“I wanted to get people to click my link… and you’ll never guess what happened next”: Facebook cracks down on clickbait

27 August 2014

We’ve all seen them. A headline intrigues us, we feel compelled to click, and they deliver very little. We know that this is how it works and yet, the next time we’re told that we won’t believe what happened next, we click again. It’s an immensely frustrating process that repeats and repeats on a variety of social channels.

The Saved You A Click Twitter account swooped in on this phenomenon, quickly gaining 149,000 followers by answering the mysteries posed by clickbait headlines.

Now Facebook has stepped in with promises to rid the site of annoying clickbait by downgrading its importance in the algorithm that decides which posts and updates appear in users’ news feeds.

One of the most high-profile offenders, where posting clickbait headlines is concerned, is Upworthy. The site has had massive success, and its style has often been mimicked. It has made its name with repeated headlines that create a need in users to find out more.

However, even its own fans are annoyed by the endless linguistic trickery and they often berate the site in Facebook comments.

And

Facebook has responded to users’ criticisms and is taking action to reduce the visibility of posts that are blatantly clickbait. It is hoped that this will improve the quality of the brand updates that consumers see in their feed and result in higher levels of genuine engagement with better quality links and posts.

The reason clickbait has become so prominent on the site is that Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm gives more prominence to posts with large numbers of clicks and likes. Until now, clickbait has succeeded in having these high engagement figures, and this has arguably gamed the system in its favour.

How will Facebook decide what is clickbait?

Facebook has detected patterns of behaviour that are typical in links that are designed solely to get lots of clicks, regardless of quality. Over the next few months, it will begin to downgrade the importance of updates when:

  • people click on a link but then quickly return to Facebook, suggesting they did not read or watch the content
  • people click on a link but then fail to like it, share it or discuss it with their friends.

How should brands respond?

The benefit for brands is that, if you allow readers to make an informed decision about what they are clicking on, your updates are likely to become more prominent. The reduction in clickbait posts in users’ news feeds will mean there is more space for more genuine or helpful posts, so presenting information clearly – and stopping trying to game the system – results in happier consumers.

A more natural pattern of posting, similar to the way individual users share content, is going to grow in importance. Brand publishers can look forward to increased visibility and higher engagement rates if they publish the links with “headlines that help [users] to understand what an article is about” that 80% of Facebook users are reported to prefer.