A modest proposal to kill clickbait

Posted on June 7, 2016 in

There was a time when contextual content suggestion platforms like outbrain and taboola seemed like a great idea.  Traditional display advertising has the issue of being interruptive to our activity of reading.  We are consuming content, not seeking to purchase a product.  Contextual content has the advantage of helping us continue to consume content.  I even promoted them at an SMX Social as a great way to promote quality content.  However, the issue has become that these platforms have become a profitable vehicle to promote low quality clickbait content.

Much of this content takes the form of slideshows.   Others are “hacks” which often aren’t or “crazy things” that are little more than thinly veiled ads.  Often these are very deceptive ads as well.   The slideshows are monetized with adsense and/or affiliate marketing.  I’ve referred to these sites as “All Slide Show Adsense Heavy teaser” sites.  Or ASSHAT sites for short.  Many sites seem to steal content from other sites, furthering the downward spiral.

Recently there have been a number of articles decrying this sort of content as the death of ad tech, journalism, or potentially the web at large.  While this might be a bit hyperbolic, there’s no doubt that this is going to cause real damage to some reputable journalistic brands along the way.  Newspapers have long played the slideshow game to increase pageviews, and even sites like travel and leisure have gotten into the slideshow arena.  Check out the number of ads on the screenshot.  I’ve seen ads from reputable companies quite often.  ASSHAT Site

I came into internet marketing because of journalism.  My first post-MBA job was with Belo, the owner of the Dallas Morning News and several TV stations, who wished to remake themselves in a digital future.  I took the job because I felt strongly about the positive effect that they can have on our communities.  I still think that quality content is a rare and valuable gem that can in a small way make the world a better place.  I don’t want to see crap content win.

It’s not just the harm to traditional journalism.  The number of absurdly sexist links is disturbing, and often they are just one click off of a site like cnn.  Outbrain is actually one of the better networks, compared to some that exist.  I don’t want my children exposed to this junk.

I’m sure american express wouldn’t be happy to know their ad is next to this garbage:

Amex ad

The Proposal to end ClickBait

The reason these sites exist is simple.  They make money, with a minimum of time and effort.

I want to do my part to stop funding crap content, and I need the community to help.

The first part is to create a list of all of these sites. They will show up as placement data in adwords, and often individually we might exclude them.  However, as a community we can create a master list of all of this junk.  We will share the list so that it can be added as exclusions to everyone’s account.  We can do the same for bing and yahoo.  I will post the list as a google document of slideshow sites.

Add your slideshow sites with this form

The second part is to urge the ad engines themselves to take action.  I want adwords to add a category placement exclusion for slideshow sites.  Bing and Yahoo should do the same.  We need to talk to our reps and tell them that this is hurting our ROI, and brand reputations.

exclusions list

The simple answer is whatever we can do to make clickbait unprofitable will make it go away.  Clickbait is done because it works.  It’s our job to break it.


By Steve Hammer

Steve is the President of RankHammer. When he's not working with clients to grow online, he's probably looking for a great restaurant no one's heard of yet. He is fully Adwords Certified (Analytics, AdWords and Display) and a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management.