Businesses Shouldn’t Be Tempted To Mimic Click-Baiting Publishers

Click BaitClick-baiting works if your goal is simply to drive traffic, but businesses that don’t survive on page views and advertising impressions should avoid click-baiting if they’re to create the right impression.

As a writer of online content, I pay attention to the tactics that my fellow writers and publishers use to attract traffic. In recent months, I’ve seen an alarming rise in the number of business sites that with click-baiting. The virtues of click-baiting for a certain type of publisher may be debatable, but for businesses that rely on consumer trust, click-baiting can be a big mistake.

Take a look at Upworthy and you’ll instantly grasp how click-baiting works. It uses emotive, attention-grabbing headlines that pose a question, set-up an emotional dilemma, or promise to reveal something shocking to grab users’ attention. But, more often than not, the article fails to deliver on the promise of the headline. It’s a form of bait-and-switch, providing low-quality content coupled with a manipulative headline.

There’s no doubt click-bait drives traffic, but it’s not the traffic most businesses should be aiming for. To understand why, it’s useful to look at how Facebook filters out click-bait content from its newsfeed.

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t smart enough to look at a headline and figure out whether it represents click-bait; it has to rely on user-generated signals. According to a recent blog article from the social media giant, it uses two main signals:

  • How long do people spend reading the article? — If a user clicks on a headline and very shortly returns to the newsfeed, it’s likely that the content they clicked-through to didn’t fulfill their expectations.
  • Click to share ratio — If many people click on an article, but far fewer people share it, then the article has failed to generate much interest.

Facebook does a huge amount of testing, and it’s a fair bet that it’s right about the way user behavior correlates with click-bait content.

If click-bait correlates with high bounce rates and low sharing, it’s exactly the opposite of what businesses should be aiming for. Business content marketing is about attracting users with valuable content in the hope that they will remain on-site and eventually make a purchase. Click-bait content does not contribute to that goal. Furthermore, it signals to users that the company is dishonest and manipulative. Whatever the potential benefits of click-baiting for online publishers, no one could reasonable argue that it creates an impression of trustworthiness or integrity.

It’s often repeated that businesses need to start thinking like publishers. That’s not quite right. Businesses need to publish, but because the content they produce serves a different purpose to that of traditional online publishers, strategies like click-baiting can be profoundly counter-productive.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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