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Facebook Changes Algorithm to Reduce Clickbait

Aug 5, 2016

“…What happens next will shock you”

“One Item that will save your life this second, unless of course you don’t click on this link, in which case, may God have mercy on your soul”

Like all annoying things on the internet and in real life, from telemarketing, chain letters, and that Nigerian prince who will send you your money any day now, they exit because they work.  At least they work with enough regularity given the massive scale of internet traffic to merit their use.  The problem with clickbait, is not the sensational structure of the headlines themselves, but that they are just bait.  That is to say, should you take the bait, the payoff is almost never proportional to the headline that induced the all important click economy of the internet.

Why is this change to the Facebook algorithm happening?

In a blog post, Facebook researchers Alex Peysakhovich and Kristin Hendrix outline some of the rationale for reducing clickbait or spammy content from appearing in a user’s timeline.  A year ago, Facebook announced that it would flag content that caused users who clicked on a link only to immediately return to the newfeed as clickbait.  The though process being that the content on the site did was not relevant to the user despite an enticing headline.  The researchers site that while last year’s update helped, users were still asking for clearly written headlines that give them the necessary information to decide whether the content on the other end of the link was wort their time.

Facebook researchers analyzed thousands of headlines posted to the social network and marked those that had the following qualities as clickbait:

  1. The headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is.
  2. The headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader

Having identified those characteristics of clickbait, the team examined the remaining headlines on the site and built a system that sees the common words or phrases used in clickbait that are not used in other headlines and remove the clickbait from your newsfeed.

What does this mean for my content marketing strategy?

If you are a marketer and brand conscious of the experience users have with any interaction with your brand than you are already creating relevant content that adds some value to your audience.  Having created such great content the temptation may be to write a sensational headline to entice users to visit your site. As the searches on various online platforms become more semantic, meaning search engines understand the context and order of the words searched to extract intent, rather than just finding results that match the words entered, publishers and content marketers alike will have to write headlines and titles that match the intent of the person you want to see it.

This means understanding your core audience so well that you can anticipate a need, question, or problem and address it with your content.  Writing headlines in this way will not likely get you the sexy click-through rates that  your bosses may want to see to prove return on investment (ROI), but the quality of each click will generate a more positive experience with your brand.  This positive experience will drastically improve the intent to purchase among your audience, as well as their intent to share as we discussed last week.