If you’re unfamiliar with this term, you probably haven’t been on the internet long. While you may know what it is, the definition of clickbait isn’t exactly clear. Buzzfeed’s founder Ben Smith defines it as an article that doesn’t deliver on its headline’s promise, while others define its criteria as an article that misleads, sensationalizes or withholds information with the intent of getting the user to view the page.
No matter the definition, one this is for certain: clickbait works. Websites that generate clickbait articles on average receive far more views, shares and “likes” than their non-clickbait counterparts. BuzzFeed, the proverbial king of clickbait (although the founder would disagree), generates an average of 10 million unique users every single day, a statistic few websites can boast. I’m willing to bet you even clicked on this post due its clickbaitish headline.
You’ll Never Believe These Clickbait Headlines!
Clickbait headlines use a combination of buzzwords, lists and adjectives to grab a reader’s attention and entice them to click. It’s a good mix of unearned hyperboles, paraphrased quotes and withheld information. Along the with misleading headlines, Clickbait articles usually devote the majority of their page space to a iconic, sexual or graphic image. Once there, the reader usually finds the actual news story to be vastly underwhelming compared to the possibilities the headline suggested.
Simply put, the content doesn’t matter, the click does. The goal of websites like BuzzFeed isn’t to inform its audience, nor is it to promote an opinion or a view. The goal is to generate page views, which in turn generates ad revenue.
If you’re still unsure of what clickbait is, here are a few examples…
Is Elijah Wood a transgender celebrity? No. What does a scantly-clad woman have to do with retirement plans? Absolutely nothing. What details are contained in the cat article headline? None. Clickbait articles like this exist to mislead, evoke and grab our attention and emotions. While you may view clickbait as a minor annoyance, its presence on the the internet is beginning to create serious and far-reaching consequences
Doctors Hate Him! How One Man Discovered the Science behind Clickbait.
Several actually. And it wasn’t much of a discovery, the science behind why Clickbait works is pretty simple. Here are the 3 reasons you continually fall for clickbait. Number 2 will blow your mind!
1. The Curiosity Gap
When articles use superlatives and hyperboles in their headlines, curiosity is usually invoked. When an article tells you the main details of a story, nothing is left to the imagination. Humans crave knowledge instinctively, and not knowing something can be an uncomfortable feeling. Headlines that withhold details motivate a viewer to click on them and obtain that missing information.
2. Numbers and Lists
Umberto Eco claimed that humans “like lists because we’re afraid to die.” There’s comfort in clicking on an article that lists things. We can vaguely gage the length of the article that we’re about to read since it has a predefined endpoint. They organize information spatially which our brains enjoy. And are there really that many recipes you can make with Mac & Cheese??
3. Pulling on the Heartstrings
In a sense, news articles have always tried to manipulate our emotions with the intent of drawing us in. However with clickbait, the manipulation is clearly obvious. In 2014, two researchers looked at 70,000 headlines from four international media outlets and found that emotions play a large role in generating views. The articles with the most emotionally polarizing headlines obtained the largest mean popularity.
See Why Sites Are Changing EVERYTHING About How They Do Business!
So where is all this clickbait coming from? Who is generating all this content? Writers at Mediaite examined major news and media websites and found the top 10 offenders when it came to generating clickbait headlines.
Surprisingly, BuzzFeed ranks relatively low on the list. Many of their articles are quizzes or plainly-stated pop culture news, which are not in fact clickbait, despite how ridiculous the headline may sound (Which Ousted Arab Spring Ruler Are You?). Media sites like Viralnova and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze generate content that is almost entirely clickbait. Viralnova, which draws in an impressive 6.6 million viewers monthly, is run entirely by a Scott Delong and three freelancers from a garage in Ohio. Every morning, Scott scours websites like Reddit and BuzzFeed and repurposes the information he finds into his own articles. Scott Delong has shown other online media outlets that his method is a winning one. Viralnova generates several hundred thousand dollars in ad revenue a month and draws more readers than the BBC.
Since BuzzFeed’s founding in 2006, clickbait headlines have spread like wildfire across the internet, appearing on almost every website that generates revenue from advertising. The rise of clickbait has even led to the creation of Clickhole, a parody clickbait website whose motto is “Because all content deserves to go viral.”
Clickbait websites may seem like a harmless nuisance, but when they begin to draw more visitors than respectable news sites, the media landscape begins to shift towards an atmosphere of mediocrity and attention grabbing. I have no problem with seeing an article on Facebook telling me about “1 Rule for a Flat Belly”, but when a clickbait article appears on CNN or NBC, I can’t help but feel anger. Once respectable sources of news and information, companies like CNN are beginning to devote their web presence to generating clicks, not content.
As consumers of media spend more and more time on clickbait websites, traditional media companies scramble to reorganize and revamp their online presence. Articles no longer come from journalists, but freelancers, bloggers and vloggers. Costly seasoned journalists are being laid off and replaced with younger bloggers who can create twice the content that will generate twice the clicks. In an attempt to increase profit margins, media companies are abandoning expensive endeavors like international reporting and instead expanding their pop culture departments. Optimization software is often used to generate headlines that will garner the most views. News consultants like Frank N. Magid Associates are hired to tell media websites that things like weather, crime or celebrity scandals are what most audiences prefer. Companies that can’t generate the clicks and ad revenue of their competitors simply go out of business or are reduced to obscurity.
Clickbait articles aren’t going anywhere soon. Despite some attempts by companies to reduce clickbait, it will continue to crowd our webpages and news feeds. Paying for a subscription model like the WSJ or the Economist is a good way to avoid clickbait headlines altogether while receiving well-researched and thought provoking news. However, the best course of action any conscientious reader can make to fight clickbait is to simply not click on them. I understand that sounds futile, but a large number of people doing their part can have a large effect. Now check out the 14 worst clickbait headlines of all time!