Clever clickbait: How and why it still hooked us in 2015


If you are reading this then chances are, as an internet user, you have fallen victim to clickbait at least once in your browsing history. Whether it was an offer that seemed too good to miss on Google or a sensationalised headline you saw while scrolling down your Twitter timeline, encountering clickbait is almost inevitable. So what exactly is clickbait?

Mark Gandey, content marketing specialist of Giraffe Social Media, wrote in this post that clickbait is:

“a form of advertising that relies on driving up readers’ curiosity in order to pull them to your website”

Headlines such as ‘You won’t believe this…’ and ‘This secret trick…’ are designed solely to play on the reader’s inquisitiveness in order to drive traffic to a webpage. While advertisers are no strangers to employing the most exaggerated and obvious forms of clickbait, journalists and media outlets are also guilty of using it to draw readers to their articles. However, they do so at the risk of losing reader loyalty if the content does not live up to the headline.

This is an issue that has been much debated in the past. While bloggers such as Gandey believe clickbait can be damaging to those who write worthy content, digital publishing editor, David Higgerson, doesn’t see the problem with encouraging readers to click a link to a webpage if it answers the reader’s questions.

A poll I took on Twitter showed that the majority felt that journalists sacrifice their integrity when an article that does not live up to the promise made by a captivating headline.

clickbait pollScreenshot taken from my Twitter.

Furthermore, after regularly checking the hashtag for clickbait on Twitter, I concluded that a large percentage used the hasthag in an attempt to discredit clickbait that linked to disappointing articles.

So with the general consensus seeming to be against the use of clickbait that fails to deliver on a promise and sites such as Facebook promising to crack down on the  amount invading our feeds (as reported by BBC Newsbeat) how and why has clickbait survived a clued up audience of 2015?

Well, media outlets need traffic to survive; in world where content is readily and vastly available, journalists need to make sure traffic is driven to their pages to stay competitive. Isla McKetta, content writer at SEO consultancy company Moz, concurs with this view in her post. She makes the valid point that just as attention-grabbing headlines were (and still are) essential for print publications to sell newspapers, they are of utmost importance for online media outlets to secure continued readership in a digital age.

It is for this reason that journalists have adapted, just as social marketer Jonathan Gebauer predicted in this post. A human interest slant seems to warrant a click according to this Business2Community post but the winning formula this year seems to be the more subtle forms of clickbait where the headline manages to reveal enough to hook the reader’s interest without giving too much away.

Perhaps this is why clickbait is still as prevalent today as it has ever been: it has just been cleverly revised to feed reader curiosity.  It seems that as long as articles live up to their provocative headlines then it is acceptable to use them. Controversially, Gebauer considered in his post, that maybe we just enjoy clickbait as a form of entertainment. If headlines don’t reflect the content, but we have clicked with no expectations and just simply for fun, then perhaps no harm is done.

Ultimately clickbait still exists and will continue to exist because we choose for it to and therefore media outlets will continue to adapt to our needs. As Sally Kohn said in this TED talk:

“Everything we click is a public act of making media. We are the editors, we decide what gets attention based on what we give our attention to.”

Header image taken by Chloe D’Costa.


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