7 Ways Clickbait Will Destroy The Internet
If the term clickbait doesn’t ring a bell, let me take a moment to explain. In order to get more people to visit websites, these sites often purchase or obtain promotional links on other sites, and use outrageous pictures, vague headlines, misleading headlines, or some combination thereof to encourage people to try to click on the link and visit their site. While it sounds sort of like good marketing, it is often done with less than honest or extremely over hyped material.
TMZ and the Huffington Post are often cited as examples of sites that use clickbait to encourage people to read more pages on their site. TMZ generally has wild ones, such as “Watch Kim Laser Her Boobs” and “Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Together Again!”. Both of these probably pull in the clicks, but both of them are somewhat misleading. You don’t get to see Kim Kardashian’s Boobs, and Tiger and his ex-wife were together for their kids. Now, the real stories aren’t very interesting, but the headlines are certainly click worthy.
Companies such as Outbrain and a few others are really pushing this as a marketing strategy, it seems, as their little thumbnail images and headlines that appear on a number of sites are often some of the most misleading or disappointing around. As with the headline of this story, a common thread is “8 things you never knew about…” or “10 ways to increase your pay!” and things like that. These sorts of things tend to lead to vapid stories with vague content, or are just not relevant to anyone. It’s all a numbers game, these sites charge for ad exposures and are looking to drive their “readership”, even if it’s done with absolute crap as content.
Personally, I tend to tag this one onto Google and their search engine rankings. Google is very much into social media, and much of the clickbait is created to try to get people to like a page, or tweet a link, or push an image (with a URL, natch) to be viral.
So, without further ado, let me pitch in my 7 ways Clickbait Will Destroy the Internet: (and yes, I will make you click a new page to see the list!)
Destructive Clickbait #1: More and more of the internet becomes about moving you around and less and less about actually satisfying you. Companies are aiming not so much to inform you or get you what you need, rather they are trying to steal your eyeballs for a minute and sell that attention to someone else. The actual content on the pages beyond the clickbait headline and the goofy picture is often null. The traffic, the search results, and the money go to those with the most insane headlines and images. Think National Enquirer as a baseline, and you are starting to get it.
Destructive Clickbait #2: Another trend is for one media company to open a series of similar or related sites, and use clickbait on their main site to drive users to the new site. TMZ has done this with a series of sites like TooFab, FishWrapper, and so on. Their main driver of visitors appears to be the sorts of click bait headlines that make your head spin. All this done in the name of selling more ads, and being able to count the same user on each site as a “unique” visitor. It also helps them to drive search ratings with Google, but does little to drive actual good content.
Destructive Clickbait #3: Your “news” sources are often people disguising themselves as fact based media when they are really just fronting to sell you something – or selling your eyeballs and attention to others. There was a real run a few years ago of spammers using fake news sites to sell everything from diet pills to fake anti-virus software, but now it’s been turned much more subtle as sources of “information” and as portals to shady operations. Now they are not only trying to rip you off with bad products, they are using clickbait to get you there in the first place. They don’t have to spam anymore, they just suck people in with crap content and salacious headlines. Over time this erodes the trust people have about exploring new sites, which in turn hurts everyone except the major online sites – and the majors are the ones often using clickbait placement services to see space on their sites.
Destructive Clickbait #4: Sample headline: “You Won’t Believe What Bill O’Reilly Said About Beyonce This Time!”. Now for sure that O’Reilly has said some pretty stupid stuff in his day, but in this case, what he said isn’t really stupid at all, and is in fact very reasonable. The feigned outrage to get you to click through to read the story generally means that the content is super thin, or the issue mostly made up.
Destructive Clickbait #5: Clickbait link trades, aka “also on the internet” or “stories you might like” that go through companies like Outbrain. Their system seems to be leading the way down the path of horribly dishonest links, sometimes leading to remarkably out of date material or stuff that has otherwise been puffed up (example like #4 above). Teaching companies to make click bait in order to get traffic has pretty much taught an entire generation of online marketing people to be dishonest, with no consideration about actually delivering what they claim – or literally making stuff up out of whole cloth to try to make a story that doesn’t otherwise exist.
Destructive Clickbait #6: 18 Things You Didn’t Know About Stars Underwear. What a line, and it’s typical of the type of click bait headlines that are part of another evil trend, the compilation or count down story. Basically, there isn’t anything here, just some writer taking a bunch of unrelated things and turning them into a 10 things list. It interestingly seems to borrow from the scammy “1 simple trick to a flat tummy” ads that are all over the place, making that dude in Canada rich.
Destructive Clickbait #7: This list. If you are reading this story, I likely suckered you in with a “7 Things That Will Break The Internet” or “Marketing Man Goes Mental, Breaks Everything” headline. Ultimately you and you alone are responsible for this horrendous marketing, because you click on this stuff every day. Do yourself a favor: When you see clickbait, don’t click it. Stop feeding the marketing trolls. Stop giving sites like TMZ a free pass to more or less concoct crap just to get more page views. Don’t click on “other stories from the web” sections, they aren’t going to deliver!