Click Bait: Does the Internet Really Need it?

The amount of click bait ads online today would suggest people have very short attention spans and get easily lured in by sensationalism. The digital age has brought us access to so much information in just a few clicks of the mouse button or the remote control. Everything from the news, TV and the internet are somewhat glorifying sensationalism rather than giving us the truth. Have you ever felt that you’re being played as dumb individuals whenever you watch the news or scroll through a media site?

Fox, CNN, the BBC and other major news networks are doing that without you knowing it. If you’re aware of it, then you have the choice of not watching or following it. If you’re gullible, you’ve probably been the subject of click bait. Why do you think the Kardashians are famous? Because many people love sensationalism they use to advertise themselves. Some people just love to know what other people doing. Gossip and publicity are making people like these more famous and marketable.

Sensationalism and Yellow Media Defined

Sensationalism is defined as the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy to provoke public interest or stir excitement. Mostly applied to media, sensationalism can also be applied to biases in mass media where events and stories are over-hyped and presented from one view that doesn’t give the whole truth. It can include presenting stories or reporting about generally insignificant matters and/or events that don’t influence overall society. The newsworthy topics are presented in a biased, trivial or in a tabloid manner as compared to the set standards of professional journalism.

Yellow journalism on the other hand is a kind of journalism that presents little or no research to present news stories but instead uses attention catching headlines just to sell more newspapers, get more clicks or subscriptions. This kind of journalism takes advantage of exaggerations, sensationalism and scandal-mongering.

Sensationalism and yellow journalism are usually blamed for the “infotainment” style of many news programs around the world. Yellow journalism and news sensationalism have 5 characteristics according to Frank Luther Mott:

  1. Scare headlines in huge print to present minor news
  2. Lavish use of imaginary drawings or pictures
  3. Using fake interviews or misleading headlines, pseudoscience, fake tips from so-called experts
  4. Use of dramatic sympathy to portray an underdog against the established system
  5. Emphasis on Sunday supplements that include comic strips in newspapers or fun non-news related segments on news TV.

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Sensationalism and yellow journalism are not just confined to the media. It has spread its influence to the internet and many websites and blogs are thriving with attention-grabbing headlines. It’s called click bait. You may not or may know that you’ve encountered it with websites like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, TMZ or 9Gag.

What Is Click Bait?

Click bait, also known as link bait, is a term used to describe a type of hyperlink on a blog site or a webpage that attracts or entices a visitor to click and continue reading an article, watching a video, or visiting a website. Most click bait links forward a user to a page that requires payment, registration or a series of pages that help drive views for a specific site. It can also point to any web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue. For instance, click bait has become a big issue on YouTube. It does this at the expense of accuracy, quality and mostly relying on sensationalised headlines to attract click-through. Most click bait headlines are focused on exploiting the so-called curiosity gap which provides just enough information to make any site visitor curious, but is not enough to satisfy the person’s curiosity without clicking through to the content link. “You’ll never guess what happens next” is a popular one.

The internet did not invent click bait, but it certainly adapted practices from yellow journalism to get results. Whether people accept it or not, click bait is a powerful tool. Its simple use of wording and appealing to our human sense of curiosity means that it works a lot of the time, even if it isn’t good marketing or advertising practice.

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Facebook and Click Bait

Many internet users have a love-hate relationship with click bait and it has somehow changed the way content and information is shared over different social media sites, blogs and websites. Facebook has tackled the issue of click bait many times, but scroll through your newsfeed and you are guaranteed to find something that uses click bait if you are following any company pages or groups.

Facebook defines click bait as when a publisher posts or uploads a link with a headline that encourages Facebook users to click through to see more without telling them much information about what they are about to see. Although Facebook takes spam content quite seriously, they will not demote links that are based on verbal cues. According to Facebook, one way of checking if an ad uses click bait is how much time people spend reading the article away from Facebook. Let’s say a person clicked on an article and spends time reading it, it usually means that person clicked through to something valuable and worth reading. Now if that person clicks through to a link and then went back immediately to Facebook, it means that person did not find anything useful or informative. Facebook uses this information to determine click bait-heavy ads from other content.

Another factor that Facebook looks at is the percentage of users clicking on the content compared to people sharing and discussing it with their friends. If a lot of users click on the said link but only a few people click on “Like” or made a comment on the story when they go back to Facebook it suggest that users did not click through to something that was useful to them.

Issues with Click Bait and Its Applications

With sensationalism and yellow journalism comes many ethical issues regarding their practice. And since click bait is closely similar to the two, there are always questions asked around its legitimacy and if it’s ethical.

The issue with click bait is that the reader or site visitor is being manipulated into clicking something that is misleading. Click bait is said to be more annoying as compared to the old ways of flogging newspaper stories because the readers are being treated as if they are stupid. Click bait is not one-dimensional and click bait is one way many media companies, websites, blog sites and marketing firms are trying to solve an existing problem which is finding a business model that does not require or depend on physical scarcity. According to many marketing experts, click baits are truly effective at driving traffic and customer attention because they are like games. Headlines like “you’ll never guess to what happened next” call for the reader to guess what is happening next and then verify that guess by clicking on the link and reading the article. It will somehow create value because there will be a chance that the reader will be rewarded with the smug satisfaction of being correct. Is this considered good content?

Maybe there’s some value in it or maybe not but the real issue with most click bait is the sensationalised and clever headlines which often lead to annoying and disappointing articles and other content.

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Click bait can be considered a powerful tool, however, that doesn’t make it good practice. Some of the most popular sites today obviously use click bait, and it obviously works against certain demographics and audiences. Those internet users who are switched on and can identify click bait easily have a better ability to ignore it or accept it for what it is and not expect too much from that content.

Click Bait Secrets Exposed

Below are some click bait secrets that make it work. You can use this to your advantage or to help yourself avoid it.

The headline is everything. Content is secondary importance for most click bait websites. Unlike traditional online or digital marketing, the aim of click bait sites is to generate page views, which in turn generates into advertisement revenue. Click bait sites don’t usually sell any products or services or encourage opinions or a person’s view. Click baits play on curiosity by making headlines with just enough information to tease you and at the end make you click.

They spread like the common cold. Click bait is designed to maximise on setup of social networking sites, one of which is the ability to view other user’s activity and if the conditions are just right, you don’t even need to click or share or like. Just clicking the link will increase its visibility within your network and even without you realising it, you’re helping the link spread.

They are here to stay. Most forms of online and digital marketing are told that content has to serve a long-term goal, engaging the customer and attract rankings and SEO traffic to convert. Click bait doesn’t have any of these goals. The aim of click bait articles is to get a person on their site and read as many pieces as possible. It’s easy marketing and therefore sites will continue to use it.

Gullible clicks. We’re all guilty of being gullible of clicking links online. Most of us have lost count of the number of times we’ve visited Buzzfeed, 9Gag, TMZ or Upworthy or clicked a link on Twitter or Facebook. We all know that it’s highly possible that some of these links are nonsense but still find yourself clicking on the link just to know what happens next.

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Short and simple. Most click bait articles doesn’t go for more than 700 words and heavily rely on video and images. Some of the successful click bait contents are barely 200-300 words with a short intro and a short conclusion.

Quantity, not quality. Many click bait websites concentrate on getting traffic from individual stories as compared to news feeds and homepages. And because of the quantity, readers need to spend a lot of time and energy in keeping up with catchy content every day and sacrificing quality.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Click Bait

As the guidelines and rules for ethical SEO have evolved and developed, click bait use is becoming less accepted and great content will always attract a good amount of external links. Although less common, it’s still very much in vogue. If you want to appeal and make people share your content, deliver value and not empty promises of interesting content. Just like any other things, click bait has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include:

  1. More page views
  2. Big potential for social media shares and virality
  3. Enhanced brand awareness

Click bait will always have a negative connotation because of many websites having misleading headlines and catch phrases. Click bait is and can be an important marketing tool if used right, but it has disadvantages.

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Disadvantages of click bait include:

  1. Internet users are more aware of sensationalism, and it gets old fast
  2. More clicks doesn’t mean more readers
  3. Misleading headlines damage brand image and create trust issues
  4. Page views are less relevant these days compared to metrics like total time reading


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Creating Click-Worthy Headlines Without Click Bait

According to a number of marketing experts, if a headline is not good, the article may be deemed irrelevant. They also added that it doesn’t matter what goals you have for your content marketing, if you’re not able to write headlines that will get people’s interest and if your content is irrelevant, then surely you will not get any online traffic. How do you create headlines that are shareable without using manipulation?

1. Understanding How Click Bait Works

Click bait is attractive because the human brain starts craving the information that is left out of the headline. The human brain is not content with the imbalance or the sense of incompleteness that a person feels after reading a teaser for the content to come. Readers want to know what to expect when they click on the given headline. People want to know what they are going to get without making them feeling tricked or duped.

2. Benefit-driven Headlines

You can make the same sense of disequilibrium with a benefit-driven headline like “20 Delicious Turkey Recipes for Ordinary Days” or “15 Best Practices in Maintaining Your SQL Server” or “10 Delicious Ways to Cook Eggs”. The headlines leave enough information to make the readers to want more and the benefits-driven headline is telling them what to expect in the full content.

3. Headline Brainstorming and using Email Lists in A/B Testing

Some publishers send 2 subject lines to a percentage of a chosen list. For example, one publisher send 10% one version of a headline and the other 10% with another version of the headline. After a couple of hours or after a day, you will be able to see which headline performs best. After getting the feedback, the publisher will send the headline to the last 80%

To generate brainstorming headlines, you need to get the people responsible for content creation. Often, you start with writing a headline, people start writing and then discard it then write and erase some more until they get the perfect headline. Next step, you have to keep in mind that the readers are likely to resonate with headlines that convey the value of clicking and that it aligns with their interest and goals.

4. Optimise Keywords That Will Generate Traffic

A headline will not work if you’re trying to get a keyword into the headline, instead go with clickable headlines that generate long-tail keyword traffic. Optimise your headline to create traffic.

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Whatever your marketing strategy is, it all boils down to this. As a business with an online presence, one of your primary jobs is to create traffic on your blog and website. You want people to visit your site and read, watch and share your content because they get value, information and some level of benefit from it. In return these people will click and convert because you have delivered valuable content to them without any tricks or manipulation. Don’t be a click baiter!


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