Facebook Diminishes the Reach of Photo Posts with Links in the Caption
If you’ve paid attention to changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm over the years, you know photos have always tended to get more Reach compared to links.
You’ll also recall a change a few years back where Facebook announced that photos with links in the update/caption would have a diminished Reach and be considered “Clickbait.”
Facebook gave us these examples of a link post vs a photo with a link in the caption:
Facebook clarified this change:
“We’ve found that people often prefer to click on links that are displayed in the link format (which appears when you paste a link while drafting a post), rather than links that are buried in photo captions. The link format shows some additional information associated with the link, such as the beginning of the article, which makes it easier for someone to decide if they want to click through. This format also makes it easier for someone to click through on mobile devices, which have a smaller screen.
With this update, we will prioritize showing links in the link-format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates.”
It soon became customary to never put a link in a photo caption for fear of being penalized by Facebook as being “Clickbait”—thus having lower Reach.
But this update happened on August 25, 2014.
Is this still true today?
Hypothesis: Facebook Photo posts with a link in the description will have a lower Reach than properly formatted link posts.
I’m making this assumption based on how Facebook has said it handles photos with links in the caption (i.e., considering them “clickbait”).
Let’s see what we find out!
How We’ll Test Facebook Reach of Links and Links on Photos
To test this theory, I’ll use the following Facebook pages:
- Agorapulse | Our company page with about 55k Likes
- Space Walk of Central Texas | This is my small-business page in central Texas with about 5500 Likes
- Scott Ayres | This is an older page I’ve had for years that I have recently started posting social media related info to with about 11k Likes
To accurately get results, I will test 14 posts with a properly formatted link and 14 posts with a photo with the link in the description per page. With 14 of each, it’s a 1 month long test, which is more ideal.
My thought was to post a link to a page, say, on a Thursday at 5PM. Then the following Thursday at 5PM, I’ll post using a photo (the featured image of the link post) and put the link in the text. Doing so will give me the best possible scenario to compare apples to apples, and eliminates any doubters who will ask, “Did you post at the same exact day and time?”
I ended up following this exactly for the Agorapulse page and the Scott Ayres page.
On the Space Walk page, I have fewer links available in its niche, so I posted 5 links and 5 photos in the same format as above.
Here is an example from the Agorapulse page of a photo post and link post used:
I scheduled the posts for all 3 pages using Agorapulse. ( Remember from a previous experiment that posts from 3rd party apps are NOT punished by Facebook!)
This further removes any anomalies that some might assume if we had used different methods of posting.
Check out our Facebook Live discussing this experiment:
The results are a bit mixed. Let’s look at each page and then average them together.
- Photo Posts: 222.57
- Link Posts: 231.93
- Links have a 4.21% higher Reach
Space Walk of Central Texas:
- Photo Posts: 314.4
- Link Posts: 353.2
- Links have a 12.34% higher Reach
On both of these pages links ended up having a higher Reach. These results support the Facebook news feed change targeting “clickbait” photos (those with links in the caption).
But the Agorapulse page was completely different.
- Photo Posts: 1055.71
- Link Posts: 872.5
- Links had a 17.35% lower Reach (Or conversely, photos had a 22% higher Reach.)
These results go against the results of the other 2 pages as well as the news feed changes mentioned.
When we average the Reach of all 3 pages together, Photos come out with a 9% higher Reach (obviously swayed by the results of the Agorapulse page).
This makes it tough to draw a conclusion when looking at all 3 pages based on Reach alone.
Looking at the Reactions and Comments, the Photo posts win on all 3 pages studied.
Reactions were 47.42% higher on Photo posts; Comments were 2250% higher on Photo posts!
There wasn’t much engagement on the posts which means even just 1 comment would skyrocket the results here. (Photos tend to get more engagement, although these photos were exactly the same photos used as featured images in the Link posts.)
The data there isn’t high enough to draw any sort of conclusions.
So, let’s look at Link Clicks. After all, the whole point of posting a link to Facebook is to drive traffic.
Taking the average from all 3 pages, link clicks were 44.93% higher on the Link posts compared to the Photo posts.
Admittedly the Space Walk and Scott Ayres page didn’t get a ton of clicks, which brings this average down.
Diving into the data from the Agorapulse page—where traffic was the most important—we find that Link posts garnered 63.29% more clicks than Photo posts.
That’s quite substantial in my opinion.
Having more Facebook Reach is great, but if it doesn’t lead to more clicks who cares? (It’s simply a vanity metric we chase.)
Conclusion About Photo Posts vs Link Posts on Facebook
This study was tough, both from a setup and analyzing angle.
On one hand, photo posts dominated Reach compared to link posts on the Agorapulse page. But on the other hand, link clicks were much better on the link posts.
So is there a clear winner here? Can we make an absolute “statistically significant” conclusion on this study?
The short answer is: YES.
To get to this conclusion, I compared the conversion rate of the overall Reach to link clicks on the Agorapulse page and every testing site I put the data through let me know the results were over 97% significant.
The AB Testguide demonstrates that Link posts (B) had a 97.49% higher conversion rate and gives us 99% confidence the results are significant.
I also ran these same numbers through our internal formula and through Kissmetrics A/B testing site, the results were the same:
Just to hold off any naysayers here, I also tallied the Reach and Link Clicks of all 3 pages and ran them through these same sites.
The results continued to be statistically significant. I’ll only show you one screenshot to save your eyeballs some scanning:
As you can see, the conversion rate wasn’t as high, but the stat is still nearly 100% significantly significant.
What To Do With This Data
If your goal is to drive more traffic to your website/links, posting properly formatted links is the way to go on Facebook. Now if you’re wanting to purely say you got more Reach to brag to your boss or co-workers, Photos will likely give you more Reach.
But the Reach number can be very deceiving and cause you to chase results that aren’t significant or drive results.
We are now in the middle of the “Facebook Apocalypse” and Reach is a hot topic—understandably so.
In the end, though, just getting more Reach isn’t good enough. You also need:
Just boasting a higher Facebook Reach isn’t going to get you that for most business pages.
So post your properly formatted links with confidence — even if that means the engagement on them is lower.
Pay closer attention to those LINK CLICKS!