I’m very sorry for that title.
We’ve all seen them. Articles like the one shown that tease you into clicking to see what the rest of it says. In this case, this guy’s one weird trick is that he got together with a bunch of other people and they bought a ticket for every possible number. So it’s definitely not something the average person can just do. But I was curious, so I clicked on the article. They won.
Clickbait is so popular because it works very well. We are curious beings with poor impulse control (especially in the digital age) so we’ll take the bait more often than not. Thanks to the data available behind-the-scenes it’s pretty easy for a website to do the math and learn what kinds of headlines work best. There have, of course, been a lot of studies done about clickbait (and you won’t believe what they found!). So what are some of the tricks they use?
Lists can be effective if they can give you a teaser or two. We’re not always going to scroll to the 427th meme in the collection, but we might be willing to read 20-30 entries.
You won’t believe how well shock value causes people to click
If I had a nickel for every time I saw a picture of Julia Stiles next to some shock article alleging that she died (she didn’t), got fat (she didn’t), or got arrested (she didn’t), I’d be making money in a really weird way (*RIP Mitch). People see these headlines and think: “I remember her! I didn’t know _____” and they click. She’s still reasonably active in Hollywood, married, has a kid. There’s nothing shocking about her, as far as I can tell. She’s a target because she’s still famous enough for name recognition but probably also doesn’t have the resources to fight all of these crazy allegations.
This one gets me the most and it’s the most frustrating one (in my opinion). There will be part of a story but the thumbnail is carefully crafted to hide the juicy details until you take the bait. I keep seeing one about a boyfriend and girlfriend coming home to what the boyfriend believes is a surprise party. But the girlfriend starts crying. There’s something about the corner, the girlfriend’s Mom asks: “You didn’t know?” (my apologies: I can’t remember the specifics). Alas, this story is never in those posts — so I still don’t know how it ends. If you happen to know, post it in the comments and you won’t believe what happens next. 😉
“The real reason” X celebrity did Y
We all wonder why our favorite celebrity left a show, declined a role, got divorced, got a diamond surgically implanted in their head, etc. We don’t always know what a celebrity is thinking — if they are — when they do something big. Articles that offer to explain such behaviour grabs our interest. Far too often, the article is just speculation and they don’t really have an answer either.
Easy or ambiguous questions
If you’ve seen Facebook posts claiming that 90% of people can’t name a state with the letter O in it, a large portion of the population will chime in with their favorite O state: “It’s Ohio”. Most people will also post without checking if someone else said that state already. It’s a sneaky way to get ‘popular’. Now the page that posted has a lot of newfound clout that makes whatever they’re trying to sell reach more viewers.
The other side of this are questions with ambiguous answers. These are often riddles that are worded in such a way that many people will interpret it one way, many others will interpret it a different way and everyone starts arguing about why they are right and the other side is wrong. We sure love to argue online. Again this drives up a page’s popularity so they can sell their product to more people.
Okay, so what’s the one weird trick?
Having covered a few methods these sites use to grab our attention, let’s talk about what we can do to avoid these sites. That’s the only way they’re ever going to go away: when they’re no longer profitable.
On Facebook, whenever there’s a Clickbait post you can often dig into the comments and find that someone has posted the full image or a screenshot of what’s next in the story. These comments are often near the top of the view because they get a lot of engagement. People are happy that someone saved them a click. Far too often, the ‘bait’ isn’t even in the list, so the reader ends up wasting their time and they still don’t know what they came there to find out. The commenters will usually say they couldn’t find it and save everyone else times and earn some “not all heroes wear capes” replies.
On other social media, it’s a little different. On Reddit and YouTube, users can downvote or dislike something that they find annoying or dishonest. On Twitter, nobody will see it since so many have left the platform. 😀 On MySpace (which definitely still exists somehow) my bestie Tom might see my post if I could remember my password or could get into my old email account from 2009 (NSA, if you’re reading this: help a fella out?). But I think Facebook is the worst offender because of the way the algorithm works. Every “I couldn’t find it” comment actually adds to the engagement and makes the post more visible to others. This leads to more clicks, more angry reactions, more engagement, and so on.
The other answer, of course, is to search for the answer on your favorite search engine. You’ll find your answer and can often avoid making the offending site ad revenue by actually going to them. But who has time for that? Ain’t nobody got time for that! But Clickbait will continue to thrive as long as it continues to work. So we must be vigilant and we must help each other avoid clicking as much as possible. This is the one weird trick websites don’t want you to know.
You won’t believe how this post ends…
Now that we know what some of the tricks are, and know about the ways around them, we can all band together and put a stop to clickbait. What’s the clickbait technique that gets you the most? Are there any you can’t find an answer to when you search? Do you know why the girl at the surprise party started crying? Feel free to leave comments and if you have the information left out of someone’s post, help them out.