The Perils of Fluff Marketing: Click Bait, Listicles, and Their Brethren

by Jorli Peña

It is nearly impossible to navigate the web these days without being inundated by a barrage of clever headlines tempting you to distraction. (Although, let's be honest, sometimes we are looking for a little distraction.) Still, how many times have you gotten burned by clicking though a snappy link only to discover that the content is completely devoid of any substance or only loosely related to the headline?

Click bait definition courtesy of UrbanDictionary. Listicle definition from About.com.

How to separate the good from the bad

Discovering content where you actually learn something new can feel a little bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Here are a few tips that might to help:

  • The more unbelievable the headline, the more likely it is fluff. If you read something and your first thought is, “How can that be?!” Chances are, it can’t. Example: How to gain 1000 Twitter followers in 10 days!
  • Anything that alludes to a “secret” or begins by asking a ridiculous question, you probably want to avoid.
  • Create a short list of trusted sources. When you do read something of value online, take note. For marketers, some favorites are Fast Company, Mashable, and Open Forum.

Why they can suck more than your time

As a reader, these distracting and misleading headlines can be an annoyance — taking time from our already busy days. As a brand, using these methods with the sole intent to score eyeballs can be much more detrimental.

Publishing irrelevant content or obnoxious ads can actually detract from your brand's equity. Sure, you may drive awareness, but at what cost? All page views and clicks are not equal, even if they may appear that way in your reporting tool. If you create content that genuinely resonates with your audience, they will be much more likely to share that information with their network and hold your brand in higher regard.

Nothing is all bad — The Redeeming Qualities

There are aspects of these flashy methods that are worth copying. Here are a few:

  • Brevity - People are subjugated to an unprecedented amount of things clamoring for their attention. When creating content, get right to the point. If you have three points to make on a particular topic, keep your list to those three things, as opposed to publishing a list of ten, where seven of the points are filler.
  • Catchy headlines - By all means, you do want people to notice you. There’s nothing wrong with a pithy, attention-grabbing headline if it relates to the topic at hand.
  • Cute or fun images - Unfortunately, pasting in a kitten pic only makes sense to a small subset of articles. However, don’t hesitate to break up your copy with a image or two related to your topic. Large blocks of text need a little bit of company.

Above all else, your content marketing — whatever form it may take — needs to have substance. If you begin with the intention of creating something of value for your customer, rather than just getting them to click-through, it’s hard to go wrong.

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Keywords: Customer Experience Design