Click-Bait: The Internet’s Mosquitos – Don’t be that Kind of Developer

Not all content is created equally and nowhere is this truer than with click-bait. Click-bait is sensationalist writing, particularly headlines and imagery, that is designed to attract a netizen’s attention and especially to draw visitors to a web page – ie. click the link. Upon clicking it, the result is usually an article of low calibre or a series of 25 pictures of celebrities before their deaths where you have to click “next” after every single picture. There is one reason for this deluge of online refuse and one reason only: advertising dollars. Websites that produce click-bait exist to get traffic to their pages so advertisers will pay for airtime on their site. If click-bait can attract thousands and thousands of doting followers who will dutifully click ahead through every story, there are advertisers waiting in the wings, willing to pay to passively influence those followers.

With click-bait, the writing offered is usually garbage and the reason for this is simple: people more likely to click the link often fail to read articles all the way through and lack internet attention spans adequate to cover well-argued and well-written long reads. But does that really matter? Isn’t all content good content?

No.

In fact, bad content is far more detrimental to your organization or business than no content can be. How could this possibly be the case, right? Isn’t any content better than nothing so potential clients or patrons can find you through adequate SEO? Shouldn’t making advertising dollars off your website be a good secondary business plan? Can’t SEO strategies not even begin to be used without some base online content? So what if that content happens to be cheap, sleazy click-bait?

The reality is that the quality of content you are putting on your website reflects a lot to potential clients about your level of professionalism and your standards. If you are offering genuine quality services to people, click-bait content and headlines just cheapens your overall image. And generally speaking, unless your only goal is to make money through advertising (rather than actually selling your products and services), click-bait almost never results in potential clients investing their hard-earned dollars in your business.

In fact, click-bait is not only a poor business practice, it has become a cultural meme of online annoyance. The mosquitos of the internet, click-bait articles are appearing in everyone’s newsfeeds these days and they are as distracting as they are detrimental to the literacy levels of the internet on the whole.

As reported by Big Think, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology recently demonstrated how most people do not tend to read online news articles the whole way through and, even worse, how – in the event that you do make it through an entire article – a deceptive click-bait headline dramatically impacts the lessons you take away from article itself: this usually means coming away with a polarized or just plain incorrect opinion on a subject, despite the content evidence in the body of the article pointing to something more nuanced.

“All too often especially when it comes to science news, we see headlines that are directly contradicted later on in an article…”

In the study, researchers presented identical articles with different headlines, ultimately determining that headlines (particularly sensationalist ones which did not stay entirely true to the article) dramatically impacted the readers thoughts about the contents of the articles. Ultimately, readers’ opinions were swayed by the content of the headline alone. And the Big Think article says it all at the end:

“The findings suggest writers and editors need to take seriously their responsibility not only in citing reliable and credible sources, but also in choosing a headline that accurately represents the truth – rather than a headline that will get the most clicks. Similarly, readers need to be aware that headlines have an impact on how they perceive articles they read; in an age where profits are determined by clicks, accurately portraying the truth may not be at the forefront of an editor’s mind when deciding how to phrase a headline.”

When it comes to content development as business owners or members of professional organizations, we have a responsibility to raise internet literacy, be pioneers of education in our field and to report responsibly. In the end, quality content reflects the values of your organization far better than sensationalism does and speaks more effectively to those who are much more likely to become real business patrons.

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