In a move that could significantly impact the clickbaity listicle sites, Facebook is rolling out significant updates to the News Feed to reduce click-baiting headlines and prioritize showing links posted in the link format over those shared in captions or status updates.
These changes come four months after Facebook rolled out a series of updates to the News Feed to reduce like-baiting posts, spammy links and repeated content wherein photos or videos are repeatedly uploaded to Facebook by page owners.
Reducing Click-bait headlines
Facebook mentions that it is doubling down on reducing click-bait headlines since these encourage users to click on a link without telling them enough about what to expect. Since these posts get a lot of clicks, it gets shown to more people and gets shown higher up in News Feed. Facebook notes these stories over time can potentially “drown out content from friends and pages that people really care about”.
While I am not really an active Facebook user per se, but there have been instances where my News Feed is completely filled up with these click-bait headlines rather than posts and status updates from my friends and family. Wired’s Mat Honan also conducted an experiment recently wherein he liked everything in his feed for two days, which resulted in his news feed being covered with publishers and brand messages instead of personal posts from his friends.
Determining click-bait: What’s interesting and significant here is the approach Facebook is taking to distinguish these headlines from other posts. The company says it will start tracking things like how much time did the user spend away from Facebook after clicking a link (essentially the bounce rate from the links) and the ratio of users simply clicking on the content versus discussing and sharing it with their friends.
If the bounce rate was very low or the ratio of people liking or commenting on the story is low, the content will be ranked lower in the news feed. This could impact publishers since they now would have to focus more on increasing the engagement on their content. This would also further decrease the virality of Facebook as a platform. It’s worth noting that Facebook has significantly reduced the reach of news updates over the past year or so, with the intent of trying to get community owners to pay to improve reach.
There is however a possibility that this approach might affect genuine publishers as well, especially long form publishers, since a user might click on a story, save it to their reading list and come back to Facebook, thereby giving a wrong signal to the social networking giant.
More personalized ads? For users, this might mean lesser click-bait headlines in their news feed over time, however it also means that Facebook now possibly gets data on not only the click-through rate but also the amount of time users is spending on any specific link. This could significantly help the company in collecting more data on a user and delivering more personalized ads to them.
Changes in ranking links
Besides doubling down on clickbaity headlines, Facebook mentions that it will also start prioritizing links posted through its link-sharing format over those shared in captions or status updates.
For the uninitiated, Link format appears when users paste a link while drafting a post. This format provides additional information about a link such as the article image, headline and the beginning excerpt.
Facebook says that its studies have shown that these posts have received twice as many clicks as compared to links embedded in photo captions. The company mentions that these changes are expected to be rolled out over the next few months.