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Sex and Click Counts: The use and abuse of “link-bait” and using sex to sell

Everything on the Internet is driven by clicks. It is how the value of things on the Internet are measured. The success of a site or an article on a site is judged primarily by how many clicks it got (there are other measures but we will return to that later). Advertising on Google and Facebook costs advertisers money only when someone clicks on an ad. In Facebook’s case you can pay for “Likes” and get a measure of how many Likes you are getting for clicks.

Even on The Conversation, authors are given feedback on their articles by how many “Readers” they have for an article. The graph below is my reader counts over the past couple of years.

Reader Counts on The Conversation

There are a number of problems with this however that may seem obvious but are often ignored in the use, and abuse, of click counts. The first is that clicks are not necessarily an indication of whether someone spent any significant time on a page or read an article. In fact, they are a poor measure of that. Google provides a free service called Google Analytics that is able to provide detailed analysis of visitors to a web site and give additional measures that tell us more about what someone did after they clicked on a page.

Of the measures, for someone who is interested in a single page, or article, the average visit duration is the important measure. This tells you whether someone has just clicked on the link, found out the article wasn’t about sex and then “bounced” straight out. If you add terms like sex or even inflammatory comments into a title, you are likely to see high click counts with people not stopping to see what the article or page was about. Google provides even more detail about “Engagement” by telling you what percentage of people spent less than 10 seconds, less than 30 second, less than 60, etc.

The picture below is of a site I recently set up and the results of a mail-out we did to advertise the site https://www.class2go.uwa.edu.au. You can see that most of the traffic came from Perth where the email was sent to and also how long the visitors spent on the site. When you look at the Engagement you can see a distribution of pageviews and how long each of these pageviews was for.

Google Analytics of www.class2go.uwa.edu.au

Engagement for www.class2go.uwa.edu.au

The problem with click counts as I have alluded to is that it doesn’t give the whole picture. It is easy to misinterpret that as being representative of having something that people have valued. The Conversation also provides data on how many times people shared a page or article which does give another measure of the level of engagement with the content but this is also not perfect. This is because, all of this leads to the temptation of skewing content to something that appeals to a large audience. Writers of tabloid journalism know this well and it is tempting when being measured by click counts to fall into this trap. What sells? Sex. So if you want to increase your click count, write about sex or put sex into the title or allude to it.

It is not surprising that sex sells on the Internet. Around 30% of Internet traffic is related to pornography. I would argue however that given there is already so much of it, we really don’t need any more.

Even if it does get your click motor running.