One thing that I have learned by blogging is that I am absolutely hopeless at predicting what posts will garner attention. In fact, I seem to have a reverse sense, in that posts that I think are interesting sink without a trace while those that I think are uncontroversial generate quite a bit of buzz.
While having many readers is gratifying, since I mainly write in order to clarify my thoughts and express my views, I do not actively seek to write in a way to increase readership. But many online sites depend on the size of their readership for their income and for them, increasing readership is critical. The catch is that the yardstick that has come to be used to measure this is the ‘clickthrough’.
But as Tony Haile writes, we use a faulty measure for the popularity of a site.
In 1994, a former direct mail marketer called Ken McCarthy came up with the clickthrough as the measure of ad performance on the web. From that moment on, the click became the defining action of advertising on the web. he click’s natural dominance built huge companies like Google and promised a whole new world for advertising where ads could be directly tied to consumer action.
However, the click had some unfortunate side effects. It flooded the web with spam, linkbait, painful design and tricks that treated users like lab rats. Where TV asked for your undivided attention, the web didn’t care as long as you went click, click, click.
This spurred a huge effort to entice people to click on links. Some people are really good at getting people to click. The catch is that 55% of users spend less than 15 seconds on a page they reached. The number drops to 33% for pages that have actual articles. Haile’s team looked at the kinds of pages that people spent more time on and the results are somewhat encouraging in that people seem to spend time on more worthwhile pages..
Articles that were clicked on and engaged with tended to be actual news. In August, the best performers were Obamacare, Edward Snowden, Syria and George Zimmerman, while in January the debates around Woody Allen and Richard Sherman dominated.
The most clicked on but least deeply engaged-with articles had topics that were more generic. In August, the worst performers included Top, Best, Biggest, Fictional etc while in January the worst performers included Hairstyles, Positions, Nude and, for some reason, Virginia. That’s data for you.
All the topics above got roughly the same amount of traffic, but the best performers captured approximately 5 times the attention of the worst performers.
But until we can find a way to better measure actual engagement, we are going to continue to be flooded with clickbait pages.
So in the near future expect a post from me titled Virginia’s biggest nude hairstyles top awards for best fictional position. It can’t lose.