What Is Clickbait?


Every year in September a carefully selected group of words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary, words that have become so ingrained within our lexicon that they’ve earned the right to appear within the hallowed pages of the OED. Along with words such as scrumdiddlyumptious, Yoda-like and moobs is the inclusion of the word clickbait, but what exactly is clickbait?

Clickbait is the act of intentionally over-promising in an attention grabbing  headline or images.  We see clickbait all the time within our day to day lives, it is all over social media normally with the titles ‘you’ll NEVER believe it…’  or ‘what happened next will shock you’ all these tempting phases are an attempt to lure you in and spark your curiosity to gain a click.

For example  ‘Computer Keyboard Shortcuts’ would not be viewed as clickbait whereas ‘Beyoncé’s Favourite Keyboard Shortcuts’ or ‘Using Keyboard Shortcuts Could Help You Lose Weight’ would be.

These posts get a lot of clicks, and the more clicks they get the more prominently they will appear in your social media feeds. Over time, these clickbait stories can drown out the content you actually want to see.

Why do people do it?

The assumption is that you’d want a user to do more on your website than simply click however in the world of clickbait clicks are the prize. Most sites that use clickbait use numbers such as page views or unique visitors to measure success.

Some online content creators are guilty of using clickbait to promote their work and it works, curiosity gets the best of you and you click. Readers take the bait and the publisher is rewarded with yet another click.

Due to the vast and ever-changing nature of the internet, getting your page viewed is difficult. Content creators are faced with constantly changing algorithms that can propel them to success or simply dismiss their work, attention grabbing headlines are therefore a safe bet.

The grey area

How do you decide what is and isn’t clickbait?  Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith’s claim that his website “doesn’t do clickbait” raised several eyebrows in the media industry, however, he based this statement on the fact that his website delivers the content that the headline promises, regardless of how attention-grabbing they may be. There is constantly an ongoing discussion on what should and shouldn’t be classed as clickbait.

For some the distinction lies in deception, if the headline promises some magical weight loss trick and then doesn’t deliver the promised content then this is clickbait. However, for others simply using a catchy or provocative headline is enough to be seen as clickbait.