Earlier this summer, Facebook announced that users would be seeing more of their families and less of advertisers, which was a huge, scary blow to the industry as a whole.
While anxious marketers stood just on the verge of recovering from that shock, Facebook made a second, much more important, announcement that almost went unnoticed by nearly everyone: clickbait headlines were going the way of the dinosaur. Due to popular demand to get those things out of the way, the powers that be at Facebook have actually developed an algorithm to detect and punish pages and domains that frequently employ clickbaiting.
No More Clickbait for Marketers?
For marketers, this news comes as a mixed bag.
On one hand, the clickbait headlines were getting pretty old. No one was really shocked anymore, since the headlines didn’t really have the power to catch attention like they did in the beginning—but things had reached a point where it felt like a place that you simply couldn’t come back from if you’d already gone down that path. On the other hand, we’re left to wonder how Facebook regulars are going to respond to plain-old headlines after being fed so many shockers.
Then there’s the million-dollar question: just what is clickbait, anyway? According to a Facebook Best Practices page on this very topic, the two primary features of a clickbait headline are that it “withholds information” and “misleads expectations” of the reader. While not as specific as we’d generally prefer, at least it’s a beginning.
As with any algorithm of this nature, the likelihood is good that the definition is going to continue to evolve some, so keep an eye on that linked page.
Rethinking the Marketing Headline
Instead of relying on clickbaiting, which was surely the invention of a digital marketer somewhere, we need to rethink the concept of the marketing headline in order to survive.
Although building anticipation has been a tool in the advertiser’s arsenal for generations, it may be time that marketers lean on their journalist “cousins” and ask for some help rethinking ideas behind social media headline best practices.
At Columbia University’s School of Journalism, they teach headline writing using the TACT test, which asks the following questions:
- Taste: Is it in good taste? That is to say, does this headline have the potential to offend the audience? Could it be taken the wrong way or does it set an inappropriate tone for the information that’s to follow? For marketers, “taste” could also be replaced with “tone” and it would remain a fairly useful acronym. The most important thing is whether or not it’s a fitting headline for the situation and audience.
- Attention: Does it draw attention? There’s drawing attention and then there’s clickbaiting. Obviously, we want to avoid that second thing, but the questions beyond this one will help us reign it in. Beyond clickbait, does the headline catch the attention of our audience? Do people want to read more or see a video that’s connected to this headline? A strong headline doesn’t have to be misleading, it just has to be worded well.
- Clarity: Is it clear? Is the headline appropriately summarizing what the reader will find in the content that follows? Spelling out the content doesn’t mean the reader won’t click—in fact, readers are more likely to remain engaged longer because what they find is what they expected to find and not some random, unreliable clickbait article.
- Truth: Is it true? We make a lot of claims as marketers, and sometimes we live on the edge of truth. But, for the purposes of headlines on social media, we’re going to have to do better. If our content is a story about a boy and a dog, it’s ok to say so. The headline shouldn’t be a lie, or worse, a half-truth that’s loosely associated with the content. Tell it like it is, and Facebook will reward you with a longer shelf life for your posts according to Search Engine Watch.
The End of Facebook Clickbait Headlines
The end of Facebook clickbait headlines means an end to relying on a crutch we’d long ago outgrown. It’s a good thing, it really is, and marketers everywhere can move forward with better marketing practices, starting with stronger headline writing. Thinking like a newspaper journalist may be the fast track to rebuilding your social media headline database and regaining the trust of your audience—just remember to write each and every one with TACT and you can’t go wrong.