You’ll never BELIEVE what I said about clickbait.

You’ll never BELIEVE what I said about clickbait.

By July 27, 2015 Thoughts No Comments

I’m a big football fan. More accurately, I’m a big Liverpool FC fan – and, as any fan will know, this time of the year is particularly exciting. You see, we’re currently in the midst of the transfer window. Players being sold, players brought in – usually for ridiculous sums of money – all in preparation for the new season.

One thing that the transfer window brings with it is plenty of news. The rumour mill is rife, with news outlets competing for the best insider gossip, exclusive interviews and player sightings. So, like my fellow footy fans, whenever I get a few minutes during my day I like to browse on over to my preferred football news aggregator and catch up on what I’ve missed. It’s a really convenient way to quickly browse through everything that I’m interested in, without having to go out there and find it myself.

It seems that with such convenience and increasing wealth of choice, news outlets are finding it increasingly difficult to cut through the noise. As a reaction, we’ve seen a marked increase in the use of ‘clickbait’.

You’re probably already aware of clickbait; articles with ‘enticing’ titles, where you “won’t believe what happens next” or which will “blow your mind”. In football, you might see articles such as: “Liverpool chase ‘extraordinary’ playmaker who’s worth £100m” or “You won’t BELIEVE what this Liverpool player said!”

You see this tactic increasingly being employed online by Tabloid newspapers, desperate to claw a piece of the ever-diluted internet audience. Vague hints to the content of the story are given, without ever giving away any real detail.

I can understand it. I mean, their entire business model is based around selling advertising, and for that, they need visitors. But, it’s a tactic that I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned with. You see, the problem with clickbait is that it creates an expectation for the audience. I’m expecting to have my mind blown, I’m expecting to get excited. You told me I would, so now you had better deliver.

Of course, in the majority of cases, I’m let down. Sometimes the story is just a rehashed version of something I’ve already read, sometimes it’s a non-story – but worst of all – the article title has me completely misled.

Like many people, the website I visit more than any other is Why? Trust. I know that when I go to the BBC website, I’ll find solid, well-sourced and balanced news stories. Stories I can trust.

A few recent examples of football news headlines on the BBC website include:

“Manchester United sign keeper Romero”, “Aston Villa sign Ghana striker Ayew” and “Di Maria outcome close, say PSG”.

At a glance I can derive the content of a story and immediately determine my interest in it. Because my expectations are realistic, I’m much less likely to immediately hit ‘back’ on my browser. Most importantly, I’m more likely to revisit the site next time, or look around other related articles.

I wonder about the merits (and metrics) of clickbait sites. I can’t believe a business plan which consistently disappoints or misleads your audience can provide long-term gain. While I’ve no doubt that the majority have seen a rapid immediate increase in visitor numbers, I have no doubt that the amount of time spent on sites is through the floor.

As advertisers catch up with the changing trends, you’ll see other metrics such as bounce rates and session duration take equal weighting – but, perhaps more importantly, as trust wains in your brand, so will those visitor numbers.

Without visitors – your other metrics don’t exist.