what the heck is click-bait?

click_baitYou’ve seen it on the internet. You’ve even clicked on it. You can’t help yourself. It is designed to make you want to click.

It’s an eye-catching link – an image or a headline – designed specifically to entice users to click. And every time a click is made, someone makes money.

It’s called click-bait and it works!

It works the same way that an interesting or unique package design can sell a product or a compelling summary on the back cover can sell a book.

Now click-bait may be a new term to describe the practice on the internet but it is by no means a new concept.

Click-bait is basically a digital form of the marketing strategy known as a loss leader.

(yeah, I may have skipped a lot of marketing classes in high school but I showed up that day!)

An enticing headline (a sale) is used to draw the initial click (the initial purchase) that will hopefully set off a series of additional clicks (purchases) taking you to sites that are selling something or sites that have advertisers pay the site for every click.

Often times, the headline doesn’t even have anything to do with the content when you get there and you make additional clicks trying to find the initial content that you were promised. You’ve been hooked!

When I first started surfing around the internet, I clicked on click-bait all the time. Headlines that would promise such things as “how to banish cellulite forever”, or “find out the fastest way to pay off your credit card debt”. I still find myself unable to resist a great headline sometimes even when I know there’s a good chance the content behind it is going to let me down.

Don’t feel foolish for falling for click-bait though, we can’t help ourselves. There’s a lot of psychology at work here.

Successful click-bait can manufacture emotions. A great headline can tug at your heartstrings;

They told this little boy his dog would be put down. His response stunned all.

incite fear;

11 signs you might have Type 2 Diabetes.

or give you hope;

Trying to lose weight? Eat these 9 things.

The stronger the emotion, the more likely you are to click.

Curiosity is also a big player in click-bait. A headline or an image that provokes curiosity will attract clicks because it’s human nature to want to “find out what happened next” or “how the story ends”.

  • What happens in Dubai when you don’t follow the rules
  • Horrifying pictures too terrible to look away
  • Man finds secret room in office – where it led was astounding

And then there is the “cute” factor. Who can resist the promise of laughing babies, a barrel full of puppies or any baby animal learning to walk for the first time.

Click-bait is also addictive. It’s very much like a slot machine. You’ve clicked on five links that didn’t deliver what the headline promised but maybe the next one will.


I’ll tell you right now that the whole gambling industry is built around “maybe”. Maybe the next slot pull will pay out, maybe the next lottery ticket is the winner, maybe the next card will give me black jack. Maybe the next click will take me where I want to go.

“Maybe” may just be the most powerful word in the English language.

Click-bait is so effective that there are companies popping up that dedicate themselves to creating it.

I read the news on CNN.com all the time but I have learned that the farther down you go on the page, the more likely it is that the content is click-bait instead of real news. The same goes for the list of “promoted stories” at the bottom of just about every news article.

Taken from CNN.com today:

  • 16 Things Cruise Ships Keep Hidden from Customers
  • Chilling Photos Of Famous People Before They Died
  • 29 Nasty Medieval Hygiene Practices That Will Make Your Skin Crawl

Um. Interesting? Yes. News? No.

What happens here is that there is a company that has paid for prime real estate on CNN.com and they sell it along with a great headline. So you pay to get your website featured on the site with a great headline and then you pay the company every time someone clicks on it. Brilliant!

There are even websites whose content is all paid click-bait. It’s generally laid out in a magazine type format but it really has no interest in publishing great content.

Their whole purpose is to create great headlines that will make you click. And, of course, every click makes money. (I’m not going to give you the names of these sites because I don’t want to drive traffic to them.)

I personally don’t have anything against click-bait. Again, it’s just marketing. And I don’t have anything against people making money; good for them.

I just want you to be aware that the internet is great for a lot of reasons but there is also a lot of crap out there. A lot of crap that a lot of people are making a lot of money on.

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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