What is Clickbait? Here’s Why Clickbait Works

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

MAY 28, 2024

What is Clickbait? Here’s Why Clickbait Works

I recently stumbled across a YouTube video called, “Kim Kardashian is DONE!” Intrigued and wondering exactly what she’s done with, I watched the entire 12-minute-long video and learned absolutely nothing. 

It’s my own fault — I knew it was clickbait, but I let my curiosity get the better of me. But I know I’m not the only one! 

As advertisers and influencers get better at manufacturing intriguing titles, more and more of us fall for clickbait. While clickbait can be incredibly frustrating, it can also be a useful hook that leads to more information. The difference is the content that the clickbait leads to.

Read on to learn what clickbait is and how to keep yourself and your family from falling for it! 

What is Clickbait?

Clickbait is an attention grabbing title, caption, or photo that gets users to click and engage with content. Clickbait is often used for titles of internet videos, news articles, and advertisements to get more clicks, page views, and increased ad revenue. Sometimes clickbait is misleading, serving up content that has little or nothing to do with the title.

While using clickbait as a marketing tactic doesn’t guarantee that someone will buy a product or watch an entire video, it does increase brand awareness.

This trick of using buzzwords and well-placed punctuation exploits something called the curiosity gap.

illustration with a head with a question mark inside

The curiosity gap is when clickbait gives the audience enough information to make them curious, but not enough information to leave them satisfied. When a curiosity gap exists, audiences will click so that they can satisfy the question that the clickbait has posed.

News outlets will also sometimes use clickbait titles to fool their audience into thinking they’ve published fake news.

Clickbait Examples

Clickbait content is all around us — from social media to news outlets to scientific research articles. Below are some real-life examples and how they work! 

Here’s Why People Think Hailey Bieber is Having Twins

This is a masterful example of a title exploiting the curiosity gap. As a reader, you may not have even known that Hailey Bieber was pregnant. Not only has this article title told you so, but it also promises more insider information. With just the title, the clickbait article has created a question in your mind and promised to give you the answer.

36 Beauty Products With Results So Magical, They Might As Well Have Been Made In A Cauldron” 

This list claims to contain the holy grail of skincare products. But of course, there’s no way that a beauty product can have “magical results” for everyone. However, a snappy title that promises a brief and digestible list can be too hard to pass up. 

Researchers Studied 1.67 Million Clickbait Headlines. What They Learned Will Completely Shock You

This clickbait headline about clickbait set up the credibility of their claim in the first sentence, identifying a research study as their source. They then guarantee a good and “shocking” read that draws you in. 

What counts as clickbait?

Clickbait is anything that encourages an audience to click on something, be it a blog post, news story, or social media post.

Typically, hearing the word “clickbait” inspires feelings of annoyance and frustration. That’s because it’s associated with clickbait headlines that promise juicy drama and fail to deliver. Numbered lists in a title can be a reliable example of this kind of irritating clickbait. 

But just because you’ve had a negative experience with clickbait doesn’t mean that all clickbait leads to unreliable content. 

Clickbait Isn’t Always Bad

Clickbait tactics aren’t always exploitative. They can also be incredibly useful to getting an audience to engage in quality content. 

The word “clickbait” has a bad rap. It’s not that clickbait always leads to misleading or useless content. In fact, even reputable websites, creators, and advertisers use clickbait. The difference is that the good sites follow through on the content they promised in their title. 

Think about the last book you read. Was the title engaging enough to pique your interest without giving away the ending? What about your favorite music album? Did its title positively engage you? 

Even a reputable journal article that was referenced in this article used the title: “Click Me!” 

hand symbol with exclamation point

The game that marketers play now is to stick out in an ever-expanding internet landscape. Clickbait is used by any distributor that’s trying to get a click, whether that’s by a reliable company or a dubious one.

The key is to know how to tell the difference between bad clickbait and good clickbait. Bad, or unethical, clickbait usually leads to suspicious websites with excessively long URLs. Good, or ethical, clickbait usually leads to reputable URLs. Unethical clickbait also typically promises things that are too good to be true. Ethical clickbait will give a realistic promise about the content it’s offering.

We can teach our kids about how to recognize clickbait and avoid scams by walking through advertisements and clickbait together. Consider sitting down together and typing a research question into search engines. Then try to find all of the clickbait you can and break down whether it’s good or bad. 

Kids face a technological landscape that is oversaturated with empty promises and unethical advertisements. Taking tech in steps is a great way to teach kids responsible technology use while also maintaining their safety

Did we miss anything? How can you tell the difference between bad clickbait and good clickbait? Let us know in the comments! 

What is clickbait

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