Ever since Joseph Pulitzer moved to outsell William Randolph Hearst, clickbait has assured editors fat readerships—and the fat bonuses traditionally tied to newsstand sales.
"If you were good at writing smart, selling cover lines, it was like a gift," McDonell says. "Some of the best editors I worked with were lousy at it, in the way some people can’t tell a joke."
But if you lacked the comedian's gift, you could turn to tabloid tricks like "Garden of Eden Found!” and “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby.”
Today's hacks use slightly—but only slightly—different gimmicks.
"If you want a clickbait mantra to use this afternoon," McDonell says, "it helps to think like a behavioral scientist and not forget about the pull of upworthy motivation, information gaps, exclaimated questions (?!), pre-programmed cute-seekers, listicles and, of course, why everything works better if you include odd numbers."
But while clickbait builds readerships, it doesn't build trust; in fact, it diminishes it. That's why it's bad for your brand.
Trust comes from standing for something—from owning a viewpoint and covering a subject avidly, reliably and without compromise. And trust is prerequisite to any purchase.
As content marketing expert Tom Webster says, "When you continue to write "20 Ways to Write 15 Great Lists of 10," you're not standing for something other than traffic."
POSTSCRIPT: I initially considered headlining this post "Crap Content is Destroying the Ozone!" But headlines that start with "The Top 10" anything attract more eyeballs.