Google, as we know, works very hard to ensure its search results aren’t gamed by websites which have no right to be at the top of search results for any given term.
Google wants you to find the stuff you need easily, and for all the talk of what is and isn’t a trigger in the search giant’s algorithms, the principle behind it remains crystal clear: If your content appears to be valued (ie lots of people visit you, or link to you, or you exhibit signs of taking that content matter seriously, such as by updating frequently) you’ll get higher up in search.
If Google catches you gaming its search results – such as through paying for advertorials containing links – it penalises you, and in some cases, the people who did the selling too. Here’s perhaps the most famous case involving Interflora. (I’d still pick them over Prestige Flowers, though).
Increasingly, Facebook is acting in a similar way as it seeks to keep the timeline you see as relevant to you as you want it to be. Lots of marketers are upset by the most recent change, which forces out fan pages unless people are organically interacting with them. However, this is good news for media organisations, who actually need to build loyalty to grow in the future.
For Facebook and Google it’s about self-preservation. Attention spans online are short, especially when using a mobile, and being the ‘use that first’ website of choice is a status which must be treasured at all costs. People will move on if they aren’t getting the experience they want, and unless they’re moving straight to your news sites, that’s just as much bad news for you as it is for Google or Facebook.
So Facebook has announced another change: Killing off ‘like baiting’ – or the trend of encouraging people to press the like button for any reason other than because they actually want to like a post, such as a post making a statement and then asking people to like if they agree with it.
The logic behind like baiting is obvious, because the more a post is interacted with (be that a click on a link, a share or a comment or a like), the more likely it is to show up on the newsfeed of people who like that page. But for Facebook, it’s an abuse of its algorthims, which are rumoured to have 100,000 factors to them.
“Like-baiting” is when a post explicitly asks News Feed readers to like, comment or share the post in order to get additional distribution beyond what the post would normally receive.
People often respond to posts asking them to take an action, and this means that these posts get shown to more people, and get shown higher up in News Feed. However, when we survey people and ask them to rate the quality of these stories, they report that like-baiting stories are, on average, 15% less relevant than other stories with a comparable number of likes, comments and shares. Over time, these stories lead to a less enjoyable experience of Facebook since they drown out content from friends and Pages that people really care about.
While not many journalists or social media editors have gone this far on the like baiting front:
there’s no doubt that encouraging people to like for the sake of it was annoying to many users, and ran the risk of corrupting the way Facebook chooses what people see, which in turn is more damaging for news brands than many other people, because we need people to see what we’re writing.
By penalising like-baiting, Facebook helps media sites, particularly regional news sites, by encouraging us to ditch like-baiting, but also further removing the clutter of fan pages which people aren’t really connected to. As news brands, we need people to connect with us daily, and learn what likes and interests them to keep them connected with us.
Facebook, again, appears to have done the news media another favour.