Facebook’s New Weapon In The War On Clickbait

Facebook announced a huge change to its News Feed algorithm – and you won’t believe what happened next!

(Okay, actually, you probably will.)

Because headlines and links that sound like that – like clickbait – have been around for a long, long time. You’ve probably seen a whole lot of them in your day!

Clickbait Dog

Facebook has literally spent YEARS fighting clickbait.

And why wouldn’t they? Users hate it! They think it’s manipulative and misleading – and they’re right.

In fact, Facebook’s higher-ups have even come right out and said that you should be writing headlines that give people a clear idea of what to expect from your link – NOT ones designed to trick them into clicking!

Still, not all publishers have gotten the message – and Facebook is putting its foot down in a big way.

They’ve poured a lot of time and resources into targeting and banishing clickbait for good, and now their secret weapon is ready for action.

So, what’s Facebook doing about clickbait – and why does it mean everyone (including you!) should be extra careful in the future?

Facebook’s big plan

In the past, Facebook’s methods for identifying clickbait have been based on a lot of guessing. (They generally stuck to looking at stats that could indicate that something was clickbait, but could also mean other things, too. It wasn’t a perfect system.)

After years of studying, though, they’ve developed a way to automatically identify clickbait more effectively than ever before.

How’d they do it?

First, they studied headlines – a LOT of headlines.

Tens of thousands of them, one-by-one, each inspected by actual human people who looked for patterns and kept track of the tell-tale signs of clickbait.

(We’ll share what they found in a second. It’s important.)

Then, they used that information to build a GIANT CLICKBAIT-DESTROYING ROBOT.


Well, not exactly.

But they DID develop a system that will automatically scan headlines and links for the classic signs of clickbait, and flag the ones that don’t meet Facebook’s standards. Posts that get flagged will appear lower in the feed – if they appear at all.

(They describe it as working kind of like the spam filter in your email – it looks for certain traits in your content, and gives it a pass/fail ranking.)

This isn’t just a post-by-post thing, either – it has a cumulative effect.

If you regularly get flagged for posting links that Facebook’s system identifies as clickbait, that can lower the reach for all your posts.

(On the flipside, though, if you stop posting clickbait, Facebook will lift the restrictions on your content’s visibility.)

All this leaves one big, slightly scary question, though:

What is Facebook looking for when it’s flagging clickbait?

After all, they studied tens of thousands of headlines and figured out what signs to look for – it’s probably a good idea to know what exactly those signs are!

The two tell-tale signs of clickbait

Turns out, there are two big things Facebook’s clickbait detection system is looking for in the content of your headlines.

The first thing it looks for is signs of withholding vital information from readers.

You know the type – headlines like:

  • He Said The Wrong Name During His Wedding Vows – And Her Reaction Was Priceless
  • My Heart Broke 13 Seconds Into This Video
  • This Little Girl’s Birthday Wish Will Redeem Your Faith In Humanity

Headlines like these became popular for a reason – they work! The curiosity gap they create tickles some well-documented psychological triggers in your brain, compelling you to click so you can learn answers to the questions the headline implicitly asks.

Tell Me More

Still, almost as well-documented as their effectiveness is the fact that people are sick and tired of these things – so if you’ve been leaning a little too hard on the ol’ curiosity gap and withholding information that a reader would want to know before they click, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

But that’s not the only thing Facebook’s looking for – it’s also targeting headlines that mislead readers.

For example, this is a headline that’s sure to grab someone’s attention:

Declare War

But what if it’s not telling the whole story? A provocative headline is great for driving shares and clicks, but it shouldn’t deliberately mislead readers. What if the more accurate headline looked a little more like this?

Thumb War

See? A totally different angle! Other types of misleading headlines might look something like these:

  • Are The Trees In Your Backyard Actually Slowly Killing You?
  • Why Chocolate Chip Cookies Are Better For You Than Celery
  • Yes, Your Cat Is Reading Your Mind At This Very Moment

Facebook’s investigation into headline trends has revealed that a lot of publishers rely on clever misdirection for grabbing their audience’s attention – and they want to put a stop to it. Don’t rely on misleading readers with headlines that are more shocking than they are accurate – grab their attention with actual, straight-to-the-point facts!

So, these are the types of headlines Facebook is targeting as clickbait – and if you’re writing them, your reach could seriously suffer.

Which means you may be wondering…

How is Facebook identifying these types of headlines?

While Facebook says they’re “using a system that identifies phrases that are commonly used in clickbait headlines,” they haven’t come out and said what exactly any of those phrases are – and frankly, they shouldn’t!

(If everyone had a list of phrases that had been red-flagged, it would be pretty easy to game the system, don’t you think?)

Instead, Facebook wants to make this an opportunity for publishers to work on their good judgment – to understand the actual methodology of writing headlines that are effective while still respecting their readers.

[Tweet “Facebook’s latest algorithm change is sending a message: write better headlines.”]

That means you should be more mindful of the headlines you write in the future (and the content you share from OTHER people), but it also means there’s something you can do right now.

Go back and revisit the headlines for anything you share on a regular basis, or anything you’ve written in the past and still promote.

If any of it fits the criteria described above – if it’s either withholding or misleading – give it a little polish so that it isn’t! (Hey, no judgment. It was a popular trend!)

Once you do, you can go back to sharing those updates with confidence – and in the future, your headline writing skills will be stronger than ever!

What do you think of Facebook’s plan to automatically target clickbait headlines? Think it’ll work? Think it’s fair? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – you won’t BELIEVE what happens next!

Facebook’s New Weapon In The War On Clickbait
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Facebook’s New Weapon In The War On Clickbait
Facebook has changed its algorithm to target headlines that rely on classic clickbait strategies - here's how they're doing it, and what it means for you.
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  • Hey Edgar! Thanks for sharing this! I now know how to get more opens in my emails ! 🙂
    But since I haven’t done this on Facebook – I guess I have nothing to worry about… but you do make me want to ask, what are some alternative strategies that work well…

  • Does this affect personal pages, as well? My friends and I share LOTS of #FaithInHumanity posts like the one described above. It is our antidote for all of the negativity and political bickering that dominates Facebook. My friends also actively “like” and comment on these posts, so I’d hope that Facebook’s algorithm would notice that those specific types of posts ARE wanted.

    • Tom VanBuren

      Facebook’s announcement seems to indicate that it doesn’t necessarily make a difference whether it’s a page or a profile posting the update, because it looks for two different things:
      1) Whether the update was posted by a page that regularly shares clickbait links
      2) Whether the update links to a domain that regularly posts clickbait headlines

      Basically, the announcement specifically address pages (not profiles), and it also specifically addresses the headlines associated with links – not plain, text-only updates that don’t link anywhere.

      With all that in mind, plus the fact that we don’t know any of the specific phrases Facebook looks for when identifying clickbait headlines, we can’t really say for certain how much this might affect the average update from a personal profile. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for more updates, though!

  • Tom VanBuren

    Thanks for the recommendation – that’s an interesting examination of some of the motivations (and consequences) of this type of writing!

  • Bradley Hook

    Wondering whether “listicles” with titles like “10 ways to do xyz – #9 is the craziest!” will be categorised as clickbait by the new FB algorithm? One would hope so.

  • Elizabeth Ham

    Yay! Next, lets get rid of the sick baby and injured animal posts.

  • Mark

    I think this is a good move by Facebook BUT if they are serious about this and care as much as they do then they should also add ‘no clickbait’ to their advertising guidelines.

    On one hand they are acting as the ‘saviour of peoples timelines’ on the other they will still happily ‘promote’ almost anything to a users timeline if someone is willing to pay an approprite fee.

    I don’t anticipate any changes to facebooks ad guidelines anytime soon so net result is the viralnovas and buzzfeeds of the world will just pump more $$ facebooks way to promote their posts.

  • BBD

    Is this true even for paid promotions?

    • Tom VanBuren

      Facebook hasn’t said yet how paid posts fit into the equation – but sticking to the best practices they recommend for unpaid posts probably isn’t a bad idea!

  • April Beach

    I’ve shared this in my female entrepreneur business FB group. Everyone is a little concerned – It’s a standard marketing tactic to cause curiosity.. Obviously I don’t agree with tricking people or lying in any title just to get clicks! That’s awful! But creating curiosity in your readers is a good thing. It appears FB is now entering the copywriting business to gain their ultimate prize of keeping people on their own site longer, rather than being a good business bridge to others.

    • jack

      Correct they have never made it a secret that is about the individual person and their personal/social space, not the businesses. Whether you like that or not is another question, but whilst they keep such a high number of daily active users, it is one of the most important places for businesses to be so they have to either adapt to that or sink. Essentially they don’t want to piss off their users and I know on my own personal feed I do not want my time wasted by companies trying to mislead me, if I did want that I would sit on a phone talking to telemarketers!

      I run a business but still I am a person before I am a business at the end of the day. Once business owners get their heads around the core Facebook objective then they can actually learn how best to position themselves on Facebook and benefit from it.

      Lest not forget that before the age of the internet, Facebook etc we did not have the kind of detailed targeting we now have and people still moan that Facebook charge for advertising when in the past they would have to pay an extortionate price for ad space in publications, billboards, tv advertising and this would be a lot less accurate (apologies this is slightly off the original topic but a piece which I feel must be highlighted).

      Any decent business will adapt to its changing environments.