctly titled plugin from Automattic for generating AMP articles.
Once you have your WordPress website set up to generate AMP articles you’ll want to validate your AMP pages. Pages that don’t pass validation won’t be recognized and indexed by some platforms, including Google and Twitter. Anecdotal evidence suggests that getting AMP pages to validate is easier said than done, as some plugin authors and webmasters are finding out.
Who is AMP For?
In time, most publishers will want to configure their websites to generate AMP articles. AMP format is already highly relevant to publishers whose stories make into the Top Stories portion of Google’s search results, and to anyone who relies on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest sharing and traffic.
AMP is open source, and additional platforms are sure to add support for AMP articles over time. It seems probable that AMP format will become the de facto standard for static content viewed on mobile devices. While major players like Apple and Facebook may stick with their own formats, the broader mobile development community is likely to adopt open source AMP format.
Which Mobile Formats Should You Embrace?
If your organization publishes a lot of content, is active on Facebook, and relies heavily on traffic from the social network, there’s really no way to get around joining Facebook Instant Articles. Over time, Facebook users will learn to recognize FBIA content and will prefer it over non-FBIA content. Long-term success as a content publisher on Facebook will demand that you embrace the FBIA format.
Apple News is an interesting platform and may represent a good opportunity for early adopters who can get a corner on the Apple News audience. However, if you’re going to pick one platform not to join, make it Apple News.
In time, every publisher will
want to add support for AMP articles to their website. It’s already embraced by several important platforms, and with Google adding the technology to their various products, it’s only a matter of time before AMP formatting becomes synonymous with publishing content for mobile devices.