Facebook penalises click-bait in feeds

By Greg Bright

Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA


I hope we all work for companies that put the user first in Web page design, that our designers have the user experience in mind and are focused on streamlined and engaging layouts. 

I hope our Big Data collection wants and needs are done with a very light impact on user experience. I hope that none of you ran afoul with the recent Facebook click-bait detection algorithm.

As much as I hope we are all stellar citizens and build pages that best serve the reader, I fear that some sites have placed internal desires over those of the visitors’ needs. I see some sites where my visit is merely a tool to generate a better click or time numbers on a sales pitch flyer. Click count is king. 

Savvy audiences know when they run into click-bait, and an increasing number of platforms (including Facebook) are punishing the content technique.
Savvy audiences know when they run into click-bait, and an increasing number of platforms (including Facebook) are punishing the content technique.

Well, Facebook just changed the rules. If you are the typical publisher and a mid-20% range of your visitors are coming from Facebook (are you thinking of Facebook as a second home page?), you need to pay attention to this algorithm change.

In a recent online retail experience I had, the site presented one garage door opener at a time. I had to click through four or five openers to see what a dealer had to offer, then click back through the list to get back to the one I wanted. A single screen would have worked.

Why were there five clicks? Was it a lazy coder or designed to generate pageviews? Looking back on the experience, it was pure click-bait. Yep, I generated a bunch of worthless (to me) pageviews so some garage door guy could have bragging rights about the most popular site in town.

That made me wonder, are mainstream publishers playing the same click-trap game? It looks like Facebook thinks many are.

Most mainstream publishers are not setting obvious bait traps. Some, I fear, do not see their designs as traps, but maybe they are. Things like the seven things missed over the weekend. Or the five great moments from the Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony. Or the 23 pictures of the cat during a tree rescue.

They all generate clicks (and content). I wonder, though, if these “see more” and “what you missed” things are presented to help the site visitor, or if they are just tricks to let the publisher ratchet up their click-counts or time-on-site measures.

The garage door guy was clearly bait. But the review scrolls may not be. Now, it looks like Facebook is going to decide for you!

Luckily, Facebook does not own the all Internet search and content feeds, so not everything is subject to the Facebook algorithm. I suggest you pay attention to the Facebook routine even if you think you are safe. By understanding the rules, you can build your site and content selection engines to narrow your scrolls and click-feed sections to stay within the safe zone.

Building out a review scroll needs a balance, and your data engines and Big Data tools can help you. Remember the user experience. Three pictures then an ad, three more pictures and another ad approaches the bait zone.

Are you artificially manipulating your impression inventory, or are you letting your Python code adjust images presented dynamically? If you are a data person, use the click-stream data you collect to gather what you need fast (big shovel, shallow hole) and send the answer to the site so it can react. Tag the pictures (content), watch the time on element, note finger/mouse movement, and do so fast.

Link quickly to the demographic behaviour data, and serve the next content element quickly or reduce the number of elements in the “deck” to present. Use the data to look for content-pairing options, and tie cross-element similarities to serve the next item. Data people, you need to work with the UI people and likewise in reverse.

In the end, will your site design pass the click-bait smoke test with the savviest audience ever: Millennials? They are tougher than Facebook, and, as you know, they aren’t always coming to you from a Facebook-controlled search. Once they categorise you as bait, they are done — as in one-and-done forever.

Let me play the skeptic for a moment and assume you “accidentally” slipped into the click-bait world, and, yes, indeed, your slideshows are really just there to get a bigger number for the suits with the reach and audience statistics they love.

That trick just got neutralised. First Facebook, next the advertising agencies. They are well aware of how the numbers can manipulate reality, so they look at the numbers you present with skepticism. They stalk your site before you meet with them. They get it.

So why does it continue?

That is the rub. One side of the equation wants a big number, the other wants a factual number. And the big monster companies (Facebook and Google, for example) are pressing the customer experience agenda and really don’t care about your numbers.

About Greg Bright

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