Last week I discussed aggressive marketing tactics as part one of strong online stances. In part two, I want to discuss another polarizing issue online: extreme headlines.
The term in the industry is “click bait.”
There is some argument about what constitutes clickbait, but Merriam-Webster defines it as the following:
As a reader, clickbait is offensive for a few reasons, and I don’t mean in the sense of the actual headlines or subject matter.
In essence, clickbait assumes that readers are suckers. They basically promise something shiny and exciting, or at least controversial, assuming we’ll fall for it. When clickbait was relatively new, people did tend to fall for it. Now we’ve all wizened up a bit and can recognize clickbait for what it is.
Why Does it Exist?
By getting all of those clicks, even if people ultimately stay for two seconds after realizing “UGH this is not what I wanted,” it still counts as traffic to the website. The old view is that a website that gets a lot of traffic automatically ranks higher in search engines.
While this is true to some extent, clickbait-y articles are starting to get penalized for using such headlines on Facebook by making them less likely to appear in people’s newsfeeds. Techcrunch explains: “The algorithm primarily looks for phrases often used in clickbait headlines but not in legitimate headlines, similar to email spam filter.” When one page/person is consistently publishing stories that offend the algorithm, their posts will get buried more and more (but there is a chance to turn things around-just stop posting clickbait).
You may ask yourself why websites even bother with clickbait. Well there are two things websites can get from it:
- Your social media login (to potentially collect your demographic info for future marketing efforts)
- Visibility on display ads.
I noticed one of my high school friends posted the result of a ‘What should be your hairstyle?’ quiz and so I clicked through:
Sorry for the assault on your eyeballs there but notice:
1) The giant web hosting banner ad and internet provider video ad (I’m guessing it is just displaying this to be because I am a giant nerd and for someone else, it may display a different ad). This website will no doubt earn money, even if it’s a fraction of a cent, for me seeing that.
2) The giant ‘Login with Facebook’ request. Now that I’ve logged in, they can target me for cheaper advertising, upsell me on a product I might be more likely to buy, or even sell my data to another company.
3) The ads all over to click on additional items (ie go deeper) on the website. By seeing what I click on, they’ll be able to do market research on me (“It turns out women 26-35 are 34% more likely to click on the tattoo quiz than the weakness quiz”) and sell that to companies, sell me on products, or both.
What’s the Big Deal?
But why exactly is clickbait so bad? Clicking on a weird/extreme headline doesn’t trigger a catastrophic chain of events, nothing terrible is going to happen. I used to have a fairly blase attitude towards clickbait, thinking “What’s the big deal? Just don’t click on it.”
Now, as someone who both reads a lot online and writes a lot online, I get it. The downside of clickbait boils down to ethics (a harsher take on clickbait describes it as “misdirection and lying” from this article in The Atlantic). In marketing anything, one of your goals should be to deliver what you promise. In addition to negatively impacting your social media presence, clickbait ruins your credibility and trustworthiness as a marketer, which is something you should value above ranking in Google.
That being said, clickbait does not mean the same thing as a clever, enticing headline. Think about it, are you more likely to click on ‘A Balanced View of Coffee Mugs’ or ‘Why I Think Coffee Mugs Are the Dumbest Invention In The World’? As this article from Seriously Simple Marketing says, “As an Internet Marketer, you have an opportunity to be creative and come up with headlines that compel your visitors to click. Just be sure you’re being honest and providing content that delivers on the promise the headline teases.” In other words, deliver on your headline’s promise, and always provide your readers with quality content.
What Can I Do?
Taking a strong stance in a headline/title gets clicks, for the most part, the people that write them enjoy/profit from web traffic and others just enjoy controversy.
You can do your part by:
- Not clicking on extreme stuff (you’ll know it when you see it)
- Hiding people/pages in your newsfeed who are constantly throwing this chum in the water
- Posting good websites/articles yourself (ie leading by example)
Aggressive marketing tactics and extreme headlines are two of the three examples of polarizing online stances we’ve seen lately. Stay tuned for our third and final post in this series, about general social media etiquette.