Why Clickbait and Content Marketing Don’t Get Along

Clickbait drives traffic. It may not be fair, but it’s undeniably true; 2014 may as well have been The Year of Clickbait as far as the digital world as a whole was considered. An incredible number of news and entertainment venues were successfully launched last year based on just this type of traffic. But while clickbait tactics may work for some digital marketing campaigns, they usually don’t work for most content marketing campaigns. The goals of most content marketing campaigns and clickbait usually diametrically opposed.

contractTrust Violation: Breaking the Contract Between Reader and Writer

Users have spoken: they hate clickbait. They may keep clicking on it, but that doesn’t mean they like clicking on it. For advertisers who simply want to build traffic, that’s fine; for companies looking to build a brand, it’s not. Contrary to what some believe, not all press is good press — and not all traffic is good traffic.

The core problem with clickbait is that it breaks the implied trust between the reader and the writer. The writer has promised one thing and then performed a bait-and-switch, leaving the user with content that they aren’t interested in. For companies seeking to build a reputation, that’s the exact opposite of the desired intention. A successful content marketing campaign should eventually lead to a trustworthy brand identity.

clickingExpired Content: When the Clicking Stops

Every type of content has a different life expectancy. Clickbait is generally not aimed at longevity; the entire goal of clickbait is to just get someone, anyone, to click on it when they see it. While social sharing can extend the lifetime of clickbait content, social sharing doesn’t have a lengthy engagement either. Most clickbait sites support their traffic with a constant influx of new content.

When was the last time you clicked on a clickbait headline that showed up in your search engine results page? Most people don’t. In fact, most people don’t even find clickbait titles in their search engine results — it’s not as though they are carefully keyword optimized. They almost can’t be; keyword optimization would go against the basic principles of the clickbait title.

Content marketing campaigns are aimed at long-lasting content; content that will drive traffic for a long time to come. On some level, content marketing doesn’t need to be clickbait — it will eventually gain the traffic that it deserves through its value. A major appeal to content marketing is that the traffic ultimately becomes sustaining with a minimal amount of upkeep.

trafficMeaningless Traffic: A Lack of Conversion

Clickbait’s major goal is traffic. But traffic isn’t particularly important to a content marketing campaign — engagement is. Clickbait isn’t geared towards engagement. In fact, a significant portion of readers likely bounce right off of a clickbait page once they realize that it isn’t going to be delivering on its title.

Raw traffic doesn’t mean much to a content marketing campaign. It doesn’t build a brand and it doesn’t drive conversions. If anything, it can throw off a marketer’s metrics by reducing the percentage of conversions and making the campaign look less successful than it actually is. It’s unlikely that users will convert to anything when they have arrived at a page through misinformation. Content marketing produces conversions by providing the customer with exactly what they need.

idenittyIdentity Crisis: When Clickbait Isn’t Clickbait

Clickbait is generally used to describe content that is inherently bait-and-switch: a compelling title that either exaggerates the article’s premise or outright lies about it. But clickbait titles can theoretically be true — it’s just so difficult to achieve that most people don’t bother. For example,  “What This Russian Doctor is Planning to Do With This Man’s Head Will Shock You!” is both clickbait and, at the same time, probably pretty true.

There’s nothing that says that marketers can’t leverage the principles behind clickbait to make their titles more compelling. Clickbait takes advantage of something called the “curiosity gap,” which is the natural human inclination to learn more when a question has already been raised. There are ways to take advantage of this curiosity gap without outright misleading your readers.

Standard clickbait tactics are simply incompatible with the majority of content marketing strategies — though there are always exceptions. Clickbait does not produce content that will build the brand’s reputation or that will remain relevant for a long period of time. For the purposes of content marketing, it’s usually best to be as straightforward as possible.

While clickbait may still be a popular trend as of 2015, its days may well be numbered. Readers have become savvy to the tactic and are starting to aggressively resist it. There will come a time when readers will be so over-exposed to clickbait that it will become meaningless to them, and therefore ineffective.

Getting the Joke to Land: When Humor Goes Awry in Digital Marketing

Digital marketers tend to have a sort of love-hate relationship with humor. A little humor is necessary to any marketing campaign; people simply respond better to something that makes them laugh. That’s why State Farm had Jake wearing khakis and why Old Spice had I’m on a horse. But a sense of humor is highly subjective and it can quickly go the wrong way. Marketers who misinterpret their audience’s sense of humor often find themselves on the defensive, running damage control. Sometimes a brand never truly recovers.

The 3 Rules of Marketing-Friendly Humor

  • Always know your audience and demographics.
  • Stay on message and on brand.
  • When straddling a fence, keep a foot on the safer side.

pepsi voodooPepsi: The Voodoo Doll Incident

You can almost see what they were going for. People get excited about sports. They hate the opposing team. So why not post a bunch of pictures of a voodoo doll being beaten up and murdered? It almost seems like some ad executive, somewhere, didn’t quite understand why people enjoy sports. Maybe they didn’t understand that sports rivalries are – with some rare and notable exceptions – for the most part friendly. Or maybe they thought it was actually high praise; “Look, this player is so good that he should be killed.” The Voodoo Doll Campaign came across as brutal, mean-spirited and dark rather than humorous; there was no joke there except, “Hey, isn’t it funny that we want some terrible things to happen to this guy?”

hitman absHitman the… Cyber Bully?

Hitman is a popular video game franchise published by Square Enix. As a promotion for a recent title, the company launched a Facebook game called “Hire Hitman,” allowing users to ‘assassinate’ their friends. All in good fun, right? The problem was the game’s cruel sense of humor. Assassinations were sent with insults – such as “awful make-up” or “big ears” — which inevitably led to accusations of cyberbullying. They completely missed the mark with their audience; weirdly, few people actually wanted to insult and virtually kill their friends. The company later apologized, stating that it was “wide of the mark.” Of course, knowing the game industry, it’s likely that the app was simply outsourced to a third-party developer and never double-checked — which is yet another point of caution.

mac“I’m a Mac” … “And I’m a PC”

Absolutely everyone knows these commercials — so, at very least, they were memorable. Meant to be a satirical look at the different features and aesthetics of mac computers and PCs, it ultimately backfired. Why? In general, people tend to cheer for the underdog. The Mac vs PC commercials featured a casually dressed young man (the Mac) who repeatedly foiled the older gentleman in a business suit (the PC). No one really enjoys seeing competitors dig at each other; it’s like seeing mommy and daddy fight. And Mac also misidentified its audience; many Mac users found themselves identifying more with the PC side of things than the cool-looking Mac.

The Most Inoffensive Types of Marketing Humor

There are two types of humor that almost always win out: self-deprecating humor and absurdity. Consider all of the most popular, humorous advertising campaigns, such as the Geico Gecko. Most people do enjoy laughing at someone — but they don’t want to feel like a bully, they want to be both laughing at and laughing with at the same time. Absurdity, silliness and exaggeration is inoffensive because it’s so disassociated with reality that there is nothing that can be seen as untoward. Still, silliness can become problematic if it does hit too close to home or comes off too mean-spirited, as seen with Pepsi’s voodoo doll campaign.

damageDamage Control: Recovering Gracefully

Sometimes everything just goes wrong. You could catch the attention of the wrong person. Your joke could have implications that you never anticipated. Damage control isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s all about how you handle it. If you handle damage control gracefully, you may even be able to improve the standing of your brand when all is said and done. But if you handle it improperly, you could do irreparable harm.

  • Own it. Apologize and explain — but don’t make excuses and don’t snark.
  • Be proactive. React quickly and take direct action against any wronged parties.
  • Take it seriously. Don’t try to spin outrage into another joke; it can be misinterpreted.

An intuitive understanding of your audience is necessary to craft memorable, humorous copy without taking it a step too far. Marketers need to straddle the line between clichéd, forgettable jokes and offensive or obscure jokes, while still staying on message and furthering their company’s brand. Social media and other real-time communication portals have made it very easy for a marketer to stick their virtual foot in their mouth – but, by the same token, an audience is likely to forget issues of poor humor as long as the marketer handles it quickly and in the appropriate way.

Using Predictive User Behavior to Improve and Analyze Website Design

Not everyone can afford an eye tracking test for their website, but most developers, designers and small business owners can benefit from the general knowledge that user behavior tests provide. While the conclusions drawn from user behavior tests may not necessarily be accurate all the time, the data itself can offer quite a bit of insight.

2Conversion Occurs at the Bottom of the Page

Though above-the-fold content may get more activity, conversion generally occurs at the bottom of the page. It’s easy to understand why. If you see a conversion prompt at the top of the page, you aren’t yet invested. By the time you read the article and wish to convert, the conversion prompt is no longer on the screen. Conversely, if the conversion prompt is at the bottom, it is immediately accessible at the exact time that you need it.

What’s more, “above the fold” content might not mean as much as it once did. For one, “above the fold” now has an entirely different meaning. Mobile users account for a large portion of web activity, and they are used to scrolling downwards for information.

Moral: Always think about how the user will actually use the site and the physical process of conversion.

4Users Get Bored of Similar Elements Pretty Quickly

Observe this EyeQuant study. In this area, EyeQuant noticed that large text didn’t attract additional attention as predicted. But there’s also something more interesting going on here. You can see that EyeQuant predicted that users would linger for a somewhat similar amount of time on each of the three informational boxes presented, reading left to right. In fact, users read the first box, concentrated on the second box and then skipped the third box entirely.

Assumptions are dangerous. But if one wanted to make assumptions, it could be assumed that the user reads the first box and then scans the second box to determine whether each box is actually useful to them. At this point, the user makes an educated decision to skip over the third box entirely, imagining that it does not offer any additional value.

This is seen again, where, when confronted by four similar elements, the users pay significant attention to the first two items of the block and then abruptly drop off in interest.

Moral: Vary your elements and never put important information in a similar array. 

3The Left Side of Your Page Is the Most Important Side

A lot has been said about the “F” shape in reading; users scan the top first and then scan down the left hand side, looking for interesting headlines. But there’s no mystery here: we simply read left to right. Overall, the left hand of the screen accounts for about 70% of the reader’s time.

But studies have also shown that readers can be triggered to move to the left hand screen with a prompt. An image of a person looking towards the right, for instance, can move the viewer’s focus to right side content. So if you do want to vary your content approach, you simply need to be careful with your layout design.

Moral: Either put your most important content on the left side or trigger it from the left with a prompt that points to it. 

4Users Ignore Banner Ads — Unless They’re Tricked

Nearly every eye-tracking study since 2007 has noted that users experience ‘banner blindness’–they simply do not see most ads. There are some exceptions. Ads that are unfamiliar to them or ads that do not look like traditional ads may actually be viewed. An ad that appears to be content could also be lingered on.

But, of course, this is a double-edged sword; any time spent looking at an ad is time that is not spent engaging with the content of the site. Banner ads have become a poor monetization technique for a variety of reasons, banner blindness being only one of them.

Moral: If you have to user banner ads, expect them to be largely ignored. You can encourage users to look at them, but only at the cost of your content.

Of course, as we’ve noted, statistics and studies won’t always present an accurate picture. While you can’t always rely upon external information, what you can do is conduct your own testing. Based on the above principles, you can initiate changes to your website and determine whether they improve your performance. Statistics, in general, should be used as guidelines to make changes rather than taken as hard facts.

Digital Marketing Trends That Inspire Reader Fatigue

For a diverse and global community, the web can sometimes appear startlingly homogeneous. Design and marketing techniques proliferate quickly on the backs of those eager to get in on the next big thing, and once a trend builds momentum, it can become almost impossible to kill. Clients begin asking for the bells and whistles that they’ve seen elsewhere on the web and readers come to expect it. Eventually some trends overstay their welcome and simply have to go.


The Waste Your Time Infinite Scrolling Design

It may be time for us to call it quits on the parallax — at least, other than some very specific applications. Sure, parallax design looks fantastic, but now that it’s been scattered across half of the web, it’s lost much of its initial impact. Worse, it’s encouraging infinite scrolling and one page designs. One page site designs were at first promoted for allowing full control over the chronology of the company’s story, unfolding a tale in front of the eyes of the consumer. While it does achieve that, there are many technical problems holding it back from being a truly effective technique.

  • It obfuscates the UX. While a user can scroll down to slowly reveal the company’s messaging, it makes it very difficult for the user to actually browse through the site and control their own user experience. If the user simply has a direct question or needs specific information, they won’t be able to find it. This can leads to user frustration and site abandonment.
  • It makes analytics difficult to track. With a parallax, infinite scrolling design, you can’t determine where the user is bouncing off of your site or what content the user is revealing beforehand. You also can’t see which areas of your site are more popular because they are all on a single, slowly revealed page.
  • It’s bad for SEO. Having all of your relevant information on a single page is the last thing you want for the purposes of search engine optimization. Infinite scrolling websites also put a premium on concise copy, which is simultaneously more readable but less easily optimized.

Modal Madness: The Pop-Up Advertising of Today

I don’t think I’m alone in this: a modal window is very likely to get me to leave a site entirely. The rest of the website goes dark and a prompt appears at the center of the screen: Buy Our Product! Sign Up for Our Newsletter! Do Something, Anything, to Get Rid of This Ad! Modal windows are very popular today as an aggressive method of capturing leads. But the web already rejected pop-ups –what makes advertisers believe that today’s consumer will be any more forgiving?

  • It breaks the user experience. Whatever the user intended to do — whether it be find more information about your product or just read an article — has now been interrupted and there’s a good chance the user might just leave entirely. The fact that many modal windows can’t be easily closed only adds to this frustration.
  • When it fails, it fails spectacularly. Modal windows do two things: present you with an ad and black out the rest of the site. So when they malfunction — which happens a good 10% of the time — the site often remains blacked out and inaccessible. Sometimes the site may not even come back after the modal window has been closed.
  • It’s too aggressive. When you market things correctly, the consumer wants to get more information from you. A modal window is the sales equivalent of cornering a customer in a store. The dialog will be completely different than it would be if the customer themselves had come up with a question.

likesQuantity Over Quality Social Media Marketing

The inherent difficulty involved in measuring the effectiveness of social media marketing has led many digital marketers to adopt quantity-based metrics. In other words, the effectiveness of campaigns is often measured simply by the quantity of followers. While this is one important metric, it’s not always the best metric; depending on a content marketing campaign, additional traffic may not actually lead to any actual increase in revenue. Aggressively obtaining followers (such as, say, through modal windows) may lead to followers who were not initially invested in the company’s messaging and who will not become invested later on. Worse yet, it may alienate followers by appearing both desperate and pushy.

  • Traffic doesn’t mean conversions. Marketers learned this lesson years ago, but may need to relearn it in the social media context. A local business followed by a tremendous amount of global followers won’t necessarily make any more revenue than another business with a smaller amount of local followers.
  • People don’t take social media that seriously. They may follow you with no real intent to ever interact with your brand or make a purchase from you; being interested in what you have to say by no means guarantees a sale. While more exposure is still good, it shouldn’t be used as the only end goal.
  • Users that don’t engage can actually be harmful. Many online communities gauge the success of your posts based on how many of your followers actually engage with it. If you have a large amount of followers and none of them are paying attention to your posts, your posts won’t gain any traction.

Most digital marketing trends don’t last long; the industry simply moves too fast. New trends are constantly on the horizon and marketers need to remain agile and be willing to abandon old techniques should they become ineffective. Tactics such as infinite scrolling (jazzed up in all that lovely parallax) were effective and marketers were right to use them — but that doesn’t mean they will remain effective forever. Marketers have to be constantly in the process of analyzing and improving if they are to avoid played out and now ineffective conventions.

6 Digital Marketing Tactics Businesses Can Learn From Bloggers

Why is it that hobbyist bloggers seem to be able to constantly outpace professional business marketers in terms of both growth and volume? Companies can spend thousands — even millions — of dollars on content marketing campaigns and end up with an audience that pales in comparison to a teenager posting cute digital gifs of their cat. Bloggers are forged from and tested within the Internet; they have acclimated and evolved to the web in ways that most digital marketers simply can’t fathom.

woman-420750_6401. One-on-One User Engagement

Bloggers don’t just send content out into the nebulous depths of the web and wait to get returns. Bloggers actively engage their readership and create a dialogue. Whether it’s simply joking around with a new follower or forging real friendships with other bloggers, they know that their number one priority is engaging their user base. In fact, this is one reason Twitter has become such a powerful force in the digital marketing arena; many consumers are enamored with the ability to tweet at a large corporation and actually get a response, even if the response is the same type of response they would get if they called in to customer service. Bloggers get personal with their followers because to them maintaining their user base and having exciting conversations with them isn’t a means to an end — it’s a pleasurable goal in itself.

macbook-624707_6402. Building Trust Before Marketing

It’s not as simple as “not marketing to your audience.” Almost every blog, hobbyist or not, is monetized in some fashion. Whether it be merchandise or digital media, bloggers know how to bring in the bucks. But they don’t market to their audience too early. Many bloggers don’t even begin monetizing until their readership asks them to. When done properly, the audience originates at the idea themselves. The audience becomes so interested in the blogger’s “brand” that they want to be a part of it. And that’s really the whole of brand building: making the audience want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Your goal as a digital marketer is to inspire your audience to look to give you their money rather than outright ask them to and that involves creating engaging, stimulating and exciting content.

worker-659884_6403. Having Passion — Even, Perhaps, Obsession

Many bloggers are absolutely obsessed with their content, even if it seems remarkably niche. There’s a blog out there that has rated thousands of different samples of beef jerky, for instance — and you’d better bet that they are the number one resource for reviews of beef jerky. Companies often fail at this because they hire marketers who aren’t truly interested and involved in their product but instead are just churning out content. This shows. It’s not easy to fake interest, especially when dealing with an audience that knows their own interests inside and out. If you are selling a niche product like ball-jointed dolls, you need to know that the ball-jointed doll community is going to be able to identify a writer who is simply working from an assortment of Wikia pages and product specifications.

pretty-woman-635258_6404. Developing a Personality

Why are “Internet personalities” so popular? People naturally gravitate towards others in a social context. They want to feel as though they connect to the sources of their information rather than simply being mired in generic, colorless words. Too often companies put out large swathes of information simply under the banner of “XYZZY Corp.” or “Staff Writer.” This is not the way to go. A reader wants to connect what they are reading to an image, personality and even a voice. This is why so many larger companies have a spokesperson to get their message out. Everyone loves the Geico gecko.

controversy5. Making Mistakes and Generating Controversy

Companies cannot be so afraid of making mistakes that they become paralyzed. In fact, companies today are learning that controversy isn’t a bad thing — as long as you finish on the side that your audience supports. Bloggers often make mistakes, devolve into in-fighting or simply alienate a portion of their audience. But they almost always recover and many of them find their audience even more receptive to them thereafter. There is something about creating controversy and then resolving it that binds a reader even more firmly to a writer. It’s a shared emotional experience and the feeling that they somehow contributed. By not understanding this, many businesses have shot themselves in the foot. Ignoring controversy or trying to hide mistakes does the opposite; it frustrates the reader or consumer because it makes them feel like they didn’t matter at all.

office-583841_6406. Being Completely Consistent

This isn’t just about posting on a consistent basis. A blogger is consistent on every level. They control every part of their blog and create a cohesive whole. Too often marketing campaigns are shuffled from writer to writer, leaving each writer unable to create a consistent voice. Separate areas of the marketing campaign are handled by different teams entirely, creating a disparate voice. This leaves the reader unable to properly connect with the brand because the brand tends to change from moment to moment. Once a marketing campaign hits a groove, it’s important that the content continues to hit similar notes.

Naturally not all bloggers end up being successful. For every blogger that succeeds, there are tens of thousands who failed. But those who really have a genuine passion for their work, engage with their users and consistently post new articles almost always achieve some modicum of success. Perhaps the most interesting thing to consider is what bloggers don’t have. Bloggers don’t have huge budgets. They don’t always pay attention to the polish of their writing. Most of them don’t even have a game plan or end game. These are all the things that marketers often concentrate on in lieu of passion. While they are important things, they simply cannot supplant genuine knowledge and interest in a topic.