Media Matters Part 1: the Clickbait Cavalry

Have you ever noticed the sheer number of top ten lists online? Have you ever wondered how so many poorly sourced articles could ever get publish, or how many media companies with no journalistic integrity stay operating? There is a multi-million dollar industry behind clickbait and its constant barrage of "only 90's kids will remember" articles, however few people really understand how this hidden industry works.

I got my first exposure to all of this through my somewhat limited time exploring SEO or Search Engine Optimization, the practice of leveraging search engine algorithms to twist search results in your favor. In the SEO world, people will buy and what are known as "SEO blogs," blogs with pre-written articles designed to attract in a small audience. The owners of these blogs will try and boost user-advertisement interaction. If done correctly, these types of websites can make metric fucktons of cash for there owner. These SEO blogs make up the basic model of clickbait websites: find a niche, maximize its profitability, repeat.

Now although SEO blogs might make quite a bit of money, these little niche websites don't make up half of the profits that the large clickbait websites do. They don't even make close. Clickbait websites are generally run by either a large number of underpaid employees (like Buzzfeed) or by a large number of independent writers who get a portion of the profits from each ad interaction (like The Richest). In all cases, writers for the company are put under high pressure to put out a large volume of articles and are paid based on how many interactions they receive.

It is a common misconception that advertisers pay companies by the number of views they receive. This is false. Companies are generally paid by the number clicks on each ad they receive. Most advertisers ban companies from encouraging people to click on ads, as this would hurt the tracking of the campaign. The only real way to boost interaction is to get more people viewing articles, and to do that you need to know there interest. For a long time, figuring out what people were reading about was hard and required a lot of trial and error work, until a god send to the industry occurred.

Many people are familiar with Google, the "friendly" search engine. However, a long time ago, Google had a problem. A big problem. Being a search engine doesn't make money, however knowing what people are searching does. With thousands of people using Google accounts, it became trivial to track their personal interests. In 2011, Google released an expanded version of its analytics engine for its customers. With these new advances, clickbait companies were able to target the exact interests of their audience.

Curious as to what these exactly look like? Take a look at the interest page of one of my websites. Google breaks down exactly what what viewers like in a nice little bar graph. No need to take time and effort in understanding your users, just add some html to your wordpress blog and flip the switch.

Now this isn't the only way Google facilitates these types of activities. Another great tool commonly used by people producing clickbait is Google Trends. Google trends helps websites understand what people are interested, what they are viewing, and where they are from.

Most clickbait websites choose trending topics that are somewhat low in rank (as to have little competition between high ranking websites) but high enough that people are viewing them. A view here and there can bring in an interested reader. These readers can be kept on the website and interacting with ads through the interests statistics that are (again) provided by Google, thus keeping the money flowing.

However it isn't just clickbait that uses these types of tactics. The difference between big media companies and clickbait websites is the difference between high class call girls and cheap whores, one justs looks classier than the other. Websites like the Washington Post and the New York Times use the same type of techniques for different ends.

Posted on: 2017-07-21 18:10:30