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Facebook Updates News Feed to Combat ‘Low Quality’ Websites

Facebook has announced a new News Feed algorithm update, this time focused on reducing the reach of links to websites which contain “little substantive content and have a large number of disruptive, shocking or malicious ads”. The changes will also relate to ads from these domains, which will be blocked entirely.

In other words, if your site’s covered in crappy ads, you’re gonna’ find it a lot harder to keep drawing significant traffic from Facebook.

And the implications could, potentially, reach further than that.

First off, on the change itself – the main motivation of the update is to reduce the financial incentive for spammers to create click-bait type content, which may help lessen the influence of fake news.

Reports stemming from the US Election showed that spammers and fake news peddlers can make thousands of dollars a month in ad revenue by luring clicks, which they do with sensationalized headlines and made up reports.

Facebook Updates News Feed to Combat ‘Low Quality’ Websites | Social Media Today

A fake ABC News site

While Facebook initially played down the potential impact of fake news on their platform, they’re now taking it very seriously – just recently, ahead of the French election, Facebook removed thousands of questionable accounts, while even more recently, they’ve taken out ads in UK newspapers which aim to raise awareness of fake news reports ahead of that nation’s election.

This latest update moves in line with this push – but the specifics actually go a bit deeper, as expanded investigation shows.

As reported by TechCrunch, Facebook’s parameters for the low-quality sites that could be penalized are:

  • A disproportionate volume of ads relative to content - This includes advertisements, and not legal obligations such as cookie policies or logins to private content, such as paywalls.
  • Featuring sexually suggestive or shocking content - See relevant policies for Sensational Content and Adult Content.
  • Pages that contain malicious or deceptive ads - which include Prohibited Content as defined in our policies.
  • Use of pop-up ads or interstitial ads - which disrupt the user experience.

Most of these measures are fairly straight-forward – if your site’s loaded with crappy ads, you’re in for a decline in referral traffic. But within this, there’s a couple of more common ad usages which could also lead to impacts.

For example, Forbes uses full-screen interstitials which wall off their content, an invasive ad format that's often criticized by readers. TechCrunch asked Facebook specifically if such ads would be covered by these new guidelines. And they are (or at least, could be).

This is in line with Google’s recent crackdown on interstitials and pop-ups – it doesn’t relate to all ads of this type, but if you’re running invasive pop-ups, they could see you red flagged by Facebook’s new system.

And worth noting here, Facebook’s using AI (of course) to detect potential violators:

We reviewed hundreds of thousands of web pages linked to from Facebook to identify those that contain little substantive content and have a large number of disruptive, shocking or malicious ads. We then used artificial intelligence to understand whether new web pages shared on Facebook have similar characteristics. So if we determine a post might link to these types of low-quality web pages, it may show up lower in people’s feeds and may not be eligible to be an ad. This way people can see fewer misleading posts and more informative posts.

As such, the system is fully automated, it’s not being conducted by manual review or assessment based on reports. This means all content of this type will be subject to the new standards.

In addition to this, BuzzFeed says that the main ad units being targeted by this change are 'content-recommendation ads' - those boxes of spam-riddled links you see adjacent to articles. Here’s an example supplied by sponsored link churner Zergnet.

This is particularly significant, because, again as noted by BuzzFeed:

“A study from ChangeAdvertising.org found that these types of ads, are present on more than 80% of the top 50 news websites in the US.”

That could mean there’s a significant impact – but Facebook did note that not all websites using content ad networks would be penalized, just ‘the worst of the worst’ of this segment, those pedaling exploitative, sexualized type content. Though that could still pose a challenge for those businesses using these networks (who don't know, 100%, which links will be served).

Overall, Facebook says the impact on Page reach should be minimal for most.

“Publishers that do not have the type of low-quality landing page experience referenced may see a small increase in traffic, while publishers who do should see a decline in traffic.” 

So that’s good news, right? If you don’t go for these types of revenue ramping tactics, you might actually see an increase in traffic as more of your content is shown to more people - though Facebook doesn’t generally give away a lot of reach, so I wouldn’t get too excited about the possibilities on this front.

Overall, the change is a positive, another small step in Facebook’s efforts to stamp out low quality providers and eliminate financial incentive for spammers, making it easier for genuine publishers and Pages to establish connections with their communities. But if you are using any of the tactics mentioned, it might be worth monitoring your Facebook referrals for any dips.

Facebook says the changes “will roll out gradually over the coming months”.

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