Master baiters: rise (and fall?) of click bait
The Drum recently published this article by me about the advantages and disadvantages of click baiting. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.
It’s been dubbed the ’21st century headline’. Our online news feeds are littered with it. Even the Independent is doing it. That’s right, I’m talking about clickbait.
Following on from prolific ‘baiters’ like the Mail Online, Upworthy and other, less reputable, publications, the Independent has brought its clickbaiting A-game of late as it tries to gain traction in an increasingly competitive digital environment.
In the unlikely case you don’t have a clue what click baiting is, it’s basically a term to describe all those open ended, ‘you’ll never guess what happened’ headlines you see on your social media timelines.
If, like me, you have been clicking to find out the answer behind Kim Jong-un’s weight gain or what exactly JK Rowling said about Draco Malfoy that would make me feel really old, you too have been pulled in by clickbait, don’t be ashamed, it gets to the best of us.
It uses sensationalist words and frequently deceptive statements, crafted to make you desperate to know more. It compels you to click and subsequently makes you feel a little bit dirty (and more than often, disappointed) once you have.
Clickbait has obvious advantages for publishers: more traffic to your site or content, leading to more advertising revenue and better SEO. But marketers need to consider the negative consequences of attracting readers with bait.
While baiters may see a bump in traffic now, this is unlikely to last in the long term. More and more people now consume their news via social platforms, most notably Facebook. Last year, Facebook came out against the clickbaiters, stating it didn’t want its users to suffer at the hands of spammy stories that “drown out content from friends and pages that people really care about”.
According to Facebook, 80 per cent of its users say they prefer headlines that help them decide whether an article is worth reading and as such, the platform’s algorithm penalises the headlines that don’t. This is particularly relevant now that Facebook hosts native video content; a lot of clickbait directs users to videos, something Facebook would much rather its users watch in their News Feeds.
Larger publishers like the Indy will suffer less from Facebook clickbait penalisation than its smaller counterparts. The real hit for the publication will come from loss of credibility; to me, some of the baits feel like the publishing equivalent of David Cameron’s “Call me Dave”. It’s unnatural – not expected from a quality newspaper.
Publishers’ reputations are built on their integrity and clickbaiting has long been associated with the way into poor content. The Independent may be doing itself some favours in web traffic numbers right now, but in the long term, is its aim really to become the next Mail Online or Upworthy? I know there’s an argument for ‘adapt or die’, but surely not if you have to lose your identity along the way.
And, from a purely observational point of view, it seems like those bemoaning the baiting by far outweigh the occasional fan sharing one of ‘those’ links. The existence of publications like ClickHole confirms the growing awareness of the tactics, if nothing else.
For now, the Independent continues to try to draw readers towards its ‘snackable’ online content, whilst users try and stop themselves from clicking, and subsequently sigh with disappointment after watching a video they’ve seen already on one of their social channels.
Putting personal opinion aside, I wait with ‘baited’ breath to discover whether this change in tactic will prove to be a master stroke by the Independent, following in the Mail Online’s footsteps by appealing to a non-traditional audience or finding itself alienating just about everyone.