Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scent-Baiting: The Art of Almost Saying Something: AOL Home Page

I was surprised at myself the other day. Every now and then I still check my old AOL email account. It's mostly enewsletters and junk I just delete, but something strange was happening. Each time I logged in, I found myself reading these little 5 to 8 word snippets. I would find myself clicking on these links before I even realized it. How are they doing this? They are scent-baiting me! They intentionally leave out the explicit context on almost every news item. A Springsteen's bandmate is dead??? Was it Clarence or Max or Little Stevie?! Tempestt Bledsoe was a ho?! Say it isn't so! Click! AOL is doing the opposite of what most usability gurus say NOT to do by leaving out the specifics of what the link will take you to.

I hope that whoever designed this component for AOL got a big, fat bonus this year. They should just quadruple the size of this component and delete everything else. They provide just enough context to get you very interested and you click. Click click click. The more clicks, the more ads served up, the more money they get. I'd love to see the stats on this page or a heat map to see data that would support this. Here are some examples of AOL's scent-baiting (I put the areas where they bait us in italics):

AOL Links:

  • Springsteen's Bandmate Dies
  • Phone Giant Cuts 4,600 Jobs
  • Wal-Mart Recalls 12,000 Toys
  • 'Cosby' Kid Turns to Prostitution?
  • Harmful Plastic in Bottle Going Away
  • Likely Say Goodbye to These Stores
  • Singer Battles Back Against Critics
  • World's Oldest Hits a Milestone - How Old Is This American?

Other websites should take note, especially news organizations. Instead of CNN saying, "Clinton puts bin Laden in new ad" they could say, "Bin Laden used in new ad by presidential candidate." Instead of saying, "Suri Cruise's low-key birthday bash" they could say, "Low-key birthday bash for child of famous Hollywood couple." I wonder if this kind-of-explicit style of link language will propagate to other types of websites.

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