Facebook's rolling out a new News Feed algorithm update which focuses on reducing the reach of clickbait, which is still one of the most complained about elements of The Social Network.
As explained by Facebook:
"People tell us they don't like stories that are misleading, sensational or spammy. That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link. In an effort to support an informed community, we're always working to determine what stories might have clickbait headlines so we can show them less often."
Facebook's been working to eliminate clickbait for years - in fact, ever since its inception back in 2013, the News Feed algorithm has been designed, at least in part, to eliminate clickbait and what Facebook describes as 'low quality content'.
They've refined their approach to clickbait over time - in 2014, for example, Facebook announced a clickbait tackling News Feed update which took into account how long people spent reading after clicking through on a link. They advanced their anti-clickbait efforts further in 2016 by analyzing thousands of clickbait headlines and determining common themes, in order to better detect and restrict them.
This new update adds additional considerations to the crackdown, and while Facebook doesn't expect the change to cause any significant declines in the reach of most Pages, it's important to understand their key areas of focus to ensure you're playing within the rules.
Post Level Focus
First off, Facebook says they're now taking into account clickbait "at the individual post level in addition to the domain and Page level", in order to more precisely, and rapidly, reduce the spread of clickbait content.
As part of their previous anti-clickbait efforts, Facebook worked to identify Pages and websites which distributed clickbait content in order to limit the reach of related posts. But as noted by Marketing Land, while this approach has been effective on a broad scale, it still means occasional, one-off clickbait posts from otherwise reputable publishers are getting through.
This new change will enable Facebook to identify and reduce the reach of these one-off posts without penalizing the Page or site more widely. That will also mean Facebook will be able to eliminate clickbait content faster, as they won't need to wait for a pool of examples to mount against a Page/site before they can take action.
In addition, the focus on individual posts could also enable Facebook to lift clickbait sanctions faster, if/when a Page stops publishing such content.
The second element of Facebook's update relates to defining what clickbait is and how they identify it.
Through their research, Facebook says that they now have a system which can determine whether a headline withholds information or exaggerates the details, which are the two most common types of clickbait content.
As explained by Facebook:
"Headlines that withhold information intentionally leave out crucial details or mislead people, forcing them to click to find out the answer. For example, "When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS..." Headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language tend to make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is. For example, "WOW! Ginger tea is the secret to everlasting youth. You've GOT to see this!"
How this new process helps in reducing the reach of such content is not entirely clear, but it does underline that Facebook now has a wider understanding of clickbait and the tactics used to lure clicks, while also helping by providing more clarity on what types of content they consider problematic.
Basically, if you're using these types of headlines, stop. Most of the time it's fairly obvious, but Facebook's essentially saying they know the game, they know what you're up to.
In order to reduce the reach of such posts, Facebook says they've analyzed thousands of updates with these types of headlines in order to identify the most common traits and patterns, which they've now built into their detection algorithm.
One concern, as noted by TechCrunch, could be that this system might also hurt satire and parody content - in response to this, Facebook noted that people prefer headlines that are written in a more straightforward manner. In other words, yes, this change could impact the reach of such posts.
And the last element of Facebook's new clickbait crackdown relates to clickbait in different languages - Facebook will now also be able to detect and reduce the reach of clickbait content in German, Arabic, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese as well as English.
Facebook has focused on these languages because they're the most commonly used across the world, enabling Facebook to reduce clickbait for more users.
So should you be worried - will your Page and content see reduced reach as a result of this change?
As noted by Facebook, most publishers will see no impact, but those that are using these spammy, click-luring tactics will take a hit.
"Publishers that rely on clickbait headlines should expect their distribution to decrease. Pages should avoid headlines that withhold information required to understand the content of the article and headlines that exaggerate the article to create misleading expectations."
Of course, there'll always be some level of interpretation - if you post something like:
"Google has a new system which can identify objects in photos - here's how it works:"
Is that clickbait? It's luring you click on the post - which anyone creating content on the web is trying to do - but it's not necessarily withholding information or exaggerating the details, it states exactly what the article is about, and alludes to the insights you'll gain from the post. As such, this is likely not going to be seen as problematic in Facebook's system.
The basic rule of thumb is to be up front with your posts and in providing an indicator of what they're about, which can sometimes be a challenge when you are trying to get people to click through. But as outlined here, it's important. With Facebook becoming a more significant driver of traffic, you don't want to annoy the News Feed overlords, you don't want to give them any reason to smite your Page.
Using a 'you won't believe what happens next' type header might get attention, but clearly, Facebook's data shows that most people don't like this approach - and with almost 2 billion users, their insights are probably fairly definitive of not only their own network, but the wider web also.
Be honest and provide real value with your content and you're more likely to drive better results, both short and longer term, on Facebook and beyond.