I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life being a fool. I’ve been duped time and time again, and I will likely be duped again in the future. It’s not people who are tricking me, at least not directly. It’s advertisements and clickbait.
I usually go online with pure intentions. I want to check my e-mail, Facebook, maybe see some local news, then get to work. In this process I’ll encounter a captivating but too-good-to-be-true headline such as: “I Finally Saw My Abs By Eating This.” I click the article, scroll 80% down the page, close a pop-up with ninja-like reflexes, and finally see the word “bananas.” I knew the article was going to be garbage covered in ads, but I clicked anyway.
Can you really blame sites for this? The Internet is a place where we’ve put advertisements on trash and called it journalism. People click the articles and leave once they realize it’s all a sham. But clickbait keeps popping up because the articles have proven profitable. Thankfully we’re getting smarter and search engines are implementing ways to kill off the clickbait.
This train of thought began thanks to a YouTube video. A quick search confirmed what I believed all along: Google doesn’t like clickbait. This means clicking a video isn’t necessarily going to help the video rank. If you’ve ever listened to someone talk about YouTube’s algorithm, you’ll come to realize that views high viewership doesn’t mean as much as it used to in Google’s algorithm. In fact, views aren’t even the most important factor.. Now, minutes spent watching a view is more important than overall viewership.
This means you want people to watch the bulk of your video, ideally the whole thing. The goal is something called a “long click,” meaning the viewer stays on your video for minutes instead of seconds. This focuses on the importance of keeping viewers engaged rather than losing their attention. In some regard, videos will be penalized for having attractive titles with unattractive content because they don’t achieve the long click..
This is one way YouTube is taking a stance as their systems improve their knowledge of user behavior. If people are only watching 15 seconds of a 8 minute video then that video likely isn’t filling their needs. This is important on YouTube, because many videos are filled with fluff and irrelevant content to put it to the ten minute mark (where creators can put more than one ad). It can be tempting to created longer content, especially if you’re getting ad money from YouTube, but this will drive viewers away. YouTube tracks this, and viewers leaving are signs of a clickbait video.
The idea of clickbait is something that’s plagued Facebook for years. While specific content is outright banned, other content such as clickbait lives in the gray area. Facebook has outlined its community guidelines to demonstrate how “borderline content” will be discouraged.
This concept is based on the principle that content whose subject material lives close to the line of acceptability typically receives more engagement. Artificial Intelligence begins to recognize the disproportion amount of engagement then starts reducing the ways Facebook would typically promote content. This typically applies to content whose headlines are more sensational or content expressing very polarizing opinions.
Facebook has set even clearer guidelines for users to they understand content that will be flagged as clickbait. For example, an article whose title actively withholds information will encourage people to find answers by clicking. While it’s human nature to want to know what the article holds, it also comes across as spam. Other examples of clickbait headlines include content that exaggerates expectations or misleads the people.
Of course, this could be seen as an action trying to silence certain opinions and voices. According to Facebook, that’s not the intent. The goal is to eliminate articles containing misinformation. As more people express disinterest in an article, Facebook will distribute that article less.
Then there’s Google, the biggest name in SEO. It shouldn’t be a surprise that ranking on Google is critical for content to attract viewers. With nearly 90% of web users choosing to search on Google, its influence in undeniable. This also means Google has a team who works to rate the quality of content and ensure meaningful content takes priority.
In their quality rating guidelines, certain things will be rewarded in their ranking system while other will earn a title of being low quality. If you want to rank high you’ll need to have a strong reputation. Creators who have consistently produced quality content will rank higher than those without established reputations. While this seems to be harmful for newbies, they can at least establish credibility by making quality content. If they consistently created good content, their credibility it boosted. Additionally, if content continues to drive traffic and prove its importance, it will continue to rank high.
While quality can be subjective, Google does set some standards as to what can be considered quality and what is not. Conversely, clickbait can be subjective, but there is one thing to note: it’s not quality content. Articles that have low quality ratings typically fall into the same category as Facebook clickbait. Again, think of articles what withhold information, promise unrealistic results, or never reach the intended conclusion.
Google also knows people try to rank in their search engine, so rating content based on quality adds a human element to their process. This means you could provide an article with the right amount of text, great keywords, all the right headers and even some backlinks. It has the elements of a great article, but it has the substance isn’t there. This will earn a low quality score and rank lower.
Right now, the quality score isn’t impacting users too much, but it’s a clear signal that Google is taking a stance. The content is being rated, but SEO results aren’t necessarily taking a hit.
What Does This Mean For Content Creation?
Clickbait is inevitable, but understanding user habits will allow AI to compete with its evolution. As more data is collected, it becomes easier to identify what content will deliver meaning to its viewers. With this understanding, search engines will work to reduce the amount of clickbait and incentivize content that fulfills its intended purpose.
It’s also inevitable that clickbait will always exist in some form. As soon as a search engine changes its algorithm, clickbait will try to adapt.
Still, we’re moving in a good direction. Search engines want to reward people who create real content. They want quality to rank higher so genuine engagements will mean more moving forward. Creating a 1,000+ word article is not necessarily a sign of quality, and there may not being a specific formula that can bypass the merits of making quality content.
If you’re a content creator, focus on quality first. Make sure your content has a purpose, delivers its message, and isn’t padded with useless filler. If these elements are present, you should make the content search-engine-ready. There’s nothing wrong with trying to rank in search engines when you’ve created great content. That’s what search engines were designed to do: help people find the information they want.
There’s no substitute for quality. Even if people try to hack the algorithm, their formula will fail when the algorithm changes. However, a quality piece of content will continue to deliver. Viewership and engagement will always play a role in SEO. So long as people want to interact with your content, search engines will want to promote it.