Opinion

Mamamia has said goodbye to clickbait. It is dead.

Kate SpiesMamamia says it has quit clickbait. In this guest post Mamamia Women’s Network’s Kate Spies explains why.

2015 is the year that clickbait died. We as a network are embracing it, RIP and good riddance. And, we have seen our engagement metrics bolstered because of this strategic shift, on our site and on social. In fact, we have the sixth most engaging Facebook page in Australia.

The move away from clickbait is an evolution and it is one that we will continue to work on. Our readers have asked us for that, and customer advocacy underpins everything that we do. It is our reason for being, and we will never underestimate the value of that two-way communication in shaping our digital offering.

As online publishers grapple with this stark new reality, consumers are rejoicing and they should. They should also be patting themselves on the back because its demise has been precipitated by them and their changed behaviour.

Clickbait in its purest form was never good for journalism. Never good for consumers. But it was online journalists and their audiences alike who propelled the phenomenon into the viral stratosphere.

UpworthyClickbait has dominated the internet since 2012 when publishers like Upworthy burst into our social media feeds with impressive share counts, ‘clicky’ headlines and social media ‘sells’ that sucked you in hard.

‘And you’ll never guess what happened next.’ … ‘This kid’s response will melt your heart.’ … ‘Kim Kardashian has given birth and chosen THE MOST adorable name.’ … ‘Here’s why you should never challenge an angry cat.’

These kind of headlines, many of which you would have found across our network over the years, are created to take advantage of the audience’s curiosity gap, they must click to find the answers. And for a time they did click. A lot.

We produced, and the audience clicked. The more that people clicked, the more baiting stories were produced, the more popular the sites who did this kind of content got, the more they dictated digital content trends.

But just like that, the audience stopped clicking, and we’re all better for it.

The term ‘clickbait’ is widely recognised as a pejorative one. It suggests manipulation, deception, trickery. Online journalists have copped a lot of heat for creating and championing it, but at its heart, it’s no different to the way all forms of media have always sought to attract readers, viewers and listeners to their platforms so they could profit from them either directly or indirectly.

The coverlines you see on magazines; newspaper posters; news headlines at the start of TV and radio bulletins, they’re all examples. Think of the cliff-hanger promos you see for reality TV shows, even nightly news bulletins – they are baiting in their own way. They’re all designed to distil the most interesting aspect of a story into a few words that will entice you to keep listening, watching or to reach for your wallet so you can read the full story.

In print, headline writing has long been considered an art with experienced sub-editors highly valued for their ability to refine often complex stories into pithy, punchy headlines.

Over the past decade, the need to do this intensified in a crowded online marketplace where the sheer volume of information competed for your attention exploded.

The need to cut through a busy Facebook or Twitter feed meant that publishers had to resort to increasingly dramatic ways of drawing attention.

Outlining the basic details of a story stopped being enough a few years ago and the competition to play to the FOMO (fear of missing out) factor intensified.

But the audience soon got tired of being played.

The clickbaiting trend is well on its way out. The feedback we are getting from our readers is that they want to be served genuinely interesting content that engages them; they’ve had enough of clickbaiting.

In August 2014 Facebook’s army of data scientists noticed people turning away from this kind of content and they adjusted the NewsFeed algorithm to penalise publishers who spammed their audiences with it.

Some publishers responded and changed the way they encouraged readers to click on their stories.

Freedman

Freedman

At Mamamia Women’s Network our approach to the content we publish and the way we conceive and create it is very much reader-led. It always has been. “You have to consume your own content like a reader, put yourself in their headspace and ensure you are delivering what they’re asking for,” says content director Mia Freedman. And on the editorial side of the business, this is our north star. Like every other part of the digital world, consumer behaviour changes rapidly and publishers who aren’t able to predict and adapt to that changed behaviour are just as rapidly left behind.

It’s a mistake to think clickbait is a measure of engagement. Leading publishers understand that engagement is about so much more than just a click. At MWN we have many measures of engagement and clicks alone are not our objective. Total Time Reading (TTR) or Time On Site (TOS) as well as social shares and comments are some of the metrics we value far above clicks alone. We want our audience to be genuinely engaged, to come back to us daily. If they feel disappointed after clicking on a baiting headline those objectives will never be realised.

So what’s the difference between clickbait and a good headline?

It’s ‘Someone told Penny Wong to “speak Australian”. What happened next will make you cheer’ verse ‘Penny Wong’s scathing response to the Senator who asked another to “speak Australian”.’

It’s ‘Lisa Wilkinson has an extremely important message for the world’ versus ‘Lisa Wilkinson calls for action on domestic violence on the Today show.’

It’s ‘This idea for empty Kirribilli House is total genius’ versus ‘If Malcolm Turnbull won’t be living in Kirribilli House, can we offer it to some of the Syrian refugees?’

It’s ‘There was something very different about the Emmys red carpet last night’ versus ‘The diverse Emmys red carpet showed why TV is so much better than the movies right now.’

It’s ‘This model’s story will make you sigh’ versus ‘Agnes is dangerously underweight, but still “too fat” to model’.

Clickbait is somewhat subjective: one person’s clickbait is another’s fantastic and enticing headline.

And despite our very conscious shift away from clickbait, I’m sure that there are readers who still take issue with our headlines. When you are producing 50 pieces of content a day, it is impossible to please everyone.

There is nothing wrong with producing attractive headlines – that is our job as editors. Creating a headline that gives the readers crucial information they want, yet entices them to read (or click) on is an art. There is, however, a problem with breaking the promise you make to your audience in said headlines. If a piece of content under delivers or is vastly different to how it was “sold”, it’s a frustrating user experience, and this fosters resentment and leaves your readers feeling ripped off. They won’t return, and this is why clickbait is so damaging for brands. In a fickle digital environment you don’t get many chances.

Clickbait, at its heart, is deliberately manipulative. All it cares about is the click, not how the person feels after clicking. And at MWN, this is key for us when we determine what headline to use: will our readers feel disappointed after clicking on this? Are we delivering on our editorial promise?

Not all clicks are created equal. And the click you get from tricking someone is of low, even negative, value. Your user will bounce right off the page and forget about getting them to click on another piece of content on your site.

You can’t have strong engagement levels when you rely on clickbait, and engagement is something we pride ourselves on at MWN. We have a laser-focus on recirculation and pages per session. Users visit our website and network for longer, and more times a month than any other women’s websites in Australia.

Each writer/video producer is KPI-ed on how long people spend on their piece and where users drop off. UBs are not, and have never been, our sole focus.

We are absolutely as dedicated to these engagement metrics as the sheer volume we drive to our sites. That’s why as a network we have embraced the death of clickbait. RIP and good riddance.

  • Kate Spies is head of editorial strategy at Mamamia Women’s Network
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