Facebook relies on algorithms to determine what will show up first in your news feed. A life event or popular update from a close friend will rank higher and so will posts from pages you regularly interact with. On the other hand, an update from a contact you haven’t spoken to in years will rank so low that you will probably miss it.
This same algorithm is used to determine which ads and stories are displayed in your news feed. Facebook regularly updates this algorithm in an effort to always show content that is more relevant and to provide users with a better experience. In February 2016, Facebook introduced a change that would result in the posts you are more likely to react to being ranked higher. Live video content was prioritized thanks to a March 2016 update.
Further changes have been made during August 2016. These two most recent changes were implemented in an effort to reduce the presence of clickbait on the social network and to display content that users are likely to find informative.
Facebook’s efforts to target clickbait date back to 2014. You might be surprised to learn this since there is plenty of clickbait on Facebook and the social network’s initial efforts to get rid of this type of content clearly didn’t pan out.
Displaying clickbait in users’ news feeds is not an ideal experience since these headlines promise something interesting and users find content that is at best mildly entertaining and at worst in poor taste. The change made to the algorithm in August 2016 consists in identifying clickbait based on certain phrases and words that are typical of this type of content.
Here is an example:
In some ways, this new strategy is very similar to email spam filters. Some posts that use certain words and phrases are not shown to users and the pages that regularly share this type of content are penalized since their updates rank lower in users’ news feeds.
This is an interesting approach to targeting clickbait because these headlines are anything but creative. They promise that your mind will be blown or that the content will amaze you. Some headlines mention tricks that will be revealed while others promise you will be shocked. And let’s not forget priceless reactions or the common ‘what happens next is unbelievable’ trope. Originality is clearly not the forte of whoever creates these headlines.
Facebook didn’t actually release a list of the words and phrases that would cause a story or ad to be identified as clickbait. The social network defines clickbait as a headline that intentionally leaves out important information. This is an accurate definition since the purpose of clickbait is to get you to follow a link to figure out what the content is about. This is an issue because the content never lives up to the users’ expectations.
Another change was implemented a week after Facebook rolled out this new strategy to crack down on clickbait. The purpose of this second change is to prioritize the content that is most likely to inform the user by providing them with something relevant to their personal interests.
These two changes are connected since they have a common purpose. It is clear that Facebook wants to remove content that is not interesting or informative and to replace it with more relevant stories for each user.
Facebook’s purpose is to show content specifically relevant to each user. A story that is interesting to one user will not be considered as relevant by another one who has different interests and who wants to know about different topics.
Facebook is still being vague about what is considered as informative content. The general idea is that content users will see as valuable will be prioritized and that there is an emphasis on customization to display the stories most relevant for each individual.
So far, the social network has relied on the Feeds Quality program. This program is a survey of a small sample of Facebook users who tell the social network which stories are relevant to their interests and which ones they would rather not see. The data collected from this survey is then used to improve the algorithm used to determine the ads and stories shown to each user.
Facebook selects the most relevant ads and stories based on the information they have for each user. The pages you have liked, the ones you regularly engage with and the posts you share will, for instance, have an impact on the stories considered as relevant to your interests.
You can actually see the topics and categories Facebook thinks you are interested in and remove or add topics of interest. All you have to do is go to the Settings for your Facebook account and click on ‘Ads’ in the left-side menu.
You will see a section called ‘Ads based on my preferences’. Click on ‘edit’ and ‘Visit ad preferences’. You will then see a list of topics Facebook believes is relevant to you as well as some advertisers whose sites you have visited or who have your contact info. You might be wondering why Facebook believes you are interested in some of these topics or might find that the data is surprisingly accurate, which is likely if you tend to interact with a lot of pages relevant to your hobbies and shopping habits.
These two recent changes to the news feed algorithm used by Facebook were implemented so that users would see more relevant content from advertisers and would have a more personalized experience when they scroll through their news feed. Publishers now have to adapt their strategies and focus on offering something valuable and interesting to their audience instead of using clickbait-like tactics to generate traffic.