But many professional bloggers are not.
Clickbait headlines are the current epoch of modern media. It might be easy for a cynic or a longtime devotee of print media to reduce clickbait headlines (“27 DIY Jewlery Projects That Are Actually Easy“) to dumbed-down, unsubstantial headlines designed to coerce the young, media illiterate consumer with a small attention span to click the link so the website can turn its profit. The more clicks: the more websites like Buzzfeed can charge for advertising.
Here’s the thing: cynics are probably right – but clickbait headlines, by nature, work wonders in an internet-focused social media world that so many are engaged in and that is hyper-saturated with text and information.
“We live in a society of information overload. At any point in our day, we have access to more information than at any previous time in our history.” (Briana Ellison, The Breeze)
The youth of today spend more time sifting through and compartmentalizing media that promises to entertain us than ever before; and therefore clickbait titles are aimed directing at these types of consumers. Using a digital communication style ripe with short-forms, “internetisms,” meme’d language and so forth, popular binge media websites (Buzzfeed, once again as an example) “get on your level” or are “hip with the times” …as your mom or dad might describe it. The relate-ability of the headline, plus the exact promise of literally what sort of content you will find in the headline helps young, high-speed consumers navigate through their media with little effort.
By its Wikipedia definition, clickbait is
“a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks.”
Clickbait headlines are not only easy to read and easy to engage in due to the personal tone (“We Need To Talk About Sir Purr, The Carolina Panthers Mascot“), they are also easy to share. On the website Upworthy.com, among others, you are able to rate the article and are then given quick-and-easy hotlinks to share the content on any social media profile you own. This formulaic approach to producing viral content pays dividends to websites that earn a profit via pay-per-click or through traditional online paid advertising.
“Upworthy has mastered the dark viral arts with a unique blend of A/B technology and lily-white earnestness. The staff scours the Web for ‘stuff that matters,’ writes multiple headlines for a test audience, selects the top-performer, and blasts it out on social media.” (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)
I’ve been guilty of clicking my fair share of clickbait headlines. I remember when I first started studying journalism in 2010 at Ryerson University, the magical virality of clickbait hadn’t yet been perfected. It was only a year later, as Buzzfeed became a frequent flyer on my Facebook News Feed that I became critical of these easy, self-advertised headlines that I couldn’t help but click and, of course, share.
Given that clickbait is still such a dominant trend in modern media, how do you think it will evolve? Have you been guilty of being persuaded to visit a website you’ve never heard of because the title promised you “hot content”? Sound off in the comments!