How I Cleaned Up My Facebook Timeline In 20 Minutes

I first realized my Facebook timeline was in dire need of cleaning out when I opened it and saw seven posts in a row from Business Insider, followed by two from Mashable and two from TechCrunch. Sandwiched in between these were two promoted posts of dubious relevance to me. One was one of the eleven billion “marketing certification training” programs that have grown around the Internet like fungus and the other was for an investment banking training program. My only tenuous connection to the latter was having some friends working in the industry in question.

While I like Business Insider, Mashable and TechCrunch, I idly started to wonder something: Where the hell were the posts from my friends? I keep my Facebook profile fairly well pruned even but any posts from the actual people in my life were getting buried under an endless stream of tech demos and links to videos about dogs doing back flips. Facebook’s algorithm has made some headway in cleaning out obnoxious list articles and pointless surveys from my feed but it wasn’t enough for me.

Unliking Pages

Over the years I counted no less than 200 Facebook pages I had liked, many of which didn’t offer compelling enough content to keep me hooked. Half of the pages I liked – for movies like The Godfather or games like Mass Effect – just occasionally posted information about some sale or a new limited edition. So with the exception of the business pages that I work with as well a few pages that produce genuinely funny content (shout outs to Infinite Elgintensity and The Oatmeal) I did a mass purge of my pages that hadn’t done in years.

I expected the results to be gradual, but it was night and day. The top of my news feed instantly became a slew of Facebook posts from friends whose activity I hadn’t seen in months, people sharing occasional memories, and colleagues sharing links to posts. I even found that I missed the occasional incendiary political opinion after having grown so accustomed to an endless stream of Mashable sharing videos of reactions to the Batman v Superman trailer. It was good to see my friends again.

Cleaning Out Advertising Preferences

This recommendation came to me by way of a Facebook comment on one of the pages I actually like and it worked beautifully. The next time you see a sponsored post on Facebook (unless you’re already using Adblock) click on the top right arrow and select “Why am I seeing this?” It immediately takes you to the set of categories Facebook is targeting you with. I had about 300 targeting “preferences”, about 90% of which were completely irrelevant to me. They ranged from topics like investment banking to healthcare graduate degrees to slightly more relevant categories like “technology lover” that nonetheless were responsible for serving up ads that had no purpose for me.

Simply clean out all of your advertising preferences by removing the targeting preferences manually. You’ll still have to deal with your friends posting linkbait surveys about what your spirit animal is but you won’t get targeted by a computer store owner in Seattle who doesn’t know how to target properly because you clicked “Like” on the PlayStation 4 and Facebook subsequently stored you as a “technology lover.” If you’ve ever wondered why you see irrelevant advertising this is why.

Now let me address any Facebook analytics marketers who might be sharpening their machetes in response to this suggestion. People seeing less irrelevant advertising is a good thing. Facebook’s advertising program was founded (in theory) on the concept of advertising data being delivered to relevant people in order to encourage click throughs and business transactions. Businesses get to target the relevant people and they get to see ads that are relevant to them. The more people get bombarded with Internet certification training programs the less like they are to see your ads unless you pump even more money into them.

Going back to my earlier example, don’t forget to make sure your own advertising is just as relevant. Use geotargeting and demographics based targeting, not just broad brush interests. Don’t contribute to the same flood of junk that I’m advising people to clean up; that just makes you part of the mess that gets swept away when people clean out their timelines. Lastly but most importantly: Put some effort into the ads themselves. You’re paying for premium placing in the newsfeed, so make use of it.

Manually Subscribing to Pages

This one has been around for a while but it bears repeating, especially if there’s a creator on Facebook whose content you don’t want to miss. Facebook obviously hides content on the newsfeed from pages you’ve “liked” to encourage promoted posts. As is often the case with pay-to-win systems this means that content creators with no real budget, local businesses and burgeoning pages get the short end of the stick.

The solution is simple if you haven’t done it already: Simply go to the page whose posts you want to see, click the little arrow on “Liked”, click “All On” under “Notifications” and click “See First” under “In Your News Feed.” I did this with a couple of the remaining pages I still liked and the results were immediate.

All in, this took me less than half an hour and substantially improved my Facebook experience. You may not own your Facebook page in the strict sense, but you can certainly make an effort to take back control of what you see. So spread the word and clean out the junk. Everyone wins from it.