Clickbait. That’s the common term for those headlines that we can’t help clicking — even though we know we’ll be disappointed. “What does Kate Middleton really look like without her make up?” “8 beloved child stars working at minimum wage today.” “You won’t believe what happened next!”
Facebook is cracking down heavily on clickbait publishers with an algorithm change, according to the Wall Street Journal. This isn’t the first inkling that Facebook is going after clickbait. They’ve been posting higher quality content above clickbait for some time. Having top quality blog posts and sharing them on Facebook continues to be a good way to get your content out to new readers, as well as best practice for SEO.
In 2014, Facebook began identifying clickbait by user behavior. When people liked a story, clicked, and quickly unliked it, the story was tagged as clickbait. Clicking through and clicking back was another behavior identified with clickbait. Comments and shares, on the other hand, gave stories a mark of approval. Using this kind of user behavior, Facebook was able to block enough clickbait to affect some publishers significantly.
But the new change in the algorithm focuses on the headlines themselves.
Recognizing clickbait headlines
There are two types of headlines that will be suppressed, Facebook says. First, those which leave out the central information in a story, such as, “You Won’t Believe Who Flashed Her Frillies on the Subway!” or “Why Did This Zookeeper Go Bananas?”
Facebook isn’t saying that you have to reveal your main point in your headline, but they’ve analyzed tens of thousands of stories and identified the patterns most often found in clickbait, and that type of “no information” headline is at the top of the list.
They also want to shut down those headlines that exaggerate the emotional impact of the content. “7 Foods Your Dentist Says You Should Never Eat?!” is not an acceptable headline.
A change for the good?
Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg complains that this algorithm change limits the news and information that reaches Facebook readers, seeing it (and the friends and family focus announced earlier this year) as part of Facebook’s excessive filtering. Reasonable people, he suggests, know clickbait when they see it and don’t click on it. People who complain about clickbait headlines should take responsibility for their actions. Bershidsky would like to see Facebook users doing their own filtering with settings.
But Facebook’s algorithm leads to satisfied customers and encourages ads; it’s designed to serve Facebook’s needs. I checked out my own ad settings and got the clear message: if you reduce the number of things Facebook thinks you’re interested in, you’ll see just as many ads, but they’ll be less closely targeted.
I don’t know where Facebook got the impression that I’m interested in Michigan, Piña Coladas, and magnets, but I guess it’s just as well that I’m not seeing ads I would actually find interesting. I’d definitely waste more time at Facebook if they showed me tempting products.
And that is of course the point. Facebook wants people to spend more time at Facebook and to engage more. As a business, you should agree. You don’t want your content shown to people who aren’t your customers. You want your customers and potential customers to come to your Facebook page and see things they’ll find engaging, things that will make them feel at home with you. You’ll also want well-targeted boosted posts, because let’s face it, Facebook wants businesses to pay and won’t show lots of your content for free. And you’ll want those posts to reach the right people, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Tone down those clickbait headlines and cooperate with the algorithm change. Facebook –and your customers — will reward you.