“You Won’t Believe What this Old Lady Is Saying About Sex”

“Have You Ever Been Accused of These Ridiculous Crimes?”

Admit it. Like many of us, you’ve clicked on these types of links. We know it’s going to disappoint. We know it’s a waste of time. We know we’re being duped.


We’ve been baited. And we’ve clicked. Yes, we are victims of the Clickbait.

What makes a clickbait? The definitions vary but most agree that they are used to generate advertising revenue. Each visitor to a certain page via a click bait link generates revenue for the site owner. Usually, the content is low quality (i.e. a waste of time), inaccurate and at times, downright misleading.

It is now so prevalent that people have mostly accepted it as a normal aspect of the online world.

The History of the Clickbait

While the term is certainly new, the practice can be traced back to the nineteenth century, in print form.

They called it “yellow journalism”, after a very popular comic strip published in the New York Journal during that time.

Publishers used comic strips like this to increase readership and beat the competition. Sound familiar? That’s because the exact same thing is happening today. The only difference it is now found in the digital platform, and the comic strips have been replaced with memes, videos and top ten lists.

But yellow journalism was not limited to the comic strips. Misleading headlines became rampant during those days. And the practice, sad to say, continues even today.

Types of Clickbaits

  • Article Headlines

In my book, there are two types of clickbait headlines.

  1. Blatant headlines – These types of websites exist solely for one reason and that is to produce nonsensical articles with made up headlines. A general example could be honest tips about improving public speaking skills. A blatant clickbait headline will be “You’ve never heard of these public speaking tips before. Number 5 will amaze you.” It defeats the credibility.
  2. Hangdog headlines – these are articles that have honest to goodness intentions but have the reputation to be clickbait headline. Buzzfeed articles are famous for coming up with such titles. And these are usually enumerated tips and tricks and are part of a whole article. “23 documentaries you need to watch” is an example with a good intention of presenting you with a great list of documentaries you’ll probably end up watching. But the title is short of presenting at least one title of the 23 documentaries.

When you are creating headlines for your articles, give it much thought because you could be creating the next dreadful clickbait headline. If you are producing content, research on what others’ headlines are. Are they clickbaits? We have a neat tool in ZoomSphere for you to find out a list of mentions on a specific topic you are tracking down. Our Social Media Feed module has an integrated Search for you to test queries on specific keywords or phrases. In this way, you can see what has been written about the topic and stay away from possible clickbait headlines.

  • Video Captions and Thumbnails

Youtube is teaming with thumbnails that have nothing to do with video at all. Facebook videos aren’t spared either. You might have fallen victim to an interesting caption only to find out 2 minutes into the future, the finale isn’t going to happen or the iconic Evil Dead character screams to blow your eardrums out to serve the day’s shock factor.

Facebook Cracks Down

In response to the growing cancer of clickbait, Facebook announced it was introducing new algorithms to crack down on clickbait posts. The team categorized “tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait” by applying two key points:

  1. If the headline withholds information required to understand the article; and
  2. If the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.

Using the commonly used phrases found in such clickbait headlines, Facebook then built a system to identify them. It kind of works like spam filters.

The effect? Less clickbait headlines on our newsfeed.

The Psychology behind Clickbait

But what makes us click? And what makes us keep on clicking?

According to Jonah Berger, New York Times bestselling author and professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, emotion plays a big part. “Anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, surprise—all of these are punchy emotions that clickbait headlines rely on,” he says.

Another factor is anticipation. We tend to click on these headlines because of the pleasure we can derive from it. In fact, we don’t even get the reward in the link itself. It is found in the idea in and of itself. That headline you saw gave you the little boost in dopamine or the so-called happy hormone.

Curiosity is an interesting thing. It is a major factor in clickbaiting. Those headlines always piques our interest because it doesn’t give away the answer. And it presents it in a way that we become drawn to click and find out. Prof. George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, cofounder of behavioral economics, is somewhat of an expert in curiosity. In fact he wrote a paper on it.

Say you don’t click. Say you are not curious. But something else comes into play. Deprivation is also a powerful psychological tool. You now feel the need to know the information. So you can either click on the link or look for another way to find out. Which would we usually pick?


Bad for Business

Clickbait has worked for some years now. And there definitely is money there. But if you want to boost your business, you should stay clear of using clickbait headlines.

While it is possible to make a video, meme or post viral, it’s not necessarily going to translate to revenue or a boost in customer base. That’s because most people will not stay on your page if you lured them using trickery. Nobody enjoys being duped. So instead of making potential clients check out the rest of your website or page, they will end up leaving right away.

Let us put it this way: remember when you were clickbaited? Remember how you felt when you were disappointed by the content? Did you like the website for it? Do you even remember which site it was?

My Final Thoughts

What clickbait headlines do for you is drive broad traffic. Not targeted traffic. While advertisers continue to use this method, it is a fad and the model will eventually find its glorious demise. In the short term, this is beneficial for you if you don’t intend to be credible and reputable. But if you are a brand that aims to have a competitive edge, there are more ways of creativity. As a general rule, quality trumps quantity. It’s not how many clicks or visits you get, it’s how many people stay on.