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Facebook Cracks Down on Click-Baiting Posts in Favor of Quality Content

  |  August 26, 2014   |  Comments

The social media giant is looking to curtail posts with click-baiting headlines, and many in the industry say this update could have a huge impact on sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed.

Facebook already started weeding out "like"-baiting posts in April of this year, but now the platform is looking to reduce the amount of click-baiting headlines in order to present better content in the News Feed. Will the move harm sites such as BuzzFeed, which rely on headers that encourage clicks?

Previously, the social media network's algorithm has rewarded "click-bait," or headlines that encourage users to click to see more without providing much information about what the content actually is. For example, a click-baiting headline could be "Click This to Find Out Who You Should Unfriend On Facebook," or something like "Take This Quiz to See..."

Several publications employ a click-baiting strategy on social media, including BuzzFeed, Re/code, and The New York Times, according to @SaveYouAClick, an anti-click-bait Twitter account.

Stories that feature click-baiting headlines can get many clicks and therefore rank much higher in the News Feed. But now the platform is changing its algorithm, after it found that 80 percent of its users preferred headlines that could help them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they clicked through.

So what does this mean for marketers? Many say Facebook's click-bait crackdown could be a big blow against sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed.

"This will certainly get them scrambling," says Ali Mirian, senior vice president of product at shopper social media company Collective Bias. "[But] Facebook's update does not explicitly prohibit click-baiting headlines. Rather it applies new weight to the quality of the content itself, which will force a pivot toward content engagement metrics."

Mike Proulx, executive vice president of digital and director of social media at advertising agency Hill Holliday, agrees that Facebook is aiming to present better content with this improvement.

"The tweaks Facebook continues to make to its News Feed algorithm all point toward favoring quality posts," he says. "A catchy headline by itself isn't enough when the actual content doesn't pay it off."

To determine whether a post is "click-bait," Facebook will employ a metric of "engaged time" to measure how much time users are actually spending with the content. "If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable," Facebook says in a statement. "If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn't find something that they wanted."

But posts with high clicks yet low shares or comments could be red flags, too, as Facebook will refer to other metrics, including the number of likes, shares, and comments, to decide whether a piece is "click-bait" or not.

"It's important to note, especially for sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, that Facebook is additionally factoring in comments and shares for posts that may at first seem like click-bait," Proulx comments, adding that the combined use of different metrics is more likely to promote great content that shouldn't get penalized with the click-bait crackdown.

Along with the anti-click-bait change, Facebook is also encouraging publishers to use the link format when they want to share a link, rather than sharing the link directly in photo captions or status updates. The link format consists of a headline, a story-related image, and a text caption above the image that gives context about the link.

"With this update, we will prioritize showing links in the link format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates," the platform notes.

Facebook says that only a small group of online publishers will be affected by the two updates, but it is dedicated to minimizing "click-bait" and will do its best not to penalize legitimate publishers in the next few months.

"In the end, if your brand posts compelling, meaningful, and relevant content that your Facebook community loves and shares, you shouldn't have anything to worry about," Proulx says.

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Yuyu Chen

Yuyu Chen is a junior reporter at ClickZ. Her work has appeared in Local East Village, New York Daily News and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce website. Yuyu received her M.A. in Business and Economic Reporting from New York University in May, 2013.

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