Today Facebook is announcing some new tweaks to its powerful News Feed algorithm, one of which is aimed at reducing the amount of clickbait in its users' feeds.
The company will now track how much time users are spending off the site when going through various links — a measure that it will use to determine if the link was interesting or not — and incorporate that in determining how those stories rank in News Feed. The idea is that if a user spends a significant amount of time off-site and then returns to Facebook, there was something interesting or engaging in that link.
"'Click-baiting' is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see," Facebook research scientist Khalid El-Arini and product specialist Joyce Tang wrote in a blog post detailing the update. "Posts like these tend to get a lot of clicks, which means that these posts get shown to more people, and get shown higher up in News Feed. Over time, stories with 'click-bait' headlines can drown out content from friends and Pages that people really care about."
This is not to suggest that all stories that have clickable headlines will be penalized. While the term "clickbait" is often a placeholder to describe undesirable internet content, the clickbait that Facebook will look to eradicate is made up of posts that often fail deliver on the headline's promise or posts that leave readers feeling tricked. As a result, these posts already tend to perform poorly from a user engagement standpoint on News Feed. With the update, Facebook will compare how many people clicked on a link to how many people are interacting with it or sharing it in order to determine if it is a high-quality post. Some sites that rely on attention-grabbing headlines but do not include high-quality stories or content, the company said, will likely be penalized.
Also as part of the update, Facebook will also begin giving heavier weighting to links that use the News Feed format specifically designed for links (as seen above, on the right). Links that are shared as part of status updates, the company said, will get less priority.
The update is just another in a series of moves by the social network to boost the quality of News Feed content. Previous updates have targeted spammy meme content as well. Having higher-quality News Feed stories keeps users happy and coming back to the site or app over and over, and keeps them loyal to Facebook. That, in turn, helps drive Facebook's advertising business, as it paints the social network as the prime social destination for high-engagement, high-quality content.
"A small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don't spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months," El-Arini and Tang wrote. "We're making these changes to ensure that click-bait content does not drown out the things that people really want to see on Facebook."
Matthew Lynley is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News in San Francisco. Lynley reports on Silicon Valley and the tech industry.
Contact Matthew Lynley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.