Facebook Cuts Down on Links to "Low-Quality" Web Pages
We've all been there: you're scrolling through your Facebook news feed and end up clicking on a link to an interesting-looking article, only to arrive at a slow-loading page riddled with ads, popups, autoplaying video and tons of sponsored links to unrelated content that have shocking or just plain disgusting accompanying images.
In response to widespread concern over this issue, Facebook announced yesterday that it's cracking down on links to "low-quality" web experiences, reinforcing an important rule for marketers: in order to be successful, good content must be supported by good design.
What's Considered Low-Quality?
According to Facebook, users are fed up with clicking on links from their News Feed that lead them to web pages containing "little substantive content" or are covered in "disruptive, shocking or malicious ads." Facebook states that while they've had a policy preventing advertisers from linking to such pages since last year, they're now increasing their enforcement and even looking at organic posts as well. They're using artificial intelligence to determine whether links shared on Facebook have these characteristics.
Facebook's policy states that "low-quality" experiences involve:
- Deceptive Facebook ad copy
- Excessively cropped ad images on Facebook that require people to click the ad to view the full image
- Popup ads, interstitial ads or other ad formats that disrupt the user experience on the landing page
- Shocking or sexually suggestive content on the landing page
- A high ratio of ads compared to actual content on the landing page
- Malicious or deceptive ads on the landing page
Of course, Facebook has business reasons for cracking down on low-quality links. Because the social network earns its revenue through ads, it doesn't want to lose users' trust and see click rates go down. Their business model also simply means Facebook has a vested interest in keeping users on the network as long as possible, and a click to a low-quality 3rd party site may lead to a user ending their browsing session.
Content Mills May Suffer, but Quality Sites Could See a Boost
Before social media's internet dominance, the phrase "content mill" often referred to sites like eHow, which essentially gamed Google search by pumping out highly optimized but ultimately low-quality content - getting them tons of traffic and turning it into ad revenue. Through algorithm changes, the sheer volume of content on the internet, and many other factors, content mills find it harder to succeed in search these days - but social media is still working well.
Sites like ViralNova, UpWorthy, Thought Catalog and countless others can arguably now be called content mills, as they often focus most of their effort into catchy headlines, only to serve a user thin content based around an embedded YouTube video or a weak listicle. These articles are then riddled with ads, allowing the sites to cash in on Facebook users' inability to resist a good headline.
So, social networks must now adapt just as search engines did - by trying to cut down on sites that use low-quality content to take advantage of the internet's current ad-based environment. The good news is that Facebook has stated quality sites may see an increase in traffic from ads as the network gets tougher on spammy sites.
Good Content Means Good Design
The big lesson here is that even if your content is great, you may start to see fewer social referrals if you have too many ads on your site. This is important, as organic reach continues to be abysmally low and the best way to effectively get your content noticed on social media is to spend some money promoting it. There's a reason why hundreds of millions of people use ad blockers: people simply hate ads. Anyone who's been browsing the internet for years has noticed the current climate is just about as bad as it's ever been - so much so that some believe an ad-driven internet is ruining the online experience altogether.
So, don't undercut all the time you've spent creating content by sabotaging it with popups, too many sponsored links and invasive ads. If your business model depends on ad revenue and traffic from social networks, it may now be a good time to review your overall site design and possibly ditch one or two ad elements per page.