You've seen them all over your social media feeds.
Hell, you've probably clicked them countless times, and passed them along.
I'm talking about clickbait – content designed to attract huge views, with catchy, leading or controversial headlines. The content itself is often underwhelming, only tangentially related to the headline, and has often been repurposed from somewhere else on the Internet.
In other words, the websites guilty of passing around clickbait have added nothing original to the story, but are simply trying to make content go viral, and rank higher in a Google search.
And you are guilty of helping them.
At Flow, our philosphy is to focus on original, quality content that lives on our clients' websites, and through their social media channels. The audience this content receives comes from organic searches, and organic social media reach. While we do employ some basic search engine optimisation tactics to our headlines, these are more to ensure that they show up in relevant searches, and not to "game" the system.
However, clickbait is damaging content marketing's good name. By going for the lowest common denominator every time, these sites are racking up high page views and social shares – and this looks good to advertisers. But dig a little deeper and don't be surprised to find a high bounce rate (that's when someone lands on your page and then leaves again without exploring further), a short very duration time, and virtually no engagement.
"The problem is that 'content', in this context, is so ill-defined and poorly understood that unscrupulous content creators flood the web with low-quality schlock meant to appeal to base online instincts," says Stephen Slaughter in a Mashable piece on the same topic. "Or, as I heard someone ask recently, 'Does content marketing have a side-boob problem?'"
Upworthy.com has been Perpetrator Number One for some time now. Try to resist what could possibly be behind headlines like:
- The Next Time You Talk About Abortion, Make Sure You Know These Numbers
- It Takes About 20 Celebrities To Explain Why 62 Million Girls Are Being Dumbed Down
- Atheist's View On Life Could Make Anyone Cry. 4 Minutes In, The Interviewer Almost Gets Choked Up
One redeeming factor is that they are mostly warm-and-fuzzy stories with some kind of point to them. Other clickbaiters are less so. Here are some from the Huffington Post:
- 6 ways to end your relationship with Facebook
- Soccer players + kids + puppies = CUTENESS OVERLOAD
- WATCH: This group of happy workers may surprise you
Seth Godin describes the exact clickbait formula as such:
([Integer between 5 and 10] WAYS to [action verb like avoid or stumble or demolish] [juicy adjective like stupid or embarrassing or proven] [noun].)
"Daily, this talented writer trades in his art for what feels like a job writing,' says Godin on his blog. "But he's not writing, he's not building a following, he's not doing work that matters. He doesn't actually have a voice, he's doing piecework, work that will be replaced by someone else's output as soon as his boss can find someone cheaper."
Don't take the bait
Please, if you are a content marketer, stop insulting my intelligence with these headlines. If your content is interesting to me and inspires me to engage, I will find it, and I will engage. In a world where we are consuming media at an alarming rate, and being bombarded with ads, articles and "Add Friend?" requests, a little less "noise" would go a long way.
Friends, now I'm looking at you. If you are inspired, entertained or moved in some way by content that is so obviously geared for going viral, please can I make one request? Before blindly hitting the "Share" button, how about sharing your opinion on what you've just seen? "This video is so important, especially for all my friends who are teachers" is way more insightful to me than "This little girl stood up in class. What she said will change your life."
You can do the same with tweets. Most sites will offer you a pre-written tweet when you want to share a link, and they are usually written in the same clickbaity format. Change it! Tell me what I'm about to click! Add your own 10c to the topic ... that's why I follow you.
In fact, a few Twitter accounts have taken it on to save us all the trouble of clicking by debunking common clickbait headlines:
Actor left without saying goodbye. RT @OMGFacts: Shooting ALF took over 20 hours per episode. It was so stressful that this happened! -->— Saved You A Click (@SavedYouAClick) July 7, 2014
No it doesn't. RT @Upworthy: The earth has lungs!— Saved You A Click (@SavedYouAClick) July 6, 2014
Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. RT @HuffingtonPost: These are the cheapest times to fly this summer— Saved You A Click (@SavedYouAClick) July 5, 2014
In another example of clickbait parody, TheOnion.com, known for its news satire, recently launched a sister website, ClickHole.com, which pokes fun at this very concept of viral content, clickbaity headlines, and the popular listicle (which we've also parodied before).
Sites like this at least offer the opportunity to laugh at ourselves, and realise that this strange and wonderful beast called The Internet is still an enigma to many: capable of creating beautiful, deep and meaningful connections; educating, enlightening and innovating; and helping us figure out How Many Of These ‘Friends’ Episodes Have You Seen?