Feed the clickbait machine?

I’m a victim of clickbait. Many times over. What’s clickbait?

click·bait (noun)

Content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

Here’s a visual for reference:

I know you want to click on one of those!

Lately, you may have seen these on many news websites (CNN, ESPN, Fortune, etc), under the header Promoted Stories or Sponsored Headlines. Why is this clickbait showing up everywhere? Blame Outbrain.

Outbrain, a “content discovery platform”, has cornered the market on Promoted Stories/Sponsored Headlines and they are making good money with their ad format. While I don’t know the exact specifics of their advertiser/publisher deals, my guess is that the publisher gets a nice cut of revenue for allowing the ads on their site and Outbrain charges the advertiser for the ads.

Initially, we considered utilizing Outbrain for a client’s advertising plan. At it’s most fundamental, the product offering is straightforward. Show your content that is similar to the content that the reader just completed and they may be interested in your story as well, and click over to your site for more information. Unfortunately, the content that could potentially surround our ad placements was too suspect to participate in the program. Here’s some more samples for your viewing pleasure.




The examples above are some of the more PG-rated Outbrain ads. Some enterprising optimization savvy people have realized that certain content themes are clicked on more often than others. The things people click on tend to fall into the seedier / gossipy column.

8 popular themes you see in Outbrain ads:

  1. Unrealistic financial programs
  2. Weight loss/body improvement programs
  3. Celebrity news
  4. Attractive women
  5. Top 10 lists about just about anything
  6. Articles about something entirely unrelated to women, that still use an attractive women to get eyeballs on it
  7. Articles about something entirely unrelated to sex, that still use an image of something that looks sexual to get eyeballs on it.
  8. Everything else

There’s nothing new about this type of content. You can find it readily at the checkout counter in the tabloids. The same reason I don’t want to show my client’s ads in the National Enquirer, is the same reason I don’t want to show my client’s ads next to an article about repairing “crepey skin.” In summary, that’s my point of view on Outbrain. It is likely effective at driving clicks, but too likely you could show up near suspect content, and not worth the risk for brands that are conservative.

As a final note, if you don’t like seeing this type of content on the web, you can vote with your mouse. Don’t click on them. I know it’s hard to pass on the “10 Celebrities from the 90’s Who Look Terrible” article, but don’t feed the beast! That way we reward good content by clicking on it, and leave the junk at the super market check out line.