Most of us have been there – you're logged on to Facebook and you see an interesting link that leads with an interesting headline and is accompanied by an intriguing image. However, when you click through, the article has got very little, or in some cases, nothing, to do with what you expected to find. Instead of being interested to read about what the content says, we just close the window and curse ourselves for even clicking on it in the first place. This is known as 'clickbait' - and you've just added to that website's hit counter.
After receiving many complaints about this issue, Facebook has been working on an anti-clickbait system that they hope will reduce the amount of random links that will appear in your news feeds. Aside from being extremely annoying for users, the content can look untidy and lead through to something that you don't even want to see – something which I'm sure, nobody wants during their online browsing experience.
Before we go into the specifics of how Facebook designed their anti-clickbait system and whether or not it will help to reduce click-bating, let's have a look at why certain websites indulge in click-baiting;
Why websites produce clickbait.
To put it simply, websites produce click-baiting content to take advantage of advertising revenue. Using sensationalist headlines and with their links posted on websites and especially, social networks such as Facebook, they generate a heavy volume of traffic, driving users to their website. This will give them an opportunity to show potential advertisers how many hits their website receives, which will help them to sell more advertising space on their website. These numbers, although technically correct as in terms of people who visit the site, are misleading – as the vast majority of people will not stay on the website for any length of time, so the paid advert will be useless.
Although the content itself is considered to be either of a very low-quality and/or inaccurate, the way in which clickbait is cast, is paradoxically, very intelligent. The headlines and images present on the links are typically designed to exploit a 'curiosity gap'; providing just enough information to make a reader curious - so curious that they think that they need more information about the headline and click through to the website.
Facebook's crackdown on 'clickbait' news stories.
To combat the issue of click-baiting, Facebook have created a system to identify potential click-baiting headlines (such as ' you'll never guess what happened next', or 'her response was priceless' etc) and barring their accompanying links from being displayed in a user's news feeds. Facebook's employees manually scanned thousands of clickbait headlines in order to build their system. They hope that it will provide a 'better user experience' and 'display stories that are relevant to the user', instead of their news feeds being clogged up with clickbait stories.
Previously, Facebook had made an update to the News Feed application that reduced the distribution of click-baiting posts that led people to click on them. Whilst this update worked, Facebook was still plagued by clickbait headlines posted on their Pages application – which generated complaints from their users requesting that only clearly-stated headlines should be posted. With the focus now on solving this issue, Facebook once again updated their News Feed, but this time with the new anti-clickbait system that identifies the common clickbait phrases and bars them from being shown. To categorise these headlines, they considered two points;
1. If the headline withholds information that requires a click-through to understand what the content of article is. An example could include an intriguing image with the headline 'You won't believe this incident!' The headline doesn't tell you anything aside from there's been 'an incident' – which could literary be anything. The fact that you 'won't believe it' is a personal opinion, but if you understand click-baiting - then you'll believe that this type of headline is a basic click-baiting tactic!
2. If the headline exaggerates the accompanying article with misleading intentions; i.e ' You'll never guess which actor dropped and damaged their award' – this leads the reader to wonder who that actor is and what the circumstances were that caused them to drop their award. An example of a misleading headline could be 'Apples are actually bad for you' – unless you eat thousands of apples a day, apples aren't bad for you and the headline has been created to be sensationalist and for the user to be so intrigued, that they'll click through it. (Unless you're allergic to apples, of course - then you already know that they're bad for you!)
Working through thousands of headlines, using the criteria, this is how Facebook identified what they needed to build their system with. The system itself scans headlines to determine the phrases that are commonly used in clickbait headlines, that aren't used in other headlines that are posted on the website (you could say that it's similar to how a spam filter works). Aside from identifying these types of headlines, the system also looks at the web domains and Pages on Facebook that these posts originate from. Pages or domains that consistently post links that are identified by the system as clickbait, will appear lower in a News Feed, reducing the chances that they'll be seen by anyone. Over time, the system will continue to gather intelligence and when they detect a Page has stopped posting content that is seen as clickbait, their posts will stop being placed lower in the News Feed. This is designed to encourage people to start to post 'quality' content, which will be of benefit to the website's users – not to mention Facebook itself.
Why the backlash?
Aside from being extremely annoying to users – not to mention arguably conning ecommerce businesses who genuinely want to place an ad on a popular website, the practice of click-baiting has had a negative impact on journalism and online writing in general. With the headline of a clickbait's content designed to capture a reader's attention, the content will be likely of very little quality and present information that is misleading and in many cases, plainly not true.
With the online world becoming more-and-more prominent for our news consumption, some media outlets have put pressure on journalists, setting them 'click-through targets', requiring them to write catchy headlines in order to generate as much traffic as they can. Using headlines to do this will only make the temptation to use click-baiting techniques stronger and the quality of the content writing weaker and less relevant to the headline. Many journalists and writers believe this makes a mockery out of their profession and will lead to presenting news and articles that are devoid of facts and are just designed in creating advertising revenue for the website. This is a dangerous line to cross – especially if you present real-life news as your content.
How can I avoid writing content that will be seen as 'clickbait'.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook can effectively drive back the click-baiting posts – so far, the signs look positive. In the meantime, if you're worried about posting anything that could be snared by Facebook's trap – here are a few tips on making sure you don't fall foul of their new filter;
- Consider your headline . It may be easier to attract a reader into clicking on your post with an headline that is made up out of teasing information, but as we've established already, that is dangerously moving into clickbait territory. The best way, is by thoroughly reading though your content and try to 'sum up' what it reads like - what it means to you. Avoid using clichés and emotive language (such as 'shocking' or 'unbelievable' – these are prime examples of common click-baiting). If your content is indeed shocking and/or unbelievable – stating what the article's subject matter is, in the headline, should be motivation enough for a reader to click on it.
Similarly, it's also best to avoid shrouding the issue you are talking about in mystery. This doesn't mean that you should give EVERYTHING away in your title, or it should be uniform and boring to read. Remember - readers are driven by both a need to find out information and a want to be entertained. Yourheadline should aim to fill these two requirements, helping you to avoid selling yourself short with cheap tricks that could affect your content writing in the long-term.
- Only discuss what is relevant to you and your business . Many people make the mistake of writing content that has nothing to do with them or their business. If you see a trending topic on social media, just because it has potential to drive traffic to your website, it doesn't mean you have to write about that subject. Aside from running the risk of being flagged up as clickbait – the vast majority of people who enjoy playing Pokemon Go won't be interested in your window cleaning services, for example - so it won't help you to increase your customer base anyway.
It'll be more beneficial for you to stick to topics that you know about and that relate to your business. Even though the audience for windows cleaners is small, at least those people are interested in hearing what you have to say and are more likely to be converted into customers. Writingabout a popular subject could also see your content disappear into the crowd of similar content too – so it's better to be a big fish in a small pond, than a smaller fish in a much-bigger pond, talking about something that everyone is talking about.
The fact that you're running a business already means that you know that there is an audience out there for what you do. There is no need to stick to a single topic, but everything you write about should be in some way related to your brand. For example – if you clean windows, then peoplewill cover them with curtains, or have windows in their kitchens Other ideas could include What do you clean windows with? Why does that particular product work? How was that product first invented etc. The point is that there is more to cleaning windows than, literally cleaning windows! The same goes for writing about any subject.
- Say something . With the nature of a user's attention disappearing quickly, content does its best to try and keep the reader on the page for as long as possible with teasing lines throughout the article – with a big reveal at the end. This can prove to be a dodgy approach for businesses to roll out, especially seeing as users are unlikely to stay on the page, unless the topic that is being discussed is in any way controversial.
Content writing that is executed well, will discuss the subject matter throughout the entirety of the article, providing the answers to the questions raised by your intriguing (but in no way click-baity!) headline. In this case, the readers will be much-more likely to stay on the page and carry on reading, simply because there are reasons to carry on reading, as they dedicate their time to it.
To avoid losing any readers that may be easily distracted, it's essential that you are able to format your content well. Produce concise paragraphs and use images that are relevant and interesting. Also use sub-headings that will be effective in keeping your readers interested in reading the content.
Taking your time to produce quality content can be time-consuming and take much effort, but like anything in life, the best things take time to produce. Ifthings were easy – then everyone would be doing it! Following these steps will set you well on your way to producing a piece of content writing and will no doubt, be shared on Facebook and not be seen as 'clickbait' by the new filter!
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