Why You’re Wrong to Hate Clickbaiting

It’s fashionable to hate clickbaiting. I find this collective distaste for the practice both amusing and ridiculous.

For the uninitiated, clickbaiting is defined as “…content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on to a particular web page…” Basically, it’s those posts on Facebook and Twitter that are clearly trying to convince you to click on a link. And you may find it difficult to resist. Unless of course you’re a high minded internet snob that claims to never succumb to this supposed sinful practice.

Before you get mad, let me explain.

Your attention is limited. So is your time. Everyone in media is competing for your attention, and we know you couldn’t possibly spend time with all of us. So we have to motivate you to choose us over everyone else. Sound familiar? It should. This is just basic marketing and advertising used by all businesses everywhere. 

So it should come as no surprise that clickbaiting isn’t a new concept. It’s actually a modern iteration of a widely accepted practice in media that’s been utilized for ages. In radio, we call it a “tease”. Simply put, it’s a strategy designed to motivate you to listen by giving a preview of what will be discussed. But instead of telling you everything, we withhold key information that can only be discovered by listening at a designated time. For example, “The President announced a major policy change that impacts all Christians in America. What is it? I’ll explain, coming-up in a moment.”

Change a few words in that “tease”, post it on Facebook along with a hyperlink, and the clickbaiting brigade will launch an attack of epically snobbish proportions.

But have you ever stopped to consider why “teasing” and clickbaiting are actually used? It’s not because people are dumb, or businesses are mean. It’s because media organizations need to make money. The more people watching or listening, the more money you can charge advertisers for commercials.

Life on the internet is pretty much the same. In order to survive as a business, websites need to tangibly demonstrate to advertisers that people are looking at their ads. And when was the last time you randomly went to a website that you’ve never heard of and nobody recommended to you? Let me answer for you – never. Great writing and photography alone won’t magically bring people to a website. Some sort of clickbaiting (a.k.a. marketing) is necessary to make one article stand out among millions of others.  

That’s not to say that all clickbaiting is good. It most certainly isn’t. In fact, I’ve been annoyed at the practice on multiple occasions. But my reasons are probably different than yours. And they’re born out of my experience teaching “teasing” to broadcasters in a variety of settings. So, let me help you redirect your hatred of clickbaiting toward the true source of your disdain. Here’s what you actually dislike:

  • Clickbaiting that lies. The very first lesson I teach broadcasters about “teasing” is that it must be accurate. Anytime you lie to someone in an effort to get them to listen, you’ll make them mad. And you’ll lose credibility. So honesty must be employed at all costs, even if the truth is less interesting than your creative idea. So if you click on a link and discover that the information advertised isn’t true, don’t get mad at the idea of clickbaiting. Get mad at the person or organization that lied to you.
  • Clickbaiting that disappoints. The internet isn’t custom designed to perfectly meet all of your expectations and interests. If you find yourself disappointed by the content of an article that shared truthful information to get you there, get over it. Leave the concept of clickbaiting alone. And stop expecting everything you choose in life to make you supremely satisfied. That’s just weird. And unrealistic. Plus, your mom might love the article that made poor little you so disappointed.
  • Clickbaiting that tells you how you’re going to feel. It’s an understandable mistake. Your friend shares a video on Facebook, primarily because that touching moment at 2:33 made them instantly weep. So in an effort to get you to watch it, they write, “Check out this amazing video! The little boy at 2:33 will totally make you cry!” And of course, after watching it you don’t cry. You’re actually annoyed by that kid. But don’t blame clickbaiting for this problem. Blame your friend for incorrectly predicting how you’re going to feel.
  • The absence of clickbaiting. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but every time you follow a link online, you’re responding to some form of clickbaiting. Perhaps the name of an author is enough to motivate you to click. Other times, it’s a creative, provocative, or interesting sentence. But would you ever click on a link that doesn’t put any effort whatsoever into getting your attention? I don’t think so. Consider one of my favorites – “Check out my new blog post.” Compelling, huh? Without any information about the content, there’s absolutely no reason anyone would want to read that post. The author needs some good old fashioned clickbaiting to get your attention. And I don’t think any of us would want to live in a world where the internet is filled with meaningless statements followed by ambiguous hyperlinks.

If you want to catch a fish, you can’t just drop an empty hook in the water and expect something to happen. You need enticing bait to get fish to take a bite. Media, whether on radio or online, is exactly the same. Nobody is going to click on a link unless there’s enticing bait to motivate the action. So stop inaccurately labeling legitimate and creative social media marketing strategies as a negative form a clickbaiting. Instead, direct your frustration toward terrible applications of an important and necessary promotional technique.

photo credit: Computer Mouse via photopin (license)

2 thoughts on “Why You’re Wrong to Hate Clickbaiting

  1. Good stuff, Brian… the job of the title/headline is to gain attention. When content lives up to the promised attraction (as with this article), all is well. When content doesn’t deliver, nobody wins.

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