Clickbait. The scourge of the internet or a great way to be informed of exciting tidbits you’d never know otherwise? This is the grand debate of our time. Yes, in 2019 it’s all about advertising impact on the net and how it affects us as individuals – and clickbait plays a big part in this equation. But what exactly is clickbait and how is it being used online? Today we’ll take a look at this cheekily clever online tool.

What is clickbait? Origins in traditional media

Clickbait is anything that makes you click on a link to discover more. It could be an ad on your Facebook feed or an article shared in a group chat, or simply a link on one of your favorite websites.

What is Clickbait

You can easily liken it to the trashy magazine covers at your local newsagent. For instance, if you check out the latest cover of Australia’s New Weekly magazine, the headlines are: ‘ANGE’S HUNGER STRIKE Skeletal star down to just 35kg!’ (about Angelina Jolie, naturally), ‘Keith and Nicole THE BIGGEST FIGHT YET ’ (Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban), ‘SELENA COLLAPSES Broken by Beiber’s wedding’ (Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber) and our personal favorite, ‘BONUS SEALED SECTION Hollywood hunks and their junk.’

If you were at all interested in celebrity gossip, these headlines would make you automatically reach for the magazine and purchase it: who cares whether the stories in it are actually true! (Spoiler alert: they’re probably not).

How clickbait works online

Clickbait online is the same as these magazine covers. It’s generally a headline that makes you click through to view the content, rather than to purchase the magazine. Clickbait may also be a surprising picture or video, with a click for more.

Generally, we refer to clickbait as an attention-grabbing headline that leaves us disappointed when we actually click through to the site or page. It’s bait – but it’s a fishing expedition on their behalf, but one that just leaves you with an old boot on the end of the line. SAD!!!!

Clickbait doesn’t always lead to false information or a disappointing let down though. Now, clickbait techniques are used in real journalistic publications.

Recently, the top story on the reputed The Guardian website was ‘Russian professor found with woman’s arms admits murder.’ This headline has shock value, designed to horrify the reader and click to read more.

Considering that it hit the top story of the day, it’s safe to say that shock value entices a click. We’re bored of Brexit, oversaturated with Hong Kong protests.

There’s often a formula to clickbait

Have you ever noticed how many lists there are online? And how they’re getting more and more obscure? That’s because they follow a formula. SEO experts noticed that lists get more traffic, that’s why lists became popular, such as ‘10 Island Destinations That Are Totally Instagrammable.’

One formula you may have noticed recently is this one: ‘Brexit could be delayed after days of drama in the House of Commons. Here’s what happens next’ (via ABC News Australia). It’s that last bit that has been a clickbait addition that’s been around for a little while now – ‘Here’s what happens next.’ It captures the reader and makes them want to know more – hence the follow-up click.

As articles progress, the clickbait formulas change, as we wear of the existing ones, so these will always experience churn.

Why clickbait?

Website traffic makes the world go round (or at least generates money if there are ads on the website). More traffic, even without ads generating money, drives more visitors on a website, which means they may stay longer and have a look around. If you’re selling absolutely anything (or the ads thing) then there’s a greater chance that you’ll get money, so clickbait is one of the tricks of the trade.

What trade is that exactly? Online marketing. Online marketing is a field that has grown phenomenally over the course of the last 20 or so years, with the saturation of internet users around the world. As it grows it evolves, along with advertising techniques and search engine optimization, which drives web pages to the top of the Google results.

Case study in clickbait: iGaming

If you’ve ever searched for online gambling before, you might be surprised at the results that come up. For instance, if you are looking at dogslots.com, then automatically you might catch your eye on the FREE SLOTS text as one of the main headings at the top of the page. Everybody loves a freebie, so its eye-catching, and you’re compelled to click.

iGaming affiliate sites also use clickbait in the form of SUPER SPECIAL BONUSES and the like to encourage site viewers to click through to a given slots house using their particular affiliate link.

And it works – otherwise these sites wouldn’t exist. They aren’t gaming houses themselves, they simply make a little money off the top through each click through to the real slots house.

So, is this article clickbait?

Let’s examine the title of this article, shall we? ‘What is Clickbait and How is it Being Used Online?’ This isn’t exactly clickbait. The title lends itself more to an informational piece. And that’s exactly what we’ve intended to give you. This is designed to give you all the information you need, without a grabby headline and a disappointing let down.

We hope we haven’t disappointed with the content – and that you have learned something in the process. Don’t be fooled by clickbait, whether it’s from a reputable source or just a random website. The reality of the situation is that you will probably be let down by what is hiding underneath, or worse, be led to false information that you’ll end up repeating and sharing around. This is how disinformation spreads.

So, as our final word: just be aware of clickbait and the effects it can have.

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