One Weird Trick Companies Use To Get Your Attention!



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??


Whatever you say Ben.

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.


At least you’re honest with yourself Mediaite

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.”


Clickhole articles at their finest

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.


Really CNN? Really?

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.


Compare these two headlines from the New York Times




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!

Sam Kuchma





  1. Austin Ellis · ·

    Ah, great job. You stole my next topic. Oh well, it definitely is all-too pervasive on social media these days. I read the same thing from Ben Smith, and its absolutely ridiculous he considers BuzzFeed to be above clickbait. All of their pointless listicles and quizzes are not content that can really be considered to have much value. One thing I have always wondered is if some some clickbait is imbedded with malware. I am always afraid when a list or slideshow article only shows the first entry, and asks you press some sort of “next” button. Do you know is some of this is harmful from a data protection standpoint, or just harmful to reputable publications?

  2. I fall for this EVERY TIME. Just yesterday I was reading “31 Funny Tweets about Your Mom.” WHY DO I DO THIS!! Next thing I know its been an hour and I’m somehow clicking through “who wore this better” or “Look at these dogs in strange places.” I found this article extremely relatable and very interesting. South Park has an episode that talks about all the pop ups and fake news advertisements — I feel as though a lot of times clickbait is advertisements hidden within catchy titles. I also hate the websites that make me click 31 times on “next” to see the 31 funny tweets — yet I still do it. All of this leads to gathering more information on the user and… may I say Big Data?

  3. emilypetroni14 · ·

    Nice post. And, yes, those websites where each slide is on a new page and you have to click through, I end up giving up after a few slides. There is so much junk on the internet, and I think less of websites that have the clickbait ads on the bottom of them, CNN even does it! Most clickbait is easy to spot now so I don’t fall for it, but I am sure I have clicked on others that looked like normal articles. It doesn’t see like a very honest way to make money, seems a bit tacky.

  4. Great title and topic — love that you brought clickbait into it from the start. It definitely started with sketchier parts of the internet, but it seems like It has found a serious home in more legitimate websites. (Probably due to my own susceptibility) Clickbait dominates my Facebook newsfeed. Even websites like Business Insider and Time Magazine are flooding me with it. These are often interesting articles, but as you suggested, they’re nowhere near as promising as their title.

    Great analysis of this topic overall. It was very well researched, and I felt like you built your sources into the article eloquently, and it kept your blog more succinct. I’d be curious to see the demographic information behind who is primarily tricked. The elderly? Children?

  5. Seeing this at the bottom of each article I read is pretty aggravating, and the fact that it’s forcing professional journalism to stoop to its level goes from annoying to malicious. I am definitely on board with the click bait boycott. Beyond that, I wonder if people could use some of these psychological concepts, especially our tendency to click on lists and stories that establish a curiosity gap, to inform readers about news that is actually important.

  6. All the blogs are doing this now whether it’s pop culture, music, sports, or anything else it doesn’t matter. It’s annoying but I guess that’s just what internet ads are shifting towards nowadays. Until these sites have a reason to stop doing it, they’re going to continue to do so. I know Adblock Plus has began to take the role of deeming which ads are “appropriate” for users so maybe they’ll do something about this but probably not since the linked sites can just pay Adblock. I guess we’ll just have to be smarter about what we click on for now.

  7. It’s funny how well clickbait works. As I sit here reading these clickbait headlines I find myself wondering, “What happened to the cat!…Why was the dog sleeping in front of the door!” Even though I know these articles can’t possibly deliver on their promises, I’m drawn in to them. I make a conscious effort to resist clicking on them when I see clickbait articles pop up on my newsfeed, but it is difficult. The simple matter of fact is that they work. I was shocked to hear that the man from Viralnova working with 3 staff in one room is able to draw more visitors than the BBC to his website with no original content. With all that goes into content generation at BBC, it’s amazing that simply using clickbait is more effective. Blew my mind.

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