How Commodity Content Has Ruined the Internet

In our ever-developing online universe, trends grow like wildfire both for better and for worse.

Commodity content such as clickbait and sensationalised headlines have taken over the internet, infesting social media, digital news outlets and once reputable websites with cheap, one-dimensional content designed to gain clicks and nothing more.

We’re firm believers that this manipulative tactic has ruined the internet, and we’re going to tell you why (without using shock titles or promising you pictures of dancing cats).

Why is commodity content produced?

The motivations behind producing commodity content are pretty straight-forward.
Back when the trend first emerged, the idea was that exciting, bold and shocking headlines were a cheap and innovative way to grab attention, increasing clicks and website visits. This ultimately validated funds being spent by advertisers on those sites.

The concept worked for a while – internet users were intrigued by this new form of content popping up all over the web and clicked their hearts away, promised with pictures of botched celebrity facelifts and washed-up child stars.

However, it soon became apparent that clickbait had little to offer consumers. In his Mashable article, Business Reporter Jason Abbruzzese aptly describes clickbait as tricking consumers combined with a lack of good quality content. We couldn’t agree more.

Big problem No.1: Clickbait destroys user experience

When the phenomenon first took hold, a large number of companies were falling over themselves to grab as many clicks as they could. As time has passed, consumers have grown tired with the constant disappointment of sensational headlines backed up with little more than poorly written fodder.

They click, they see irrelevant content and they leave, feeling disengaged and usually with a bad taste in their mouth. This results in no lead or conversion for the company, just a very high bounce rate and a poor-quality user experience to boot.

Research by Nielsen, commissioned by inPowered confirms this thought, revealing that 85% of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out trusted expert content – credible, third-party articles & reviews – when considering a purchase, with an average of 88% favouring expert content rather than branded content. A clear indication that commodity content contradicts consumer trends and preferences.

Big problem No.2: Commodity content compromises the integrity of online news and social media

In our blog ‘The truth behind clickbait headlines’, we focus on the damage clickbait has done to local and national news outlets as a result of sensationalised, misleading headlines. We exposed prime clickbait suspects across news outlets who incite fear daily via misleading headlines.

From The Sun sensationalising even the most tragic of headlines, to The Daily Mail’s poor-fact checking process, underhand tactics employed by a number of tabloids are compromising the reliability of online news outlets.

However, it’s not just media outlets who are reeling from the negative impacts of headlines. Social media is also in the midst of a clickbait crisis. Sensationalised headlines, misleading statements and inaccurate facts can be found all over social media. This is particularly concerning given that Reuters Institute research shows that in Europe, an average of 51% of people now rely on social media as a source of news, rather than printed newspapers.

Another issue comes with the rise of ‘Big Data’, which captures a vast amount of information about what we search for online and do on social media. According to research by SINTEF, 90% of all the data in the world was published in the last two years. Access to the data is readily available, so journalists use it to produce their news stories. However, the problem is that a large proportion of the information on social media is hearsay and can be misinformed.

The tides are turning on Commodity Content, but is it too late?

It’s not all doom and gloom – efforts are being made across the internet to counteract sensational, misleading content. In response to the clickbait craze, Facebook have introduced changes to their news feed which involve looking at the speed in which users return to their feed after clicking on a link in a bid to identify suspect content. They’ve also recruited humans to review thousands of headlines, splitting them into two categories: headlines that are backed up by their content, and misleading headlines.

Meanwhile, the UK government has also pledged to address the negative impacts of clickbait and low-quality news across news outlets. It has commissioned an expert panel to look into ways in which the free-press can be protected long-term.

Whilst we’re happy to see these steps being taken, we can’t help but feel that it’s too little too late. Underhand strategies have irreparably altered the integrity of the internet, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. But we’ll try not to stay down about it. Instead, we’ll focus on delivering the very best content strategies to our clients alongside organic, engaging content guaranteed to leave audiences wanting more.


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