Facebook Just Took Its War On Clickbait To A New Level.
You might want to think twice about sharing an article that promises to “blow your mind,” “leave you in tears,” or “forever change the way you…”
Facebook just let another bomb drop in its war on clickbait. With an announcement in its Newsfeed blog on Thursday, Facebook made clear that it would be enforcing its clickbait policy not only against whole pages and publishers, but against individual posts, irrespective of origin. Here is how Facebook described the three changes it began implementing:
- “First, we are now taking into account clickbait at the individual post level in addition to the domain and Page level, in order to more precisely reduce clickbait headlines.
- Second, in order to make this more effective, we are dividing our efforts into two separate signals — so we will now look at whether a headline withholds information or if it exaggerates information separately.
- Third, we are starting to test this work in additional languages.”
For some time, Facebook has been accumulating data on what kinds of headlines comprise clickbait by assessing whether headlines withheld crucial information or exaggerated the contents of the article. In the past, Facebook looked at these two elements together and took remedial action against the worst offenders by limiting the overall reach of all of their posts. Now, Facebook will look past the name of the publisher or page, drilling down to the post level and potentially penalizing the placement of any article it believes is clickbait, based on comparisons to articles that it earlier decided fit that bill. Moreover, it will start to look separately at the questions of information omission and exaggeration, meaning an article could fail the test by exhibiting either one of these characteristics.
It appears, too, that big publishers won’t be spared. Lately we have begun to see clickbait headlines crop up even from more respected media companies. “The Shocking Reason Millennials Won’t Ever Be Able To Retire” is a paraphrased headline for an article we recently reviewed, but it is classic clickbait: It tells you there’s a reason, but it doesn’t say anything about it other than that it’s “shocking.” Yet these days such a header might easily emerge from a mainstream publisher because, while admittedly terrible, it does drive higher click-throughs and, therefore, higher revenue.
Indeed, the pressure on articles to drive better click-through rates (CTR) has increased markedly because Facebook itself has relentlessly driven down the organic reach of each individual post. To keep traffic levels from collapsing, publishers have had not only to publish many more articles, but also to learn how to optimize their headers for social without falling into the clickbait trap. Thus, somewhere between having no clicks and having far too many clicks lies a fabled golden zone — one that has proved a continuing challenge to find.
In traditional offline media, headlines were intended to summarize, as best as they could, in a small amount of space, everything a reader needed to know to get the entire gist of a story. The problem of course is that, when this is applied to online media, all such a headline typically will earn is a like, or perhaps a comment or even a share. None of those actions, however, translates into revenue for the publisher. Only a click-thru counts, and therein lies the problem. Give away too much of the contents, and you might as well not have written the piece. But give away too little, and Facebook might deem it as clickbait.
The same problem arises with respect to the emotional temperature of a headline. A bland, understated headline will typically be overlooked in the Newsfeed, but one with highly-charged stakes at least will grab attention — and apparently now the ire of Facebook. With organic reach at risk for articles whose headlines employ common hyperboles — “shocking,” “jaw-dropping,” “amazing,” “epic” — publishers will need to find more tasteful, subtle ways of driving engagement.
For well over two years, publishers within our platform, Contempo, have been subject to clickbait guidelines that predicted and ultimately aligned with Facebook’s own restrictions. Publishers that routinely used set-ups that left out critical information — such as the “who” or the “what” of the story — or that employed classic clickbait terms, were simply shut off from sharing articles until their practices came into line. Because of these stringent guidelines, influencers who shared stories off Contempo did not see precipitous drops in reach per post over the last year, and their general page engagements have remained strong. On the other hand, influencers who were wooed by the clickbait publishers to share links to their lower quality web pages have seen their reach fall markedly over the last nine months.
It is too early to tell what the long-term effects of the per-post enforcement against clickbait by Facebook will be. It is already apparent that Facebook intends to stamp out the worst offenders. This much is also clear: If you are a publisher or a page that has benefited from high clickbait-driven traffic in the past, you should take these proclamations seriously, and at face value. That means, in very stark terms, that you should move promptly to eliminate all clickbait headlines from your posts — before Facebook finds and effectively eliminates them for you.