Been There, Clicked That: A Look at Clickbait Journalism and Why it Just Isn’t Cutting it Anymore

My name is Jill, and I am a victim of clickbait. There are many more like me out there who can’t resist the catchy headlines, the articles that promise shocking tips to keep me looking 25 forever, or show me what it is that I will never believe happens when nine corgi puppies are put in a kiddie pool. If you’re like me, and you have found yourself falling into these clickbait traps, then you know the utter disappointment that you feel when what you’ve just read falls short of what the headline promised you, and that there actually isn’t any jaw dropping proof that “Bush Did 9/11”.

The notion of “clickbait” has been around longer than the internet. The term “Yellow Journalism” was coined in the late 1800s and was used to describe the sensationalist, ill-researched headlines that were being used by competing newspapers who were desperate for readership. While the times have undeniably changed, the motivation remains the same. With close to a billion (Yes, that’s billion with a “B”) live websites online at any point in time, and every one of them competing for your attention, tactics become fierce, deceptive, and at times, hilarious.

yellow journalism

Image via American History USA

Clickbait journalism has become so common in recent years that Facebook created an algorithm in an attempt to combat it and keep it off of our newsfeeds. I had my suspicions, but while reading about what goes into that algorithm, one thing became extremely clear. Click-baiting does not work. Here’s why:

Time and Shares Matter More Than Clicks and Views

Once upon a time, clicks were thought to be the Holy Grail of digital marketing metrics. Fast forward to 2015, and (most) marketers have realized that it’s not necessarily the number of clicks that we should be measuring, but instead the quality and value of those clicks.

According to Tony Haile of Chartbeat, the average reader will give your piece of content just 15 seconds of their attention, which kind of makes me wonder if anyone is actually reading this right now. If you have not delivered in those 15 seconds, then you can say sayonara to that reader. You may have gotten your click, but with no engagement and no takeaway, that’s about all you’ll get.

So where does clickbait fall into all of this? Let’s go back to that Facebook algorithm mentioned earlier. The goal of the algorithm is to filter out clickbait before we ever have a chance to see it. The first factor that the algorithm uses is how long people spend reading an article after the initial click. If a reader clicks on the link, and returns to Facebook almost immediately, that is a red flag. This suggests that the content is dissatisfying to the reader.

The second factor is the click to like, share, and comment ratio. If a link has a few thousand clicks and only a handful of likes, that indicates that readers do not find the content valuable, and therefore, don’t feel the need to engage or share with their friends. Again, this is a red flag and a dead giveaway that the piece of content is, more than likely, clickbait.

False Balance and Lost Trust

Let’s say your clickbait article makes it past that pesky Facebook algorithm and on to people’s newsfeeds. Against all odds, a reader clicks on your link and reads through the entirety of your article. That reader probably feels one of two ways:

  1. Disappointed: They were hoping for answers to whatever loose end you left in your headline, but didn’t get any. The reader wants those 15 seconds of their life back.

clickbait quote

  1. Confused: Headlines affect your readers more than you think. A recent study by The Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed that even if a piece of content is read all the way through, the takeaway can be affected by a misleading headline. This phenomenon, most commonly talked about in the scientific field, is known as false balance, where issues are given a deceitful sense of equality by blowing certain evidence out of proportion.

Obviously, neither one is ideal. You’ve lost the reader’s trust, and in turn, potential business, traffic, or whatever your good intentions might have been.

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Quality Wins

For comparison, let’s now take a look at quality content that delivers on all levels. For starters, Google only ranks quality content. Whether or not a piece of content is considered “quality” is determined by a number of factors, including whether or not the content is fresh, whether or not it is expert level, and whether or not it provides the user with a great experience. We’ve already established that clickbait falls short in all of these categories. If you’re keeping score, that’s Quality – 3 and Clickbait – 0.

Getting more than just a click on your content is important when marketing to consumers, but once you enter the realm of B2B marketing, it becomes even more crucial that your content is high quality. However, like a lot of things in life, producing quality content is easier said than done. More and more companies are realizing its importance, and quickly trying to up their game. In a new B2B content marketing study by the Content Marketing Institute, marketers were asked to rank 28 marketing initiatives by order of priority. Creating more engaging/higher quality content ranked highest over things like conversion, optimization, and measurement.

CMI

Image via Content Marketing Institute

So, should you incorporate clickbait journalism into your content marketing strategy? Probably not. But what you should do is understand where and why it fails and use that information as incentive to start producing higher quality content. And lastly, above all, stay strong and avoid the bait, my friends.

One thing clickbait articles are good for? A laugh. Tweet your favorite clickbait headline to @CopyPress or use this hilarious generator to create your own!

About the author

Jill Lenzo

Originally from Massachusetts, Jill graduated from the University of Tampa in 2012 and decided to avoid the polar vortex and remain in the sunshine state. While majoring in communications, she became fascinated with film and discovered that she had a knack for editing and producing polished work. She aims to bring that same continuity and attention to detail to the Digital Media at CopyPress.