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A Story to Watch Group

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Before the Internet, a marketing practice known as bait-and-switch used similar dishonest methods to hook customers. In extreme degree, like bait-and-switch, clickbait is a form of fraud. (Click fraud, however, is a separate form of online misrepresentation which uses a more extreme disconnect between what is being presented in the frontside of the link versus what is on the click-through side of the link, also encompassing malicious code.) The term clickbait does not encompass all cases where the user arrives at a destination that is not anticipated from the link that is clicked.


A defining characteristic of clickbait is misrepresentation in the enticement presented to the user to manipulate them to click onto a link. While there is no universally agreed-upon definition of clickbait, Merriam-Webster defines clickbait as "something designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest."[9] states that clickbait is "a sensationalized headline or piece of text on the Internet designed to entice people to follow a link to an article on another web page."[10]

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith states that his publication avoids using clickbait, using a strict definition of clickbait as a headline that is dishonest about the content of the article. Smith notes that Buzzfeed headlines such as "A 5-Year-Old Girl Raised Enough Money To Take Her Father Who Has Terminal Cancer To Disney World" deliver exactly what the headline promises. The fact that the headline is written to be eye-catching is irrelevant in Smith's view since the headline accurately describes the article.[11]

Facebook, while trying to reduce the amount of clickbait shown to users, defined the term as a headline that encourages users to click, but does not tell them what they will see. However, this definition excludes a lot of content that is generally regarded as clickbait.[3]

From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presented little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead used eye-catching headlines that included exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.[14][15] One cause of such sensational stories is the controversial practice called checkbook journalism, where news reporters pay sources for their information without verifying its truth. In the U.S. it is generally considered an unethical practice, as it often turns celebrities and politicians into lucrative targets of unproven allegations.[16] According to Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, "this thriving tabloid culture has erased the old definitions of news by including tawdry and sensational stories about celebrities for the sake of profit."[16]

There are various clickbait strategies, including the composition of headlines of news and online articles that build suspense and sensation, luring and teasing users to click.[23] Some of the popular approaches in achieving these include the presentation of link and images that are interesting to the user, exploiting curiosity related to greed or prurient interest.[19] It is not uncommon, for instance, for these contents to include lewd image or a "make money quick" scheme.[19]

Clickbait is also used in abundance on streaming platforms that thrive with targeted-ads and personalization. At the International Consumer Electronics Show, YouTube revealed that most of the videos watched and watch-time generated did not come from Google searches, but from personalized advertisements and the recommendations page.[24] Recommendations on YouTube are driven by a viewers personal watch history and videos that get an abundance of clicks. With a streaming platform like YouTube, which has upwards of 30 million active users a day, the videos that are watched are very likely to be that with clickbait in either the title or thumbnail of the video, garnering attention and therefore clicks.[25]

By 2014, the ubiquity of clickbait on the web had begun to lead to a backlash against its use.[7][26] Satirical newspaper The Onion launched a new website, ClickHole, that parodied clickbait websites such as Upworthy and BuzzFeed,[27] and in August 2014, Facebook announced that it was taking technical measures to reduce the impact of clickbait on its social network,[28][29][30] using, among other cues, the time spent by the user on visiting the linked page as a way of distinguishing clickbait from other types of content.[31] Ad blockers and a general fall in advertising clicks also affected the clickbait model, as websites moved toward sponsored advertising and native advertising where the content of the article was more important than the click-rate.[21]

Web browsers have incorporated tools to detect and mitigate the clickbait problem while social media platforms such as Twitter have implemented algorithms to filter clickbait contents.[32] Social media groups, such as Stop Clickbait,[33][34][35][36] combat clickbait by giving a short summary of the clickbait article, closing the "curiosity gap". Clickbait reporting browser plug-ins[37] have been also developed by the research community in order to report clickbait links for further advances in the field based on supervised learning algorithms. Security software providers offer advice on how to avoid harmful clickbait.[38]

Clickbait is a sensationalized headline that encourages you to click a link to an article, image, or video. Instead of presenting objective facts, clickbait headlines often appeal to your emotions and curiosity. Once you click, the website hosting the link earns revenue from advertisers, but the actual content is usually of questionable quality and accuracy. Websites use clickbait to draw in as many clicks as possible, thus increasing their ad revenue.

There are a few common elements used in clickbait content, such as vague headlines and images that let your imagination run wild. Clickbait also uses shock and outrage to grab your attention, as well as numbered lists, like 17 Facts You Won't Believe Are True. Many links use a combination of these elements to lure you into clicking.

Publishers who practice clickbait social strategy the most reliably are often viral mills like Distractify and ViralNova. (ClickHole is a fun example because it parodies clickbait so effectively that its headlines still work as clickbait.)

Over time, content marketers in virtually all industries have decided to try and manufacture their own viral successes by imitating the style and format of clickbait web content popularized by sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, the two biggest and best clickbait producers on the web.

Of course, the traditional newspaper industry is no stranger to many of the concepts of clickbait, and has been using them expertly to sell papers for more than one hundred years. Despite being almost universally reviled for their lack of journalistic integrity, British tabloids are famous for their use of many of the techniques common to clickbait in an attempt to boost their circulations.

As the rules of ethical SEO have developed and evolved, linkbaiting has become less common (though great content will always attract a healthy amount of external links). For now, though, clickbait is still very much in vogue.

As the singular goal of creating clickbait, it should come as no surprise that more pageviews is the first pro of this type of content. If pageviews are your only goal, then clickbait is an excellent way to get them.

The third benefit of clickbait is brand awareness. If clickbait results in more pageviews and social shares, it follows that more people will be exposed to your brand as your content spreads across the web.

It almost goes without saying that no content marketing technique, including clickbait, is without its drawbacks. Although great clickbait can be a valuable tool to content marketers, there are several pitfalls you should bear in mind.

Here at Sucuri we suspect everything, especially when your friends start to share content written in another language with clickbait headlines. Malicious Facebook posts are one way that hackers can use social engineering to attract and attack victims.

Alas, if enlightenment could be achieved by clickbait, the whole world would be enlightened right now. It would justify all the mindless time I've spent on various forms of clickbait over the years. Sadly, that time is gone forever. Was it worth it? I'm not happier for biting those hooks. However, I could make a strong case that I would have been more productive if I had not clicked the bait. It's kind of funny that I'm a grown-up, a psychologist, and have written a book about the power screens have over us, and I still sometimes fall prey to clickbait. What's going on here?

Before we go into how clickbait works, let's define it. I like the Merriam-Webster definition better than Wikipedia's version. M-W defines clickbait as: "Something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest."

Sometimes clickbait is more like bait and switch. That is, we read a catchy headline or link, click it, only to find ourselves enveloped in an ad. The majority of clickbait is of the "dubious value" variety. There is content when we click on the link, but it is heavily wrapped in advertisements. Thus, the article or video is in actuality a lure that exposes us to the ad, which is the true purpose of the content. When enough people are exposed to the ads, there will be a percentage of us who become buyers of the products being marketed. Again, we know this clickbait model works well enough because, if it didn't, it wouldn't exist. It's a product of Darwinian capitalism.

There isn't just one simple answer to this question, but let's cover one of the reasons we can't seem to resist clickbait. We humans are drawn to seek out information in our world because it has survival value. We forage for information much in the way our ancestors foraged for food. This is "hardwired" into us. Clickbait is the promise that unbelievable, provocative, or shocking information will be revealed if we just click that link. 041b061a72


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