For many website owners and content creators, clicks equal cash. Every visitor to a site means more ads shown, more chances for content to spread, and more revenue for a site overall. This leaves content creators looking for the best ways to attract potential readers, like effective headlines. But there is a fine line between engaging headlines and what is commonly called "clickbait". Though the line may be thin, Facebook marketers better learn how to see it. Facebook recently announced new plans to reduce the number of click baiting articles shown on the social media platform.

Most internet users have encountered clickbait, either from links to articles on social media, or in native ads on other sites. Facebook described them this way, "These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer."

They also gave a few examples, such as: "When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS... I Was SHOCKED!"; "He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe"; or "The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless." Facebook has consistently received feedback that people wanted to see less of these kinds of links and they have responded accordingly.

"To address this feedback from our community, we're making an update to News Feed ranking to further reduce clickbait headlines in the coming weeks," wrote Alex Peysakhovich and Kristin Hendrix, on a Facebook blog post. "With this update, people will see fewer clickbait stories and more of the stories they want to see higher up in their feeds."

Before everyone gets their pitch forks ready, it's important to understand why clickbaiting is bad. Just because something is effective in the short term doesn't mean it's advantageous in the long term. People who reach an article because of a clickbait headline are rarely pleased with the content they find. Some will feel tricked. Others will feel they had their time wasted. Either way, people will begin to associate a site that uses clickbait with poor quality content, and they will eventually skip over links to that site.

Similarly, if the content a person reached from a clickbait article is poor, they won't stay on the page long, if at all. This hurts SEO metrics such as time on page and the bounce rate. Even ad revenue would be affected, because ads don't count unless they are shown for a certain period of time. And if people are leaving the site quickly after arriving from a clickbait link, they aren't going to click on ads, so there are more missed opportunities.

In other words, clickbaiting isn't useful in the long run. It leads to missed opportunities for revenue. And more importantly, if diminishes the trust people have in a website. This means that future links from the site may be ignored, even if the quality of the content has improved. Bad first impressions are hard to remedy.

  • Does this headline make it easy to understand what the linked content will be about?
  • Does the headline rely heavily on curiosity to get the viewer to click?
  • Will the audience be upset with the quality of content they find once they click the link?

If you've answered yes to any of the three questions above, there's a good chance that your headline is clickbait. Or at the very least, a sign that you should write a better headline. According to their post, Facebook is focusing on two things: "(1) if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and (2) if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader."

Here's how Facebook described the new filter: "Our system identifies posts that are clickbait and which web domains and Pages these posts come from. Links posted from or shared from Pages or domains that consistently post clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed. News Feed will continue to learn over time--if a Page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change."

It's also worth mentioning that this isn't the first action Facebook has taken to combat annoyances like clickbaiting. Last year, Facebook took action against clickbaiting posts on their platform. And they also experimented with labels to let people know when links are from sites with fake news. Fake news articles are essentially clickbait because the headlines are untrue, but sensational enough to get people to click.

So the message is clear for Facebook marketers and content publishers, "use good headlines or face the consequences". For more recent news about social media marketing, read this article on other changes to Facebook's News Feed algorithm that will affect marketers.