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Thesaurus.com and their clickbait newsletter

I’m all for encouraging people to click on quality content. If you trick me, getting my attention again is hard.

I’m subscribed to Thesaurus.com’s newsletter (not sponsored). I thought it would be a fun and quick way to possibly learn something while keeping my vocabulary fresh. As I’m writing more, I noticed I’m not being as diverse with my word choices as I’d like. On September 8th, I received this:

What is the synonym for goal?

While I knew the answer (intention), what does obloquy and encomium mean? Excited to learn something new (or remember something I forgot), I clicked on the word encomium to find out what it means. This is what I saw:

Do you see encomium on that page? No. They showed me content I had no interest in by making it appear as though intention, encomium, and obloquy were separate links. Why put boxes around them if they aren’t clickable links? Why aren’t there separate links to all four words? They had me on the page, and they lost me. Did I look up the definitions on their page? Nope. I did what I always do: I Google’d it.

By not having links to the individual words in the newsletter, they missed an opportunity (from me) to browse their site more. Now, I will only click on the link if I don’t know the synonym (let me be honest: I might Google it instead). They also have a failed metric. They know I clicked on the link, but they have the wrong reason for why I clicked on the link. I didn’t care about the definition for goal. If they had separate links on in the email, they’d know I cared about encomium. If they had the usable links for the words in the newsletter on the landing page, they would have seen me click from encomium to obloquy. From there, I might have been curious about something else. It depends on the words that were on those pages.

Just to make sure it wasn’t me, I showed the email to some friends, without mentioning anything about links. They thought the words with the boxes were links too. They did not look up the words on Thesaurus.com or anywhere else. When they didn’t receive the content they expected, they immediately lost interest. I asked if, after having this experience, would they sign up for their newsletter? They said “no”. I asked if they would use the site if they needed to look up words? None of them were enthused to use it. Why when they can Google it?

An easy fix is to either add links for the other words or remove the boxes around the choice words to make it clear those words are not separate links. I think the newsletter was designed to get maximum clicks, which is why the boxes are there, without balancing the ethics around the design choice. It’s like a thumbnail on YouTube that has nothing to do with the content in the video. Congrats, you got a click to the site. Unfortunately, to thrive, the goal should be to get consistent returning views to the site. For that, quality content is king.

In the end, clickbait rarely wins.