In what will surely be a welcome update for internet users who are sick of misleading and emotionally manipulative headlines and links, Facebook has announced a new change to its News Feed algorithm that will fight back against the proliferation of clickbait.
Even if you are unfamiliar with the term “clickbait,” you have likely seen it in action more times than you care to remember. A few examples:
- “Police officer pulls over teen driver… and you won’t believe what happened next!”
- “27 Times Katy Perry Was Just Like Us. Number 4 is My Favorite!”
- “We Put Five Digital Marketers in a Room for 10 Hours. What We Learned Was Shocking!”
Essentially, clickbait headlines come off as extremely desperate to get people to click through to their site, and in most cases, the content isn’t even worthwhile. It is an emotionally manipulative practice that cheapens content marketing, paints all digital marketers with a bad brush and generally ruins user experience on social media.
Now, for the first time, a major web corporation in Facebook is coming out to try and put an end to the clickbait phenomenon that has dominated the internet in recent years.
How it works
While this is not the first time Facebook has made its feelings about clickbait known, this is the first time it has released algorithm updates specifically targeting clickbait content pushers.
Previously, methods for discerning what is and is not clickbait had been primarily based on guesswork. Now, however, its methods have become significantly more advanced.
In conducting research for its new algorithms, Facebook analysts combed through trends of thousands of headlines, analyzing patterns and comparing these patterns to the type of content they led to. Using this information, the company developed a system that will automatically read and scan headlines and links for tell-tale clickbait language like that shown above. Any links that do not meet Facebook’s new quality standards will get punished in terms of their visibility. Either they will get ranked lower on people’s news feeds, or they will not get ranked at all. Think of it as an email spam filter, but for content sharing on social media.
What’s particularly interesting about this new plan is that the analysis does not occur on a post-by-post basis. Repeat offenders who have their content regularly flagged by Facebook’s system will have all of their content punished, not just offending posts. These restrictions will only be lifted once the offender has stopped posting clickbait and is regularly producing and sharing content that once again meets Facebook’s standards.
What exactly is Facebook looking for?
To remove some of the subjectivity from its analysis of shared content, Facebook has announced what it believes to be the two primary signs of clickbait.
The first sign is withholding important information from readers. This would include examples like “What happened next was amazing,” or “I cried at 30 seconds into this video,” or “What this police officer did will restore your faith in humanity.” These are headlines specifically designed to create curiosity, but in a dishonest and manipulative way. Rather than letting the quality of the content draw viewers in, these headlines are attempting to play off of psychological triggers that trick you into clicking through.
The second sign is headlines that intentionally mislead readers. This includes quotes taken out of context or contorted to fit an agenda, information or quotes that are completely made up, headlines that push a misleading narrative, headlines that are made to shock readers rather than provide accurate information, etc. This type of clickbait is a little harder to spot, but it’s just as effective and just as dishonest.
Facebook has not expressly indicated any particular phrases it is searching for in headlines, it likely will never do so. But most people will know clickbait when they see it, and these clear definitions issued by Facebook give some guidelines to digital marketers who rely on click-through traffic from social media to garner attention for their companies.
What is the endgame?
Ultimately, Facebook simply wants publishers to create and share better content. Users are sick of being flooded with manipulative, low-quality content on a regular basis. The more publishers continue to push this content, the more it will drive users away from Facebook, which is the last thing the social media giant wants.
It is also a sign that more changes could potentially be on the way from Facebook in terms of its advertising guidelines. If it is taking a no-clickbait stance with its news feed algorithms, it would not be entirely surprising to see Facebook implement a “no clickbait” warning in its actual rules it lays out to advertisers.
While these changes will not prevent regular users from finding and sharing clickbait stories to their timelines (and thus having them show up in their friends’ newsfeeds), they will be effective in curbing the amount of clickbait published by brands and instantly shared by users.
Going forward, then, digital marketers should be mindful of the headlines they are creating for their videos, blog posts and other content. There are plenty of ways to write engaging, interesting headlines without having to resort to cheap clickbait tactics. Focus on creating high-quality content, and let that be the most compelling factor for people who see the content you have shared.
If you had previously relied on clickbait-style headlines to get views, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are in trouble. If the content you had was good, you can simply go back, edit the headline according to Facebook’s quality standards and re-share it on the social network.
Copyright 2016 Viral Solutions LLC
by Jordan Thomas | Chief of Doubling your Small Business
We help overwhelmed small business owners duplicate themselves – so business can be fun again
Viral Solutions LLC is a Digital Marketer Certified Partner, an Infusionsoft Certified Consultant and a Google Partner – Certified in AdWords.