What Facebook’s New Pre-fetching Policy Means for Your Business

Posted: October 17, 2016

Topics: Strategy


Facebook’s latest announcement brings huge changes to how they sell ads.  

Facebook uses an advertising algorithm similar to the one that Google uses: instead of buying ads directly you’re bidding in an ad auction with other advertisers. Facebook looks at the quality of the ads and the size of the bid to determine which ads are seen.

It’s the ad quality part that will see the biggest changes. Facebook has traditionally focused on an ad’s relevance to viewers. Now it’s thrown a wrench into the works by making speed a factor in ad quality.

A central component of this is pre-fetching. Pre-fetching is a process that Facebook runs when someone links to an external page. When an advertiser creates a Facebook ad, they can link to a content marketing offer or website to meet their business objectives. Now, with these new changes, Facebook will follow that link and download the basic content on the page ahead of time, before the Facebook user even sees the ad.

The idea is to reduce the number of servers and requests involved whenever a user clicks on a link. It all sounds great, but pre-fetching has some serious implications:

  1. Facebook is taking a more assertive role in deciding what their users see. Now, if there's a slow ad page, Facebook might not show it. As of this time, it doesn’t look like advertisers will be notified if their ad isn’t displayed.

  2. Counting clicks is now more complicated. When a link gets shared, Facebook’s web robots follow it and download the content. We’ll assume (for now) that the page loads fine and gets cached with the rest of the content. So far so good right? Well hold on…

    According to Facebook, this might cause problems with click counting. That download request might count as a view for that page, even though a real person hasn’t looked at it yet! Luckily Facebook follows industry standards for this. Their data request tells the server this isn’t a “real view”. Ad networks should be able to filter for these “imaginary views”.

Part of the bigger picture

In truth, this announcement by Facebook isn't surprising. Content powerhouses like Google and Facebook have been on a speed kick for a while now. Google has their AMP project and Facebook has pushed their instant article format. Google has been factoring page speed into their results for a while now. It looks like Facebook is jumping on the bandwagon. 

Both companies have been playing “good cop”. They've been creating these tools to make fast content easier. Until recently the message has been “play along with us, and we’ll make your site faster”. 

This newest announcement is a bit of a shift for Facebook. Now they’re willing play “bad cop” and say “play along with us… or else”. In their defense, what they’re asking for isn’t that onerous. It’s reasonable to expect a modern website to have a reasonable load time. 

I don’t advertise on Facebook, why should I care? 

Even if you’re not using buying ads from Facebook, they’re still worth thinking about. Facebook alone makes up 20% of the time spent on mobile devices. If it’s your goal to get your message in front of people, you have to take the platform rules into consideration. Facebook has made it clear that speed matters to them. Does your site load in a reasonable amount of time? Is it mobile friendly? How does it look when people share your pages on Facebook? 

I advertise on Facebook, so what should I do?

Have a damn good webpage for your ad. That means having a page that is built with the end user in mind. Your page must be responsive and load quickly. Also make sure your page is using industry standards for logging views or you might not be getting accurate numbers about your ad performance.

Another option is to consider using Facebook’s new Canvas format for ads. They built it, so it should run well on their systems. Canvas doesn’t offer as many customization options as a real webpage, but it will run fast and look good.

The new ad system doesn’t have to be bad news, in fact it’s a great opportunity! Whenever changes like this happen it creates an opportunity for companies to jump ahead of the competition. If your Facebook ads are being built and managed by a competent digital marketing partner, you might actually see a better return on your investment.

This post was written by R. Mey, Web Developer at PUSH 22.