Clickbait

This One Weird Trick…

Imagine you’re talking with a group of friends – maybe at the local pub or at a neighborhood event.  You’re having a great conversation about your family, or you’re telling them something about a product you just absolutely love using.

All of a sudden, another person comes up to the group and says “You’re not going to believe what I just saw this teenage girl just do!”  Everyone in the group stops talking and immediately pays attention to this person.  They are waiting with anticipation to hear what they say next. 

And then…well, they tell a quick story about some girl who painted her toenails black in support of her best friend with a broken arm. 

Okay, kind of an interesting story, but a little bit of a letdown.  Back to the original conversation, right?  Naah.  Instead it’s “Did you know this one weird trick to sleep through the night?” followed by “What this little boy does next will make you cry” and “Hey!  You have to see this picture of a cat on my iPhone!  It will change your life”.

After a few of these stories, everyone would start to ignore this person and find ways to avoid them at the next get-together.  Because they hype up what they’re going to say to get your attention, and then deliver a “meh” story behind it.

Completely unacceptable behavior.  Right?

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT CLICK-BAIT DOES.

Clickbait is a sensationalist headline designed to attract click-throughs and encourage forwarding of the material in order to generate online advertising revenue.  It exploits our innate curiosity by giving us just enough information to click through to the article to learn what “that one weird trick” is all about.

For some reason it seems to be accepted as normal and not a lot of people really complain about it.  But it drives me absolutely INSANE.    

It’s gotten so bad that there’s now a website called clickhole.com that satirizes click bait articles. 

Flashy banner ads and annoying popups were all the rage from the 1990s through 2010.  But as popup blockers became more prevalent and people put even more effort into avoiding and ignoring them, advertisers looked for other ways to get people’s attention.  At the same time, social media took over the world.  Everyone sharing everything they find interesting online with one another.  Advertisers found ways to exploit social media by making content somewhat related to their topic (or sometimes not related at all) that would get more click-throughs than any banner ad they purchased. 

Enter content marketing. 

Content marketing is writing content in the form of a blog, news article, white paper, etc. with the intention of promoting an idea, product, brand, or something else worthy of promotion.   

This very blog article, in fact, is part of my overall content marketing strategy to raise awareness of The Product Evangelist Academy.  It’s not shameful advertising at all – in fact if you enjoy this article and resonate with my opinion, you would appreciate knowing where to find more information like this, and potentially look for ways to share or even purchase my content or work together with me.

As all things go, once the first few marketing companies found success in getting people to share articles and images about their products, the whole industry dove in.  Now it’s a race to the bottom – as in how low will marketers stoop to get you to click that link.

The one that sent me into a fitted rage and altered my blog publishing plan to include this article was something a friend of mine shared on Facebook.  You know – we all have those friends on Facebook that share everything they find from Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and ViralNova.

But the title of the link she shared just completely pissed me off.  I mean if you’re going to attempt to be a news article, be a news article and have a professional title.  If you’re attempting to be an authentic post from someone, then be authentic about it.  This link was neither.  It wasn’t anything EXCEPT click bait.  I don’t even think there was an article on the other side of the link.  Just another link to a slideshow someone else made  – not even the slideshow itself – on a website advertising hundreds of things unrelated to the link. 

It was incredibly formulaic.  Completely designed for nothing other than eliciting a click from as many viewers as possible. 

The Click Bait Value Exchange

The real problem I have with click bait is that there is a one-way exchange in value.  The author of the click bait article gets your click – and therefore makes money.  You get a less-than-interesting, poorly written, useless, stolen or regurgitated story that does nothing to improve your life.  You get no value from the click.  The click bait author has zero interest in whether you read the article or not.  So not a lot of effort is put into writing or researching the article.

The effort is spent making the title and thumbnail photo something you just can’t resist clicking on.  A couple college girls in bikinis.  Some guy on fire.  A kitten. A dog driving a car.  More sexy women.  A baby holding a cigarette.  Jeff Goldblum in a speedo.  More girls.

In fact, most articles are actually rewrites of quality initial content.  It wouldn’t surprise me AT ALL to see this article re-written by a click baiter.  There are even automated article writing tools that will rewrite an article FOR YOU. 

It’s not the content.  It’s the click.  If you click on a click bait link, you’ve put money into the pocket of the person who wrote the article. 

At the cost of quality

The other problem with click bait is that it drowns out quality content.  Click bait is a lot like spam.  It attempts to blend in with real, quality content just enough to get that click out of you.  Once you’ve clicked, the author has all they came for.  Just like with spam – once you click on the non-working “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of a spam message, they know  you’re an active email address and they’re done with you.

The only real way to combat click bait is to stop clicking on it.  But that’s a little bit like trying to stop people from paying attention to the Kardashians. 

Click bait makes it very hard for others to find your high-quality content.  You might be tempted to follow a similar strategy – flashy, catchy title that entices people to click through.  I get that – a lot of online business experts agree that a formulaic approach to creating catchy titles is the way to go.

I don’t focus on catchy titles.  I also don’t “DO” SEO, keyword ranking, or any other annoyingly manipulative marketing tactic. 

Probably at my own detriment. 

I fully intend to build an audience one person at a time in a very authentic way.  Because the people I connect with will know who I am and either resonate with my opinion or at least enjoy the content I provide. 

I think click bait is inauthentic and disrespectful of someone’s time and attention.  I bet in the next two-three years there will be a huge backlash against click bait advertising.  But I also bet it’s here to stay.  Like the banner ad.

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