Monday, February 15, 2016

Clickbaiting

There are thousands and thousands of websites out there with an enormous amount of content. Much of that content is pretty much professionally made, oftentimes even by a large company with many full-paid employees. But how can such companies afford this, given that such websites are (at least in the vast majority of cases) completely free to be browsed? Are they doing it just for fun, PR or self-advertisement?

Sometimes yes. However, very often the answer is the third-party advertising. One wouldn't think that just having some ad-banners, popups and nag screens would be all that profitable, but apparently it is. Seemingly advertisers are ready to pay surprisingly large amounts of money to have their ads on a website that has millions of visitors. Sometimes these sums are large enough to pay the salary of a small team of people.

The more people see those ads, the larger the profit for the website. Logically, the website will try to draw in as many visitors as possible. And when a visitor has arrived to one of their pages, they want to keep said visitor browsing other pages of the site further, for as long as possible. But how to do this?

One common tactic, often used by less scrupulous websites, is so-called clickbaiting.

Clickbaiting is something that you often don't pay attention to (which is why it can be so devious). However, once you become aware of this tactic, it can start standing out like a sore thumb.

It's the practice of titling articles (and links to those articles) in a manner that picks your curiosity (and "baits" you to click the link), but without telling you what it really is about. This often even though the title could have provided that information. The title is usually deliberately worded in such a way as to entice you to click it out of curiosity, rather than being an informative and dry newspaper-style article title. In other words, rather than the title being a one-sentence summary of the article, it's deliberately worded to pick your curiosity.

A normal article title might be something like (completely fictitious examples): "Carrots have anti-carcinogenic properties, new study finds", or "State governor donates half of his salary to children's hospital."

The clickbaiting versions would be: "New way to prevent cancer, see how!", and "Awesome politician restores my faith in humanity!"

Sometimes the contents of the article are not something that could be easily summarized in a short title, but the title is nevertheless worded in a manner that picks your curiosity and entices you to check it out. Typical examples: "15 facts you won't believe are true!", "25 photographs that changed the world!", "The shocking truth behind car dealerships!"

There are certain key words that, if they appear in a link or article title, are often indicative of clickbaiting (meaning that if the word appears there, it's very likely that it's just clickbaiting). These include, for example, words like "fact", "truth", "see", "photo(graph)", "new", "believe", "won't", and a myriad of superlative adjectives like "awesome", "shocking", "amazing" and so on. (It's of course not always the case, but if a quick visual scan shows one of these key words, it should raise a red flag.)

Once you start recognizing this form of deliberate clickbaiting and you start paying attention to it, it really stands out like a sore thumb.

And just for fun, here is a concrete real-life example, from express.co.uk:


These couldn't be more clickbaity even if they tried.

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