Fed up with seeing those blatant clickbait headlines in your Facebook news feed? You know, the “this cute kitten / starving puppy was attacked/ rescued / cuddled by a baby / chihuahua / alligator. You won’t BELIEVE what happens next!!!” ones (if you’re still not sure, spend a few happy minutes with this clickbait headline generator). If nothing looks familiar, you have super-intellectual friends – well done!
Apparently, a few Smart Cookies are making megabucks from these sites; this is how it works. They dredge the internet, and other “viral” type sites like Reddit, for content which ticks the shareability buttons, come up with alluring headlines*, and republish that content onto their own websites with the clickbait titles added. Then, they feed those links into Facebook, often with an initial advertising budget to start pushing them into people’s news feeds as Boosted Posts, and wait for the traffic to start flooding in.
Because of the way Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm works (or has until this week), a clickbait rolling stone headline will gather a very large amount of moss indeed. Or to put it another way, every time one of your friends clicks on one of those articles, it becomes more likely to show up in your feed. If you click too, you’re passing on the joy to your friends. So with that initial investment in a boosted post, the article gets traction throughout Facebook and starts sending lots of traffic back to the original Smart Cookie’s website….which they can then monetise by selling ad space on the basis of all those zillions of page views.
So basically, the Smart Cookies have been exploiting Facebook to deliver traffic to their own sites, for their own reasons.
Strangely enough, Facebook aren’t very keen on this, and have now announced that they intend to knock the whole thing on the head. For one thing, someone else is cashing in on their customer base; for another, all those lovely clicks are departing Facebook and landing on the Smart Cookies’ websites; and for a third thing, some users possibly find those headlines annoying. We’ll leave it to you guess which of those three things are the official reason for the algorithm change they’ve just announced which will reduce the visibility of these articles…
Here’s the full official release if you’d like to read a slightly less snarky view of the whole story: News Feed FYI: click baiting
* alluring in the way that a carrier bag of cheap chocolate is alluring. It’s hard to ignore but will leave you feeling kinda nauseous and grubby if you go there.