What’s the definition of clickbait?

What’s the definition of clickbait?





What’s the definition of clickbait?


Tony Hallett
Managing director

Tony set up Collective Content in 2011 so brands can more easily become publishers and tell stories. This built on 15 years in media, from reporter to publishing director at Silicon Media Group, CNET Networks and CBS Interactive.

We ask this because most definitions that we can find suck. At least the Wikipedia page about clickbait contains a line about ‘…especially at the expense of quality or accuracy’.

Funny Headlines

And that’s key. Eighteen months ago, The Atlantic ran ‘What Is Clickbait? Everything,’ and I was reminded of this reading Barbara Ellen in the Guardian today, though the scope of her piece is much broader.

Anyone producing content wants it to be read. (Or viewed or listened to – you get the idea.) But a clickbait headline isn’t just a compelling headline. A truly compelling headline, one that gets your target audience to your quality content, is simply doing its job. We have a whole category of wordsmiths who devote careers to this. Whether they’re called sub-editors or copy editors, just call them valuable. It’s usually a skill writers don’t have. (Some writers hate me for saying that.)

Instead, clickbait – and here’s the real definition – is a compelling headline linking to content that doesn’t deliver on what’s promised.

Too often we hear someone say, ‘Oh that’s just clickbait’. Then we look at the article or video or whatever in question and it’s really good. How is the headline for that clickbait? Because it sold the story?

The headline writers who can master that art should be snapped up.
This isn’t just about search engine optimisation (SEO). While there can sometimes be the match made in heaven of good SEO – usually based on keywords that are used in searches – and headlines that appeal to humans, many times the best clickbait/compelling headlines are human-friendly only.

‘An internet billionaire read this blog post and you’ll never believe what happened next’ – is not an SEO-friendly headline. (Nor is it one you’re ever likely to see.) But it’s almost certainly clickbait.

The word ‘clickbait’ has become widely misused so that, to many people, it simply means ‘compelling headline’. However, those producing content professionally should be aware of the difference between content that does its job and content that leads to unfulfilled promises and all the bad things that go with them. That’s depressing. That’s clickbait.

*photo credit: Funny Headlines via Google Images

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