Did you decide to read this article because of its engaging and maybe titillating headline? If so, congratulations! You have been click-baited; again. You fell for it, and as usual, you are left feeling like you’ve been had. But since I got you to read this far, why not finish the article?
Such is the state of the internet these days. Click-bait takes on many forms but it is always a headline that grabs your attention and offers some news that will excite or satisfy you. Rarely do articles prefaced by click-bait deliver on their promise. “You will be amazed…” or “You won’t believe…” or “17 things you need to know before you start work tomorrow…” Ugh. I won’t be amazed, I will believe it, and I can live without those 17 tips.
What is behind this trend of attempting to lure readers to articles? It is the struggle for relevance. The internet is a big place and websites are competing for your mouse clicks. Sites make money when there is a lot of traffic going to them. Great content will always attract visitors and the greater the content the more likely that visitors will stick around longer and also return. For mediocre sites, there is click-bait; an artificial means to make a site seem more popular than its content would otherwise indicate.
If you went to a site recently offering “45 images you must see,” you probably encountered a site with some cool pictures, but only one picture per page and you had to click Next to view the next image. Why don’t they put all the images on one page? Well, in the bad old days before the ubiquity of broadband internet, web designers would break up collections of images to avoid the long wait time as the page loaded all those images. So maybe you would get 10 at a time. This was only a practical consideration so that you didn’t have to wait for all those images to load.
But now with broadband all over the place, why not just load all the images at once? Because then they can’t track you. Google and other website analytic tools track various aspects of your visit to a site. It starts with the way you got there. Was it through a Google search? Did you get there from Facebook? How long did you stay and how many and which pages did you visit while you were there? They track if you are a returning visitor or if you are visiting the site for the first time. Did you visit from a mobile device or a computer? What country are you from? They know how many people click through all 45 pages. Knowing this, ad space on the earlier pages can sell for more than ad space on the 45th page.
Click-baiting will eventually die out when mediocre sites are exposed for what they are. Eventually content will match the headlines and readers will have more satisfying experiences because sites will actually have the content expected. Mediocre sites will disappear. You can help speed the day of click-bait’s demise by resisting the urge to click on those stories. Feeding the click-bait machine only means you will be disappointed; you will have wasted your time. So, why not ignore this newest form of spam?
Sorry for click-baiting you into reading this article about click-baiting. I won’t do it again!