The Click Economy: Or, Why I Don’t Care About Your Pathetic Awareness, Puny Kitty

Hello, and welcome to another blog. Thanks for clicking, but may we ask you a question? Why did you click? Probably something to do with the headline, right? It’s prime real estate in the digital world and this one in particular has little bit of everything. A fancy buzzword. An insulting term. A cat! And hey, even a reference to a Marvel comic. Marvel’s very big at the moment, y’know. Have you seen Spider-Man: Homecoming!? Did you watch the new Thor trailer? Jeff Goldblum? JEFF! FRICKIN! GOLDBLUM!

Flippancy aside, the point of this headline is that it’s designed to provoke a response and gain the click: it’s clickbait, and it’s the kind of writing that’s dominated the internet for the last few years. The reason for this is very simple: awareness is everything. It’s the primary barometer for success, and it’s measured by The Almighty Click: the more clicks something gets, the more successful it is. This is the Click Economy and even if it’s lazy, empty-headed and sometimes downright stolen, it makes sense, right? Well, no not really. It doesn’t make much sense at all, and in this article I’ll explain why.

Curiosity Killed The Cat

A click is, of course, important: it’s how you know how many people have been exposed to your work. Without those people clicking on your work, nobody will see it and the work would lose its value and that wouldn’t be very good, would it? It’s this nightmare scenario that drives people to look for ways to guarantee the click, but such assurances are difficult to come by. Human beings are a diverse bunch. We all like different things and react to stimuli in different ways. What might delight one person might infuriate another. Without a clear-cut way to appeal to a mass audience, we look for assurances, and there’s nothing more certain in human beings than our curiosity.

Yep, curiosity may have killed the cat, but it gave life to thousands of manipulative ads and terrible article titles. Clickbait takes advantage of this – it’s like a scratch that needs itching: we just can’t leave it alone. When an advert screams at us that we JUST WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT, we might feel manipulated, but we can’t help ourselves: oh go on then, what DID happen next? Click. We might regret it later, but it’s human nature. “It drives us, fires us up, and compels us to take action," Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania told Wired. "Anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, surprise—all of these are punchy emotions that clickbait headlines rely on."

This is the stuff that marketers’ dreams are made of. Indeed, it’s pretty much the stuff that marketing itself is made of. Drive the reaction, force the response, reap the reward. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a good response (if we subscribe to the notion that there’s no such thing as ‘bad PR’), but as long as there’s a response of some kind, it’s fine… right?

Satisfaction Brought It Back

It’s one of the stranger elements of our culture that we never remember this part of the famous idiom about curiosity and deceased kitties. You see, because while curiosity did indeed mean a premature end for Mr Whiskers, he was brought back by the satisfaction of finding out whatever it was he was so curious about in the first place. When we think of digital content and clickbait, we’d be well-placed to remember that. Good content isn’t just about the click, it’s also about the engagement. It’s about satisfaction as well as engagement.

Think about your own experiences. Think about all the times you’ve actually clicked on a piece of clickbait writing and gone through to the story at the end of it. What did you do? You probably found the answer to whatever mystery was dangled in front of you and left. That makes sense and is replicated across most consumer behaviours: after all, nobody likes to have their time wasted. But the problem with clickbait content is that the desired answer is so fleeting that the user doesn’t actually need to linger very long on the website to find it. OH, HE BOOPED THE CAT’S NOSE. Cool.

Close tab. Move on.

That transaction will normally take around 5-10 seconds, if that, and that’s a big problem. Sure, you’ve won the click, and that click boosts stats, which in turn satisfies the people who generate your ad revenue or the brand you’re running your campaign for. But it doesn’t really add up to much. A clown on a unicycle can generate attention for 5-10 seconds, and nobody likes clowns (or unicycles). Clickbait delivers the same thing: attention without affection. They haven’t stayed on the page, they haven’t engaged with you, they haven’t seen everything your brand can offer. They came, scratched the itch, then left. What remains? An unengaged customer and a dead cat.

The Engagement Economy

As we said in our article about Hero Content and the Three H Strategy, engagement is the pot of gold at the end of the click rainbow - but so often, it’s overlooked. This is because it’s less measurable. Sure there are bounce rates and exit rates we can use to gauge how interested a person is in a piece of content. We can also use the time they spend on a page to understand their satisfaction with it. But there are difficulties in doing so. Just because a bounce rate or exit rate is high doesn’t mean the content hasn’t satisfied; the user could have quite easily taken what they wanted and left. Likewise, a high time on page could have come about because the person left it open on their browser. It doesn’t tell you much about how much time they actually spent reading.

That said, these metrics are no more flawed than the ones around awareness, so there’s no reason why they can’t be used. It’s just about how you use them because when used right they work well. For example, look at bounce rate and exit rate not as a way to understand if the piece of content alone is engaging, but if your site as a whole is. Are there enough opportunities to push other content and other pages? Have you included enough internal links? Have you crafted something that’s truly a part of the funnel, or something that stands alone? These are all key questions, and they’re all questions about engagement that mean a lot more than a simple click.

If that’s not enough, consider heat-map tracking. This is software that can be added to your website to understand where people are engaging with it. Are they scrolling to the bottom of the page, or never moving past the top? Are they clicking links? Are they lingering over one particular section? Are they dropping off somewhere else? Heat-map tracking can help identify these things and it’s worth investing in. Your content is a gateway. It’s great to drive people towards it, but if it’s crumbling and rusted, they’re not likely to go through it. So was there any point driving them to it in the first place?

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, this piece has done the job that all good content should: it’s engaged and satisfied you. Congratulations, you’re a reborn cat! Meow to you. (No I don’t have any fish. And please don’t knock that glass off the ---). Engagement is difficult to achieve, but it’s not impossible. Good, well-considered content is created every single day and it will always outperform lazy, unoriginal clickbait because it’s being read by human beings not click machines. Treat your readers as such and they’ll reward you handsomely. Oh, and don’t forget Jeff Goldblum. JEFF. FRICKIN. GOLDBLUM.

What do you think of clickbait? Do you read it and does it leave you satisfied at the end? Let us know over on @FastWebMedia

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