BuzzFeed editor-in-chief has insisted the website doesn’t use clickbait to drive traffic, and said the practice is often misunderstood and incorrectly labelled.
In a blog post, Ben Smith responded directly to a recent comment made by the Daily Show host Jon Stewart, in which when asked about BuzzFeed and Vice he said: “I scroll around, but when I look at the internet, I feel the same as when I’m walking through Coney Island.
“It’s like carnival barkers, and they all sit out there and go, ‘come on in here and see a three-legged man!’ So you walk in and it’s a guy with a crutch.”
In response, Smith admitted it was the “best definition” he’d heard of clickbait, but insisted that BuzzFeed does not use the technique which he said was based on tricking users into clicking a link with a headline that promises more than it delivers.
“It suggests that Stewart, like many people in the media industry, confuses what we do with true clickbait,” he said. “In fact – and here is a trade secret I’d decided a few years ago we’d be better off not revealing – clickbait stopped working around 2009.
“The worst form of this online is on a pennies-per-click business model in the transactional netherworld of outsourced sponsored content sitting at the bottom of articles around the web,” he went on.
“All that matters in that space is the snappy headline. Grab the reader’s attention, get the click – even if this isn’t the crazier thing Ted Cruz has said yet; even if ‘Paris Hilton – topless’ is in fact demurely dressed and riding in a convertible; if this one easy trick won’t actually lose you weight; and if you actually can believe what happens next.”
Smith argued that clickbait headlines may be successful in tricking a user to load the content, but that increasingly angry readers would never share it, therefore distinguishing BuzzFeed’s widely shared content from clickbait.
“The best way to ensure your readers won’t choose to share a story or a post is to trick them,” he added. “Anyone who has spent the last 20 years online knows the specific disgust that comes with a headline that doesn’t deliver on its promise.
“It’s the kind of taste you get in your mouth from a glistening but spoiled peach.”