Click bait – how metrics have messed up marketing

June 30, 2014

If you belong to social media like Facebook, you’ve probably been noticing a lot of Click Bait lately. Click Bait (also known as Link Bait) are intentionally hyperbolic headlines intended to drive up clicks to an article or landing page. While it sounds innocuous – I mean, who doesn’t want their content to garner clicks? That is what marketing is, after all! –  it has turned fairly insidious. Headlines that are exaggerated, vague, and withholding dominate, begging you to click not necessarily because you are interested in the topic but because you want to solve the mystery of the headline. Every day I see a headline posted that contains a variation of “You won’t believe what happened next!”

Lately, there has been a pretty solid backlash against these marketing tactics. The grumbling has picked up speed in my feeds. I have seen people declare that if their friends don’t summarize the thesis of an article in question they won’t click through. There is even a fabulous twitter profile called “Saved You a Click”. The description reads, “Don’t click on that. I already did. Saving you from clickbait and adding context since 2014.” The entire account is just a spoiler account, giving you the gist in sometimes just one word. Examples:

Why have marketers resorted to “tricking” audiences?

Unfortunately, it seems to be the result of taking metrics to an extreme. Marketers compete to drive readership to give the clicks and page views by which they are being judged. Many advertisers pay based on some algorithm of views and clicks. And with the every increasing amount of information out there, content struggles to be noticed. Sometimes you only have the headline to make an impression.

With Content Marketing all the rage everywhere, folks churn out Top 5, 7, 10 lists like there is no tomorrow. “7 things successful people do before 7am.” “5 things top executives don’t do before 7am. You won’t believe #3!” If the headline is urgent enough, you may click through. But are you really gaining that much insight by what is written on the list? Sometimes it seems like it is content for content’s sake.

Are these strategies really working? Are advertisers getting better results because clicks to the landing pages are going up? When there is a mismatch between the headline tone and the actual copy, there is a breakdown in expectations. If the article had a brand, it would be considered broken. And it’s difficult to not feel disappointed. Although the marketing metrics may have increased, so have the now-negative feelings toward the author and the publication. It seems rather short sighted. Jeopardizing long term relationships – building yourself as a go-to resource – for immediate clicks.

Content marketing isn’t about quantity; it’s about quality and making a connection. Sharing insights and ideas. Building your image as a thought leader. Balancing short-term catchiness with long-term reputation building. When done correctly it can be a great way to develop rapport with your reader. But to create a connection where loyalty is built, you need to set appropriate expectations for the value you bring. Your headline should contain a summary or conclusion for your article – whether written cleverly or plainly. Tricking your audience to click-through cheapens whatever you have to offer and ultimately will reflect poorly on your brand and those of your associated advertisers. Click bait may be a trend these days, but one that I hope will die out as audiences tire of the tactic. Then the writers with true substance will be back on top.

What do you think of click bait? Do you think it’s here to stay? What are some of the most outrageous click bait headlines you’ve seen? Can you rewrite them in a brand-positive fashion?

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