Clickbait Fever Can End Forever Using Only This One Weird Trick

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --Facebook (FB), Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) created clickbait.

They are the companies that can kill it.

The problem, which people such as Facebook product director Mike Hudack feign ignorance of, is of their making.

The problem is their pay-per-click ad model.

Pay-per-click ads work only for the page on which the click occurs. A paid click is a rare bird, and it takes many, many ad impressions to get one.

Thus, we writers seek a haystack of impressions rather than the needle of an informed buyer. It doesn't pay to educate that buyer, placing brands by quality content. Only the click counts. The click is a purchase, and the purpose of journalism is to turn readers into buyers, to make money for advertisers.

Take the article you're reading right now at TheStreet (TST) as an example.

I'm not targeting everyone in the world with it. I am targeting only an informed investor, someone with money to put to work. If I can get just 3,000 of you together, to view ads from the good people at Charles Schwab (SCHW), you may get a good impression of that brand and move your account there.

I have.

But that's a complex sale. Luring you toward loyalty takes more than my effort. It takes the hard work of this entire staff. We work every day to find you and charge advertisers a premium to reach you.

On the other hand, your 16-year old kid might just click on one of the printed text ads surrounding this story and get led to a page like this.

That click is a direct action. It can be measured and, thus, rings our cash register directly.

Which ad is more effective? Which offers easier "monetization," as we say in the Internet biz? Is it the select ad to a select few, or the run-of-network ad that pays off in an instant?

What advertisers have found is that it's the run-of-network ad that pays. They can push that ad toward the people they want using the ad networks of search engines, and if there is some spillover to bored 16-year old kids, that's not a problem.

Besides, if your 16-year old clicks an ad on this page, I hear ka-ching. It's ka-ching for the advertiser and for the site where the clicked ad lives. By clicking that mouse button, that kid becomes more important than 1,000 informed investors who don't click.

Thus, every Web page becomes a lottery ticket. Web sites want as many lottery tickets as possible. They don't want to build a brand; they want a sale.

Thus, I make more money writing articles like "this one weird trick can end clickbait forever" than a thoughtful, researched piece on solar energy stocks. So does TheStreet. So, too, our advertisers.

Advertisers want quantity, not quality. They want lottery tickets, not relationships. They will take inefficient ad networks in order to generate those clicks. They value the click of your 16-year old more than they value a relationship with you.

Change that equation, Mr. Hudack, and you can get rid of clickbait. Change that equation, Mr. Hudack, and we in the media will follow. Do that one weird trick, give us back our premiums for attracting just the audience companies need to build their businesses, and we'll give you something you might want to read.

Not before.

At the time of publication the author owned shares of GOOG and SCHW.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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