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Why Clickbait Works and How You Can Avoid It

Why Clickbait Works and How You Can Avoid It

Consider this your guide to clickbait. Learn what it means, why it works, and why overuse of the term can be more harmful than clickbait itself.

We often associate the word “clickbait” with frustration. The word brings to mind false promises and wasted time. But all articles are not created equally, nor are all of them clickbait. Learn about what clickbait actually is, and why it works.

What is Clickbait?
The term “clickbait” can be defined as content that has an intriguing headline, but once you click on the link, the actual content lacks value and quality. However, in popular usage the term is often used to refer to personal dislike for an article, or to any headline that tempts you to read more.

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Why Clickbait Works
There are some universal signs of clickbait. Some examples would be exaggerated headlines such as “You’ll never believe this…” or “This story will change your life!” They promise something so incredible and unique that we can’t help but “click” on the link. But if clickbait frustrates us, then why does it keep reeling us in? Because we’re curious. It makes us feel as if we’ll be rewarded by clicking on the link. But once we do, the article is often disappointing. It doesn’t live up to its promise; we feel as if we’ve been tricked.

Another reason clickbait works is that it promises a quick, emotional escape in a world of hard news stories and investigative journalism. It’s a form of instant gratification. It works because after a long day at work, our brains are tired. Clickbait is designed to be easy to consume.

This tactic — of enticing readers to read an article by using an intriguing headline — of course isn’t new. It has been used in advertisements since the 19th century. In the case of clickbait, however, this tactic is used to an extreme. It happens when a company cares more about advertising revenue and site traffic than the quality of the content. Ultimately, this isn’t a strategy for the long run. It can lead to loss of potential subscribers or customers if they are continuously dissatisfied with their experience.

The Real Issue with Clickbait
While some content can be unanimously considered to be of poor quality, the issue with “clickbait” is that the term is overused, and has adopted a broad and subjective meaning. One person might deem a certain article to be invaluable, but another might find it to be a waste of time. But if the actual content is of a certain standard of quality, even if not every person finds that content valuable, then technically it isn’t clickbait. This is true even if the headline mimics traditional tactics of clickbait. If we avoid overusing the term “clickbait,” then we can more easily recognize actual clickbait and avoid it, if desired.