48

We all have seen at least one of these clickbaits (or some variation thereof):

"single mom discovers the meaning of life with a simple trick"

or

"billionaires don't want you to know this secret"

or

"the 10 things that only real survivors do"

or

"you could be sitting on a fortune"

At face value they just seem cheap psychological tricks. They place the reader in the position to wish to belong to a certain group, and they suggest that membership can be attained with the only effort of clicking somewhere.

As a test I wrote:

If you want to be really famous you only have to click here.

but it does not quite stand the comparison.

Am I being too strict in judging my own clickbait, or is there a deeper art to crafting it?

  • 41
    It's an art. Don't tell people to "click here" because that should be what your headlines makes them think. If you have to tell them, you've lost. – Cyn May 22 at 0:29
  • 16
    Now that this became a HNQ I am tempted to edit the title of this question itself to be as clickbaity as possible. – Philipp May 23 at 9:56
  • 8
    To support @Cyn's point: a con man doesn't tell you to give him money. A con man tells you that he brokers deals for people and gets them a crazy profit, and then waits for the mark to offer the con man money to broker a deal for them. When you ask for it directly, you make it clear that that's what you want. The trick is to lay the ground work and then have someone connect the dots for you. People are blind to fraud when they think they are the ones who started the interaction. – Flater May 23 at 11:22
  • 49
    Essentially there are 10 successful clickbait titles. Number 7 will surprise you – Hagen von Eitzen May 23 at 11:55
  • 7
    @Philipp surely that would be "Why does this one trick help my question get more views!?!" – J.Doe May 23 at 13:42
72

Clickbait isn't like news where you tell someone the headline so they'll click for more information.

Eggplant linked to lower cancer rates.

Clickbait is where they have to click just to find out the headline.

This one vegetable stops cancer!

There's no nuance in clickbait. Not like medical articles where you use caution about overselling things.

Never tell readers to "click here," because that should be what your headlines makes them think. If you have to tell them, you've lost.

Clickbait creates promises. Sometimes it is about making money, achieving fame, or curing disease. But other times it's a promise of great entertainment.

Whale thanks her rescuer with this incredible move.

The purpose of clickbait is eyeballs (getting the visitor counts up), not to inform, or even to sell. And you do this in part by teasing something someone can't find out via the regular news.

Put this all together and you get lines like:

7 secrets of fame celebrities don't want you to know.

  • 14
    I think one important component you have in all your examples but don't directly mention is that you promise to have some important information, but withhold it ("one vegetable", "incredible move", "7 secrets"). – Philipp May 23 at 9:33
  • 9
    7 secrets of fame you don't want to know – lucidbrot May 23 at 11:28
  • 17
    As something to add to your "Clickbait creates promises" header: don't forget about the recent clickbait that focuses on "niche" groups or fandoms. The likes of "True Marvel fans noticed these 20 Callbacks in Endgame," which encourage users to click to reaffirm their mental image of themselves. – scohe001 May 23 at 14:42
  • 1
    @scohe001 That's a good addition. You might want to turn it into your own answer. – Cyn May 23 at 14:44
  • 3
    Another category of clickbait headlines pander to readers' biases, e.g., Trump DESTROYS Adam Schiff With One Tweet. – TKK May 23 at 18:26
20

Click bait works by pushing psychological buttons.

Most of those buttons are in the form of tangible curiosity and fear.

Fear: If you don't know this hinted secret you will die

Tangible Curiosity: List. "10 secrets of the incredibly famous" (your test, rewritten)

Also, promises and calls to action tend to trigger people's BS reflex. So, avoid those and stick with inducing the fear that they might lose out on something.

  • 1
    What is the "BS" reflex? Doesn't seem to be googlable... – Ruslan May 25 at 10:16
  • 3
    @Rusian Bovine Excreta. People with think it's rubbish, and not bother clicking – CSM May 25 at 17:53
  • 1
    @Ruslan, CSM is correct. "BS" is such a commonly used abbreviation that it didn't occur to me to explain. I'm just trying to keep it clean here. – ShadoCat May 29 at 23:23
13

A common trend between your clickbait titles (and clickbait in general) is that they're promising to give you something, but only if you click in and read the article/watch the video/signup for the newsletter.

As @Cyn's answer mentions, this "something" that they give is

Sometimes [...] about making money, achieving fame, or curing disease. But other times it's a promise of great entertainment.

In addition to these, I'd like to add a trend I've seen recently that targets "niche" groups or fandoms with clickbait like:

True Marvel fans noticed these 20 Callbacks in Endgame

The "promise" here is a reaffirmation of the users' mental images of themselves. "I think I'm a 'True Marvel fan,' how many of these did I notice?"

This is also similar to:

87% of adults can't solve this problem, while Kindergartners find it easy!

It attacks the user's mental image again. "I think I'm pretty smart, surely if a Kindergartner can solve the problem, I should find it easy."

Remember that clickbait comes in all shapes and sizes, but the goal is to dangle something the user wants juuuuuust out of their reach--until they click.

13

Don't ever use the word if. It is a sign of lack of conviction. If you want to impose your clickbait on the audience, don't give them an opportunity to make a choice. Look at your own examples. They are affirmative. The audience feels like making a choice, but they really aren't. There are a few things I would like to add. Probably I couldn't make my point clear. You may use if when you are closing up upon your audience. For example, there is an ad which says

If you have crossed fifty years of age, click here to know how to spend rest of your life in a healthy manner.

Now here, people don't have a choice. Either they are above fifty, or they are not. Consider this:

If you want to multiply your wealth manifolds in just 2 days, click here

Here I have an option. I might be a successful person, and I might be fed up with money, I might look it over. Yes, these are some special cases, but a better result or generality could be obtained through a mass survey, enquiring people on what words or conditions a person might fall for a click bait. So, if someone does, please let me know...

  • 1
    you're onto it - there's a need for an imperative command, a "now" even if its implicit. – Criggie May 23 at 0:33
  • 2
    You haven't seen those "If you live in [geolocation city here] and you're over [age here], you must see this amazing insurance trick!" ads? I see them all the time and I'm not even over [age here]! :P – Mason Wheeler May 23 at 19:01
  • 1
    Read your first sentence. Then read the first word in the third sentence... – yrodro May 25 at 0:30
  • @MasonWheeler I would guess those ads are deliberately softening the clickbait, possibly because people feel creeped out when an ad seems to know their location. So they pretend they don't actually know. – trlkly May 25 at 10:59
12

All of those examples imply there is some specific kind of secret knowledge you can learn quickly that will change your life.

In your example, "really famous" is not specific enough. First, in writing, "really" is an intensifier without meaning. What exactly is the difference between being "famous" and "really famous"? Or "mad" and "really mad"?

Even then, famous for what? Ted Bundy is really famous as a serial killer of 30 young women and girls.

Your examples make specific major promises easily learned: The secret of life with one simple trick. A single secret that implies you might become a billionaire. Ten specific actions that might save your life. There is a way you might be rich and unaware of it.

For your example, "One simple trick to gain thousands of new twitter followers" would be click-bait for people that want to become famous.

The trick is to offer something specific that people will want (a product, an experience, knowledge) in return for an extremely small specific effort. That is why such offers are often followed by "You won't believe #4!": Disbelief and surprise are typically pleasant visceral experiences, and you are teasing that with a specific slide (or list item).

  • 5
    Perhaps being too pedantic, but this is Writing SE after all so, Ted Bundy is not famous as a serial killer, he is infamous. – Glen Yates May 24 at 13:32
  • 2
    @GlenYates +1, Fair enough! But still, "famous" is too general. Famous as an Olympian? A newscaster? A comedian? An actor? A blogger? A game show host? Famous for what? – Amadeus May 24 at 15:50
  • @GlenYates Have you ever seen The Three Amigos? – Mason Wheeler May 25 at 12:23
12

If you want to be really famous you only have to click here.

  1. "you only have to click here" - you can remove that. Your audience knows how the internet works. They know that in order to receive more information, they have to click. It's obvious.
  2. "If you want to be" What do you mean, if you want? Your audience must know about your amazing secret. There is no choice for them to make here. Tell them that.

The secret to become famous you must know.

You could also make this more urgent by inciting some paranoia. Claim that there is some conspiracy which wants to keep that information secret and you are providing the extremely rare chance to learn about it:

The secret to become famous celebrities don't want you to know.

  • 3
    "Become famous with this one simple trick" – GalacticCowboy May 23 at 13:40
3

This could almost be code golf -- how many clickbait elements in the fewest words (or keystrokes).

CIA Officials are furious that this money-making trick has been revealed by a famous actor.

  • 1
    It is a funny observation though. Maybe the next Cards Against Humanity? – wetcircuit May 26 at 16:47
2

The deeper art of crafting clickbait (as you ask), can be learned by studying the logical fallacies and other logical errors, such as affirming the consequent, argumentum ad numerum and loaded questions/statements.

This is a quick answer and might contain "glitches" under strict logical error analysis, so please excuse. Just trying to cover some basics(not all) with these examples about a messenger app.

For example:

Why is everybody using THIS messaging app?

Why is everybody using the new messaging app from the Richie Rich software company?

Why all your friends are having fun with this great new app?

Why are the rich and famous using this cool app?

Why normal people are envying users of this great messenger app?

What is making investors give all their money to the makers of this new messenger app?

These examples combine the logical errors argumentum ad numerum, loaded questions, affirming the consequent and also the argument to wealth, appeal to authority and the burden of proof. I add burden of proof because as an argument, the clickbait is making you feel some need to click the link to get the proof. Is that right? Not sure, maybe not. But the others are all definitely mixed into the clickbait but are not just used in headlines or links, but everyday by people everywhere.

To keep it short, logical errors are mixed up, and normally presented in loaded question form, but can also be made as a loaded statement.

Example:

The messenger app that saved a busload of kids Or... The trendy and free messenger app that heroically saved a packed bus of under-privileged inner city kids

From what? Being late for a sports match if you click the link and read more out of interest?

The messenger app that the executives are using(Appeal to authority. Executives use it so it is better.

Which executives? Three guys from a company in Europe who happen to be executives).

These tourists would have been stranded had it not been for this new messenger app?(Stranded how?

Click the link and it might go on to describe how they used the messenger app to get a ride into town to go drinking. Versus paying for a ride share etc...)

Ok, some slightly naive examples but I hope I have contributed indirectly to your question so you can understand how the logical errors form part of many tricks. And by understanding these errors how you can make better clickbait but also not be a victim of it, which is what you should really be doing, in my opinion anyway.

Please no Philosophy graduates making to many corrections. I am just linking the concept of logical errors to the concept of clickbait as a starting point for the deeper art of clickbait, and also understanding arguments in other contexts as well, not just in headlines.

1

Use a definite article (like the word this) prior to a hypernym (like the word thing), where using a more precise sub-ordinate noun (referent) would betray all necessary information to decide if you should click it. In the example below, if there's no highway 12 in your area: you wouldn't.

There was a number of fatalities resulting from this incident. – partofspeech.org

De-clickbaited:

There was a number of fatalities resulting from [the crash on highway 12].


I can't think of a hypernym for famous, which is the problem. With that word you've already laid all your cards on the table; I don't want to be famous... just like how there's no highway 12 in my area.

The rich and powerful do this.

Now that's some clickbait. Because (who doesn't want to be rich and powerful?) you're actually talking about celebrities, whom in the grand scheme of things, aren't all that powerful or rich. So, we're back to fame, and now I don't even care what 'that' was, because if being rich and powerful requires fame then I'm out.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.