Ever wondered how some of the headlines in your Facebook News Feed sound so hyperbolic? Worse yet, you fell for the bait and clicked the link open. We’ll have been there. Now that Facebook has over 2 billion users, the problem of clickbait needs to be tackled straight away and it looks like Facebook was listening.
Clickbait—A Brief History
Clickbait titles designed to create online ad revenue using headlines and visuals that make users curious and get them to click the links. Though this is not the right approach to marketing or getting a high click-through rate, but some marketers and digital ad agencies resort to such tactics. This has affected Facebook users’ experience. Users began doubting the relevance of content in their news feed. They began to feel mislead and moved away from engaging with their news feeds.
Here’s an example of a clickbait. The headline says that the pen never runs out of ink. When in fact the article is about disposable pens. An intrigued user clicks the link only to find an article that is not true to what the headline claimed it to be.
The Source of The Problem
As much as Facebook tweaks its algorithm, people find newer ways to elude them. And though these algorithms make it to the headlines of every Tech website, people have their doubts on how far Facebook can succeed in killing clickbait at its roots. One doesn’t have to look anywhere for the source of these doubts. It’s Facebook itself. Facebook has created the necessary conditions for this plaque to thrive. Facebook’s objective is to monopolize its user’s attention. In trying to achieve this objective, it has begun to place such articles in direct competition with truly entertaining or relevant content. Somewhere in between these two points, clickbait came in and continues to disrupt the user experience.
Facebook sympathized with its users. It saw how disappointing each of those clicks has been for its users. Back in 2014, Facebook began its fight against such headline bait. But as the number of Facebook users continued to explode, these measures taken by Facebook weren’t enough. However, it has not stopped trying to curb clickbait in news feeds.
How Clickbait Work
Spammers use three tricks to get users to click the links or headlines. It’s not rocket science, really, and yet it works.
The emotional bait
Articles that tug at your emotions are usually the ones that users are most likely prone to seek out.
The curiosity bait
When spammers keep away important information from users, it builds their curiosity. This gets users curious about that bit of missing information. They end up clicking the link.
The anticipation bait
What happens next? How does the story end? These are what spammers play on when creating headlines. And it works!
Dealing With Clickbait
Clickbait wasn’t an issue that Facebook could take easily. It affected the way users responded to news feeds. And it is common knowledge that most of Facebook’s revenue comes from news feeds. It had to do something to weed this problem out which was disrupting user experience and its revenue.
Back in 2014, Facebook began by tracking the amount spent by users on a particular article. If the user spent longer time on an article after clicking the link, then it must be good. But if the user immediately went back to the news feed after clicking the link, then the post was not relevant. Usually, these posts are rarely shown in the user’s news feed. Clearly, this was not enough to counter the ever-rising number of clickbait.
Next, in 2016, it went on to identify clickbait headlines under two categories.
- Headlines that do not provide a sufficient hint on what to expect from the article
- Headlines that exaggerate the content or mislead the users
These headlines would be narrowed down based on a set of phrases. If the headlines have any of those phrases from the set of identifiers, then those articles will most likely not see the light of day.
This system is similar to how email spam filters work. It also tracked these clickbait links back to the website or Facebook pages they were shared from. If links posted from these sources consistently indicated them to be clickbait, then posts from these sources would be shown at the bottom of the users’ news feeds. Facebook’s efforts never ceased.
A few months earlier in 2017, Facebook announced a third update in regard to addressing the issue of clickbait. It has now begun testing the previous two updates across other languages.
Not just for posts anymore
The issue of clickbait is however not restricted to articles alone. It has spread to videos as well.
Spammers use fake video buttons to get users to start playing a video. However, instead of a video, users are shown a web page or an irrelevant article. Another way spammers bait users is by using static images which show up as video previews. Users click these “images” and feel cheated or disappointed just like the clickbait links. To avoid these issues, Facebook has prohibited the use of fake play buttons in advertisements in the hope of reducing video click baits.
Should a Marketer Worry?
Facebook marketing is a challenge already. The question that most brands and marketers on Facebook ask is whether they should be worried about Facebook’s anti-clickbait algorithms. If you do not fall under the criteria of what Facebook categorizes as clickbait source, then you have no reason to worry. If you do not post content with links that are clickbait, then you needn’t concern yourself with this issue. Your page’s posts will continue to be shown in your followers’ news feeds the way it has always been. If you have doubts about the content you want to publish, take a quick look at the list of prohibited content given by Facebook.
Content Publishing Best Practices
Whatever may be your objective for your content marketing strategy, you need headlines that get clicks. Your headline must get your audience hooked. If it doesn’t then your article, no matter how good, is a wasted effort. Moreover, if people don’t click, how would they get to your product? How would you know if or not something worked? But how do you make it work without making your headline a ‘clickbait’? It’s simple, really!
The three commandments to avoid turning your headlines into clickbait are:
- Do not exaggerate.
- Don’t mislead.
- Do not remove crucial information.
But there’s more to it. Read on as we break this down.
Curiosity killed the cat.
Our brain makes us inquire about things that are unsaid. The human mind is uncomfortable with imbalance. It constantly seeks to find balance in everything.
When you use a headline that is benefit-driven and yet conceals most of the information, readers tend to get curious and click the link. This makes your headline click-worthy and yet not a clickbait.
You need to create that imbalance and yet let the reader know what to expect from the article or link. Always focus on the benefits. Let’s consider these two examples—
“5 Proven Ways to Increase ROI Through Social Media” vs “You Won’t Believe How This Agency Increased Web Traffic by 10x”
Both these headlines create that psychological discomfort in the mind of the reader. However, the first one is benefit-driven while the second is the perfect examples of what Facebook wants to weed out. This is because the second headline creates a buzz over nothing. The reader clicks and is disappointed.
You need to write headlines that create the buzz and also deliver what they promise.
A/B test your headlines. Every single time
Every marketer knows this. However, when the line between benefit-driven headlines and clickbait is thin, you need to make sure that you test and see what worked and what disappointed your readers. If it’s the latter, you need to quickly up the game by tweaking your headlines.
A good way to come up with headlines is to brainstorm them. Write them all down and see which words you can pick from which of those options, combine them, and finalize on your headline. Always keep in mind that your headlines should be in line with your readers’ interests.
Your headline should help users decide whether or not they want to view the post or how they want to spend time with it. Use headlines that inform users what they can expect to read in the article. If your post’s headline is not informative enough, users find it spammy. As an alternative use text prompts and call-to-action buttons to drive engagement. You, as a marketer, have nothing to worry about when you play by these rules. And Facebook, with its new algorithms and updates, hopes to chip away the at the clickbait problem. This leaves the end user willing to spend more time on their Facebook news feeds. Everyone’s happy!