Clickbait, click bait, or link bait refers to a trend with headlines that are intentionally sensational or even misleading in order to get more people to visit a site. Unfortunately, clickbaiting has proven itself to be more effective at getting people to click the link than an accurate, descriptive headline. However, it is deceptive and preys on the readers’ trust that they would actually be interested in the story.
The bait used in link bait could be the use of celebrity names, hyperbole, withholding information, or heavy implication. From some real life examples:
- These Women Once Wanted To Shed Their Skin; You Won’t Believe Their Reasoning.
- These Workers Just Want Money, And You Won’t Believe What They Did To Get Some.
- A Gorgeous Waitress Gets Harassed By Some Jerk. Watch What Happens Next.
- Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next.
I see it all over the web from the “one trick doctors don’t want you to know” ads about weight loss or skin care to the Weather channel’s website trying to get you to view non-weather related stories. Another common source are the “related” stories in the footer of many site articles trying to get affiliate traffic.
The topic has been growing for some time with stories all over the web of the frustrating experience, NPR did a story on clickbaiting, and even webcomics have picked up on it:
As it grows, even Facebook is taking steps to reign in clickbaiting so that it doesn’t overwhelm legitimate, accurately-headlined content that users are interested in. Part of Facebook’s problems is that their algorithms depend on how many people click a post to determine how many people it should be shared with. Since a person might click the headline just to satisfy their curiosity and find out the answer to the headline but then hate the actual content, it skews Facebook’s suggestions of good content to show to more people.
Facebook surveyed users and found 80% of people even prefer content with headlines that tell them about the content they’re about to see. As a result, Facebook plans to measure the time spent browsing the site to determine if it was an enjoyable experience or the person backed out immediately. Another factor is the activity surrounding a post such as sharing and discussion. If a link is not seeing much activity there, it may not show up as much in additional people’s feeds.
While Facebook can control their site experience and Google could even use their PageRank influence to control websites but there’s nothing stopping a site from always leading with lousy headlines to trick or falsely entice more users into clicking a link. The only solution would be for people to deny their human nature and just scroll past clickbait links so that the trick that preys on psychology becomes less and less effective.