Here’s how the internet gets you to click on things
You know how occasionally you’ll click on an article because the title promised something, and the article totally doesn’t deliver? Yeah, we did that on purpose. Internet writers have to pay very close attention to their numbers (we have way more information on you than you realize), and they improve their numbers by employing little tricks to get you to click on their stuff. Here are some of them:
1. We put more effort into the title than we do into the content.
Here’s the thing: advertisers have a few things they look for when they’re looking for a place to advertise. The first is how many unique pageviews we get per month. This is a number that exists regardless of how long you spend on the site. Click it for a second and decide you hate it or that it’s stupid? Sorry. We already gotcha. A second thing advertisers like to hear is the amount of time you spend on our page — they want to know not only that people are coming to the page, but that they are likely to see their ad. But we give that information to them in averages. So as long as we can keep a majority of readers attention for a couple of minutes, we’re more or less fine.
This means that the thing that matters most to us is the click. Which means that our main challenge isn’t writing quality content, it’s getting you onto the page. Most of us are interested in producing quality content, both because we actually enjoy writing good things, and because quality content keeps people around on the page for longer, but it’s somewhat secondary, and there are absolutely people who produce schlock just for the clicks.
The way we get you to click? Titles. Facebook captions. Featured photos. If we have none of these things but really great content, it won’t matter. You’ll never get to our page.
2. We make it about you.
You, it turns out, are incredibly selfish. If we make a title about you, you’re far more likely to click. See what I did in the title of this piece? And see how you’re reading these very words right now? Yeah, sorry about that. There’s so much on the internet though, that the best thing we can do to get your attention is to be useful to you personally. So even if we’re writing about something that happened to us, we’ll make it sound like it’s really about you.
3. We make it a list.
Bahahahaha! THIS IS A LIST! DO YOU SEE HOW I’M TOYING WITH YOU? DANCE FOR ME MONKEY, DANCE!
Really: you guys love lists. Numbered pieces do disproportionately better than non-numbered pieces, and the reason is because the internet is a place where it pays to quickly break down arguments into its main points so that people can skim. In the same way the title matters more than the body of the piece, the individual points matter more than the text underneath these points. I guarantee you at least one person who opened this article is not reading this text: they read “We make it a list” and they moved onto the next point.
Also: for some weird reason, odd numbers work better for listicles. We don’t know why, but they do. The most effective odd number? 23. If a piece has 23 points, if it has a good title, and if it’s mildly amusing, it’s probably going to do pretty well.
4. We piss you off intentionally.
It does not pay to be level-headed on the internet. If we’re intentionally provocative, especially in our title, then we’re not only going to get the readers who agree with us, we’re also going to get readers who are hate-reading what we have to say. Whether you liked the article does not matter. If you spent time on our page, we’re earning off of you.
So if you see a title that pisses you off, don’t click on it. Your hate is actually helping them.
Another note is that for many sites, editors choose the headlines, not the writer. More than once I have read a level-headed article that has an inflammatory headline, and the readers are arguing against the headline, not the text of the piece. Not that this is relevant to clickbait, but kindly remember: if you protest an article without reading it, you are a turd.
5. We use sex.
6. We make wild promises we can’t keep.
This follows the same basic theme as the others: it doesn’t matter if we can’t keep our promise as long as we’re able to tempt you to find out if we do. This is why sites like Upworthy make wild, hyperbolic promises: in the end, they don’t need to fulfill those promises. They just need to fool you into thinking they will.
7. We emphasize images.
The human brain processes images faster than it processes text, so if you see a really amazing picture in your Facebook feed, it’ll grab your attention faster than our title will. Even the simple act of transposing text over an image makes that text more effective. For example:
8. We track you obsessively.
I am not the NSA, but using Google Analytics, a totally free tool, I can track what article you’re reading, the location you’re reading from, whether you’re on a computer or a cell phone or a tablet, what browser you’re using, how long you spend on my page, which page brought you to mine, and depending on whether you have cookies enabled, what your general age is, what your gender probably is, and what your other interests are.
So basically, I don’t know you by name, but if I was pressed, I could probably figure out who you were. And that’s what I’m doing with totally free software.
Internet writing is about trial and error, but the only way we discover if we’ve made an error is a) if we get direct feedback, which we almost neverget, or b) if we rely on our site’s data. We know a ton about you, and we will cater to what we know. Just to get a goddamned click.
Featured Photo by Lecates.