Clickbait is dying? You won't BELIEVE what happens next...

August 17, 2016 Francis Dignan

We all remember seeing a clickbait link for the first time. You hover your mouse over it, checking that the URL doesn’t look too suspicious. You’re thinking ‘Surely it can’t be true. Surely I can’t make over $10,000 working from home with no experience’, but curiosity gets the better of you. You click...you’re taken to another website which is seemingly unrelated to the link you just saw. There are more links to more sites with more promises, and pop up ads are spamming your screen. You’ve made a huge mistake, and it’s not one you’ll be making again.

Thankfully, the death of clickbait seems to be, finally, just around the corner. It’s been a long, hard fought war, but many sites historically associated with clickbait type headlines have started to move away from these deceptive tactics, as in the long run they are just not valuable to anyone. You know the sort: “Lose weight with this one weird trick. Doctors hate it!”. They are the headlines which always, always disappoint if people click through, and only serve to make the internet a worse place.

Defining clickbait can be difficult, but it essentially involves a vague headline with a promise of a big payoff. The first banner ad, for example, wouldn’t be considered clickbait so much as there is no huge promise of your life being changed once you click on the ad. Compare this to something like “17 Facts You Won’t Believe Are True”. There’s no indication of what the article is actually about, just a vague promise that you’re going to have your mind blown if you click the link.

Some people think that the clickbait definition is wider than that, and would stretch to include the BuzzFeed type article titles, like “19 Tweets About Olympians That’ll Make You Say “I’m Old Garbage.” (This is an actual title of an actual article, by the way). It does, at first glance, look a bit clickbaity, but you basically know exactly what you’re going to get if you click on the link. If you don’t like the sound of it, you just avoid it. Simple as that.

Of course, people used to be much less cynical, so the vague, too-good-to-be-true stories got the clicks, and that was when clicks were the real money makers. Now, though, people are really tired of clickbait.

This shows in the way that some major websites have changed their approach. A few years ago, they started to discover that these kind of headlines were no longer getting the clicks, and that was all down to one, major aspect: Trust. People used to click on these headlines, and time after time, were bitterly disappointed with the results. Not only did they stop clicking on the clickbait, but the level of trust in websites which had this kind of content anywhere dropped totally, so the websites had to change.

These sites have even written blog posts about it to outline why. Take BuzzFeed (again) as an example. People used to, quite rightly, associate the site with clickbait. With this statement and a change in style, they managed to change the perception of them, and also move into more traditional, higher quality journalism. The other sites that were historically associated with clickbait have made similar moves too, so there aren’t many major outlets left still trying to trick people into clicking.

Another facet of this saga is the fact that until relatively recently, clicks were currency. Nothing else mattered. If you got a click, you got paid. Now, though, publishers and advertisers realise that engagement is far, far more important than just one click that may or may not bounce away immediately. After all, if you click on a headline, and enjoy the article behind it, you’re more likely to share it with friends. If you’re disappointed, you back out and are less likely to return to that website again.

So far, so understandable. The deceptive, clickbait style headlines and ads only serve to make the internet a less trustworthy and honest place, and do absolutely nothing for user experience, so it’s fantastic that some sites are actively tackling the issue. There’s been research into how clickbait destroys trust, as well, so it’s not just speculation. It’s a fact. Unfortunately, some things just refuse to die, and you’ll still see clickbait all over some of your favourite sites.

Rather than seeing it on the main part of the page, though, it’s usually on banner ads, or down towards the bottom of the page under 'promoted content'. You’ll recognise it as soon as you see it too. More often than not, this promoted content is not even relevant or related to the article you’re reading, and the publishers are merely taking a scattershot approach, hoping that something sticks, and that their promise of making you rich will be enough to get a click.

 

So what can be done to finally kill off clickbait for good?

The most effective, efficient way is to simply ignore it. Most advertisers and websites are switched on to the fact that it just doesn’t work and have stopped publishing it, so reward those with your time. If you’re an advertiser yourself, make your ads with the user at the forefront of your mind. Don’t lure them in with false promises. Be honest, and you’ll see your conversions increase, even if your click through rate drops a bit.

Facebook are also helping to kill off clickbait. They recently changed their algorithms to recognise that style of headline, and any post or ad which fits that description will be pushed further down the feed. This means that these ads are far less likely to be seen, let alone clicked on.

This is a bold move by the huge social media site, as it’s purely focused on improving the user experience, as opposed to them making more money from advertising. It’s essentially Facebook trying to improve the overall quality of the internet in general, and the links that are pushed on the platform. It’s relatively rare that a company would sacrifice money making opportunities for the sake of user experience, but that’s what Facebook are doing here. It just goes to show how big an issue clickbait has become.

Then look at something like @savedyouaclick on Twitter. Massive amount of followers, and it’s dedicated purely to exposing clickbait. So, if a headline is deliberately vague, this twitter account will say exactly what or who the headline is referring too, thus saving you a click. This isn’t the only account toiling away at this task either, so again it’s clear that people want clarity and honesty.

Now all that remains is ridding the internet of clickbait in banner ads, and the promoted articles that you see on so many websites, like this: 

The companies that publish these ads are only concerned with clicks, which is why the headlines are so extremely vague and make such huge promises. More often than not, when you click through, it leads you down a path of ads and further irrelevant pages, without ever serving you anything to do with the headline, as this research shows.

 

What happens next?

Well it’s clear that clickbait is not the way to go. Whether you’re making a banner ad, or writing content for inbound marketing efforts, just avoid anything vague. It destroys trust and credibility, and now it just puts most people off clicking. Honesty is the way forward, you just need to give the audience a reason to click on whatever you’re trying to put in front of them.

There’s really no excuse for clickbait these days, either, as there are so many tools and resources out there designed specifically to improve your marketing and writing efforts, so use them!

The future looks bleak for clickbait, though, and the most effective way to ensure it dies out completely is simply to ignore it. If you’re an advertiser, resist the temptation to use it. By all means create curiosity, but keep the copy honest, and make sure that expectations are met once people click through. This way, your conversion will improve, and you will be doing your bit to make the web a better place.

Sooner rather than later, people will be almost totally immune to clickbait. Instead, there will still be ads and headlines which pique the curiosity, but will be grounded in honesty, and the content behind the links will meet user expectation. Clickbait will hopefully cease to be an issue altogether, and the quality of content, banner ads and overall user experience will improve massively as a result.

Fundamentally, this all boils down to one thing: trust. So whether you’re publishing a banner ad, or writing a great piece of content, do everything you can to build up the trust with your audience. That way, you’ll get higher conversions, more social shares, and ultimately, more value. Then you can sleep well, knowing you’ve done your bit to kill off clickbait once and for all.

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