What to know about Facebook’s war on clickbait

The platform’s updated algorithm could have significant impact on marketers, PR pros and publishers. Here are insights and information about the changes.

What does Facebook’s new assault on clickbait mean for publishers, agencies and marketers?

To understand the impact of its updated anti-clickbait algorithm, you must consider other recent Facebook policy changes that, taken together, will make it harder and more expensive for publishers to bundle native content, drive traffic and accomplish their reach goals.

Regarding clickbait, in answering the question, “Will this affect my Page?” Facebook writes, “We anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this change.” Which is code for “Of course it will.”

Facebook’s approach to curtailing clickbait says the new algorithm will target any headline that “withholds information required to understand the article … [or] misleads the reader.”

Clickbait is often used for untoward purposes, and there are several bad actors who ought to be reined in. Let’s concentrate, though, on the collateral damage from Facebook’s systematic war on organizations that are gaming (or trying to game) its platform.

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Friends and family news feed focus

A couple of months ago Adam Mosseri, a Facebook VP, wrote a post titled Building a Better News Feed for You. It opens:

The goal of News Feed is to show people the stories that are most relevant to them. Today, we’re announcing an update to News Feed that helps you see more posts from your friends and family. We explain this change in more detail here.

I’ve received several cries for help from small publishers who have been crushed by this. An average experience is a 50 percent loss of traffic, but in a few cases, it’s more like 90 percent. The solution is to pay up, but in most cases brought to my attention, the economics of “pay up” simply don’t work.

Earlier in June, Facebook went after branded content (Facebook’s term for native advertising) saying, “Verified Pages (with the blue checkmark) can share branded content on Facebook as long as they follow our updatedbranded content policy and ads policy and use the branded content tool to tag marketers in their posts.”

This is a big deal.

Publishers have not been allowed to promote branded content on Facebook pages. The work-around was to create a page dedicated to content and share the branded content from that page. Publishers could also create dark posts—ads that didn’t show up on the publisher’s page but did show up as ads in news feeds. That is no longer an option.

Now, publishers have to tag advertisers in branded content, which makes it unambiguously clear that “native advertising” is actually advertising. There is nothing wrong with this idea, but tagging the advertiser comes with a twist: When a publisher tags an advertiser, not only will Facebook show the advertiser the metrics, but the advertiser can pay Facebook directly to turn the content into a sponsored post.

Who will enjoy the benefits of these changes?

This new policy undoubtedly improves Facebook’s user experience. From a consumer’s standpoint, transparency is always good. It’s also a plus for advertisers. They get an opportunity to buy a new ad product and get Facebook insights to help them evaluate their ad purchases.

For publishers, giving advertisers access to the data from tagged branded content or posts will reveal all kinds of stuff publishers would prefer that advertisers not see. How much traffic came from Facebook ads, and how much traffic came from the publisher’s site? What is the value of the publisher’s dedicated audience of avid users?

This new metric sharing is also likely to affect bundling, because advertisers can now figure out the spread between the prices they are paying publishers and the price Facebook is offering directly. Though it’s not always apples to apples, for many publishers this is not good news.

In practice, some publishers can work around these algorithm and policy changes by throwing money at the problem. However, many small publishers won’t have the margin to solve their referral and reach issues by paying to boost content. For them, killing clickbait is the cherry on the cake of these recent policy changes. For everyone else, it’s time to adapt.

Shelly Palmer is president & CEO of Palmer Advanced Media. A version of this post first appeared on LinkedIn .

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