Why do people still engage with clickbait? Wait wait wait, hang on, let me rephrase that. Why do people persist in engaging with headlines that are obviously designed to appeal to our most basic level of curiosity, to our emotions, our greed and our sense of schadenfreude, instead of relying on our intellect and not giving it traction and traffic? Clickbait is a terrible thing. It’s objectively terrible. It promises a reader something life changing but instead gives you a hamster eating miniature burritos. Which is great in and of itself, but it’s hardly worth a line like “Chef cooks meal for his favorite hamster. What he cooks will blow your mind”.
A good headline is essential for attracting readership and clearly my own needs work, but for me a clickbait header is a de facto statement that you have nothing of value to offer me. It means you’re a scam, a fraud and you have nothing to say. A good headline is simple, informative and direct, leaving plenty of room to be creative and entertaining, and generally refrains from being too inane, deceptive and/or unnecessarily hyperbolic.
A clickbait headline includes a cliffhanger to bait the reader and an emotional trigger to push the reader to click. It deliberately excludes information you need in the decision process and nudges your curiosity bone Clickbait headlines are so lacking in content that you can make a headline clickbait generator. This one thrilled me with results like “19 Unusual Psychological Experiments That Can Be Explained By Duran Duran B-Sides” and “55 Life Hacks Only German Men Should Never Be Ashamed Of” which sound fascinating without giving me anything of substance. Clickbait reminds me of pop-up ads from the nineties or the phishing e-mails which occasionally grace my inbox. Bait the reader with A, then push to click B, get screwed by a conman C. Rinse repeat, appeal to simpler natures, make a profit. Unwanted and unneeded.
And that’s probably also the problem, it has become a numbers game. Get shares, likes, clicks, sneezes, whatever and hope your content (regardless of quality) goes viral so you make a profit on ad revenue or distributing swag or whatever floats your boat. The monetary incentive is strong and the market remains open to clickbaity content, to the extent that some major news outlets have used clickbaity headlines as a way of boosting traffic, apparently not understanding that it drives away more discerning audiences (like me).
And it’s interesting because on the other hand we do live in a (more) golden age of writing. And I mean that literally. More people than ever before have the ability to read and write, and the opportunity to publish their words of wisdom in whatever form, be it social media, print or laser print on cutting boards. The sheer volume of content is both forcing writers to be more creative and experimental in their work, and creating a need to sell. And what sells clicks are headlines and images. A strong, well crafted headline, usually paired with an image can make or break a piece of work. Timing, interest and some luck also plays a part in its virulence.
In short, please don’t propagate clickbait. It feeds a system where content takes second (or third or fourth or…) place in favor of clicks.
What do you think? Does clickbait have a role is modern writing, be it in blogging or journalism or something completely different? Or is it just utterly terrible pathos-based garbage? It is. It really is. But let me know if I’m wrong.
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