The Tricks News Websites Use To Make Millions From Terrible Content

, Another rant from , 3 Comments

Admit it.
You totally clicked on this article because it had the words ‘Miley Cyrus’ in the description huh? It’s ok if you did. In fact I was counting on you to. Although, this article is all about why it sucks that you did.

A bit of a backstory first though.
I went to a website yesterday and these were the featured stories on the front page:


Billy Ray Cyrus – The man who’s testicles ultimately resulted in the downfall of journalistic integrity.

  • What Miley Cyrus did after the VMAs
  • “We’re actually all Martians” – Scientist
  • Man Steals Bike Seats to Sniff
  • Abbott and Rudd show their real colours
  • James Hird says sorry

One election story, a football story and three ‘human interest’ stories…

Of course, you’d expect this from a trashy tabloid magazine website, humorous blog or perhaps even The Onion (if they were having a really bad day).

However the website I was on in this case was – Australia’s leading newspaper/current affairs website. The number one website that a large amount of the Australian public (rightly or wrongly) go to for information on what’s going on in the world today.

In the same week that 1300 people (including children) died of a gas attack and the US once again began laying the groundwork to bomb yet another country unprovoked; it was Billy Ray Cyrus’s daughter acting like a drugged-up hooker on TV was the lead story on almost all major news networks.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the rapid decline in journalism and important worldly affairs.

I’ll let you know a secret … 

Newspapers and media agencies don’t care about keeping you informed because they think you are an idiot. An idiot who wants idiotic content.

And it’s not some elitist viewpoint that makes them think this way. At least not completely. We (the general public) are wearing a giant neon sign that has told them they are right. They are just giving us what we are telling . . .no. .  What we are yelling at them that we want more of. This was the front page on CNN – one of the largest news websites in the world!


NOTE: The ‘CNN Trends’ part of this image that mentions Brain-eating Parasite is also a reference to Miley Cyrus.

But why do they keep writing about rubbish like this?

Earlier in the year, Fairfax had just had a controlling amount of it’s shares acquired by mining magnate Gina Reinhart – who essentially ripped the heart out of The Age newspaper and turned it into a propaganda machine for her mining business (but that’s a whole other story).

At the time I spoke with someone who works in the Fairfax online department and was told in no uncertain terms, that online journalism is no longer about the story, it’s about the click.

(Some) Journalists are now paid on a page impression basis. If you get 10k clicks – you earn x amount of money. It’s in your best interest to do whatever you can to get that click, because that’s what success is based on.

A member of parliament using tax dollars to buy a $65,000 car is outrageous!  (1000 views)
But an article about Lindsey Lohan shitting her pants in public – now THAT is something I will read! (350,000 views)

Clicks result in ad views. Each view incrementally adds up. If every page view is worth 5c in advertising cash – 10,000 views is quite lucrative. 1 million views – WOAH!

The Tricks That Get The Clicks?

The Title

Any online marketer will tell you, the title of your article is integral to getting a click. The trick is to immediately grab the reader’s attention and make them want to find out more. That’s why these articles will receive thousands of visits, even though the article is generic rubbish you probably otherwise wouldn’t have read.

The Truth about Chicken nuggets

Suggestive & Provocative Images

Similar to the title, if you can use an image that will enhance intrigue of the article, then the reader will likely click through in order to see more.

Galleries (The page refresh method)

I feel dirty admitting to this one, but I’ve actually implemented this for a couple of big sites before. One of the oldest tricks in the digital advertising book is to create a gallery of images with each image view resulting in a page refresh. If you view an album of 100 photos, that’s 100 page refreshes. If the page contains 4 ads, that is 400 ad views. Now multiply that by 30,000 visits – Ka-ching!
It sucks for users, but those in charge of online revenue adore this tactic.

Related Story Links

Including links through to other related stories can result in multiple ad views, not to the extent of the above mentioned gallery option, but still enough to yield a good financial return.

Journalism is dead. Miley Cyrus killed it.

Paginated articles

American media sites love this one.
You may have one large article (or in some cases not very large), but paginating that article into 3,4 or 5 different pages to read the entire article. That’s 5 Ad group views for the price of one article.

Paginated Article Example

There are a lot of other factors that influence what news is provided and promoted to the general public no doubt, but one that we can directly influence is what type of articles makes money for these sites.

Newspaper sites don’t care about keeping you informed, they care about your eyeballs seeing the latest Toyota ad. That’s all. If real journalism proves to be most lucrative, then we are more likely to see real journalism be prioritized over rubbish, tabloid crap.

We are selling out our intelligence and right to be kept informed so a media company can make half a cent from a banner ad.  Now ask yourself, is THAT worth trading to read about which 70 year old an Olsen twin is dating or see a photo of Kanye West’s baby?  I hope your answer is no.


Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times,, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.


3 Responses

  1. Gurvoir

    August 30, 2013 10:56 AM

    Thanks for highlighting this issue Daylan. The amount of cr-p that is considered news today is laughable. While advertising has always supplemented news is some shape or form, the idea of paying to read The Age or Herald Sun online is, to put it very lightly, somewhat unappealing.

    I think if news agencies invested more in real journalists and quality content then people would pay to read it. In the meantime it looks like sensational headlines are here to stay.

    • Daylan Pearce

      August 30, 2013 11:26 AM

      Good point Gurvoir!
      Not only are they cashing in on ads, but the paywalls are now ensuring they get to double dip.It’s up to the readers to vote with their clicks and bounce rate now.

  2. Alistair Lattimore

    November 13, 2013 1:19 AM

    I very rarely read any of the News Corp or Fairfax online newspapers, their sites aren’t about news in any shape these days in my opinion. I prefer to read news on, it is hell fast, easy to read, doesn’t contain any advertising and they are focused on reporting on news – not ‘human interest’ stories (read: pageview journalism).