Clickbait is a term used to describe deceptive and misleading link texts and thumbnails, created with the mere purpose of seducing link clicks.
Clickbait is mainly used in digital marketing - for advertising and on social media. It is a means of driving more pageviews to a website and is often used to inflate the website’s revenues from pay-per-click advertising or other types of traffic monetization.
Quite frequently, clickbait may also be used by internet fraudsters, who resort to phishing attacks to steal personal information and distribute malicious files.
Why is it called clickbait?
“Clickbait” is a compound of two terms, and as the Urban Dictionary puts it, clickbait literally means “bait for clicks”. The term’s construction bears resemblance to “fish bait” - a common fishing term describing the fish hook that is disguised by an enticement and thus made attractive for fish to swallow.
How does clickbait work?
Clickbait takes advantage of a well-known psychological phenomenon, the so-called “curiosity gap”, which explains that we, as humans, always experience an urge to discover all the missing pieces of information.
With clickbait, the idea is that you’re only given fragments of information. This causes your curiosity to arise, forming the urgent need to click the link and thus “retrieve the missing pieces”.
Examples of clickbait
Clickbait is quite often resorted to by tabloids as opposed to respectable news sources. So simply digging through your Facebook newsfeed will provide you with quite a few examples.
Here, HaffPost is clearly exploiting our curiosity gap by making only part of the information available, and you feel the need to click the link to learn which movie the article is actually talking about.
Another schoolbook example of clickbait is this top right-corner ad. A famous brand has “done this again” - the phrase clearly hinting at some misdo or, on the contrary, at a huge success on behalf of Cadillac. But we have no way to learn what the article is about without clicking the link.
What’s a typical clickbait structure?
In most cases, all clickbait headlines follow a similar structure and rely on the same tactics.
The idea here is that shorter words are easier to read and understand and thus capture our attention more effectively.
The go-to phrases for a clickbait writer are “You won’t believe” or “Try this one simple trick”, promising something unprecedented, which you absolutely can not afford to miss.
Clickbait often tries to leave you on a cliffhanger - mentioning events without naming them directly (like “She did THIS to lose weight in one week”), thus creating a burning need to continue reading.
Multiple questions or exclamation marks stand out among the rest of your newsfeed items, attract attention and create a sense of importance.
Strong adjectives and superlatives
Whatever you come across in a clickbait headline is likely to be shocking, astonishing, sensational, the best, the easiest, or the quickest.
Internet slang abbreviations
OMG, WOW, or LOL are other means of catching the eye and grabbing our attention
Does clickbait work?
Despite all our conscious efforts, clickbait headlines touch the unconscious strings and quite often result in a huge amount of clicks.
However, after the over-promise in the headline, we tend to face disappointment upon clicking. For this reason, clickbait is considered a form of fraud and is generally fought by the biggest content providers.
Facebook, for example, promises to show clickbait posts to fewer people and, in the long run, even decrease the overall content exposure of a clickbait publisher.
Google, in its turn, has recently launched the so-called “Helpful content” algorithm update, said to fight clickbait search results and make sure top SERP positions are occupied by quality content “written by people, for people”.