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27 ways to spot click bait. Mind blown, then something amazing happened

Mind blownOne of the things that has been going on in the blogging and micro news sites is a steady move from content to click bait. Click bait is traffic that gets you in and attempts to confuse you with cuddly puppies and unfounded logic long enough that the advertisers will recognize that the site is worth paying advertising revenue toward.

While some places such as TechCrunch do it with shoddy articles claiming an extremely popular social network site is about to die, most don’t feel like tarnishing their rep.

Of the types of click bait going on you can divide them into the following types:

Click bait: X <descriptor of amazement> <item> that will <resultant hyperbole>

Where X is a number. The feigned excitement take the X number of photos the blog you’re looking at and add some sort of depth and cohesion. The fact that most of those photos were lifted from another list or stolen from other blogs don’t generally factor into.

Examples include:

  • 12 amazing tricks that will explode your productivity
  • 37 absurd psychotic goats that will change your destiny
  • 14 incredible simple tricks that will forever change your life
  • etc

These present you with a number and a resultant expectation. The brain thinks “oh, I only have to look at 14 simple tricks, 14 isn’t that many, forever change my life eh?” and accepts that this is not just 14 things everyone knows because we’ve all seen it pre-clickbait era.

Click bait: <start of story> <exaggeration>

These are pretty formulaic and include things such as:

  • A dog was found huddled over a blanket, what happened next blew me away
  • There could have been bloodshed but what came next… incredible
  • He stopped to pick up a handkerchief, there are no words for what happened next
  • A 13 year old boy Romeo met a girl, then something terrible happened
  • etc

In these the author doesn’t have anything to lure you in with so they lie to you and tell you to expect something interesting.

While the standard headline for one of those would have been “two 13 year olds commit suicide in botched attempt at parental approval,” it would have given you the info you needed to know and let you know whether you wanted to read the story or not.

These lie titles give you an expectation of a payoff, and that usually ain’t happening.

X things only a <descriptor> would get click bait

Examples include:

  • 14 things only a Nashvillian would get
  • 33 things only Texans know
  • 22 things you never knew about fatherhood

These are extremely well designed data mining operations with very minimal substance to back them up. Usually there will be a few stereotypical things that might relate to the region, profession, or life status, but they’re designed to get you to tell the company that you’re that person.

Why is this last one happening?

Money, and people don’t get that these things are the modern day chain letters of yesteryear.

The main difference now is these companies start with a need – we need to know who the dads in Nashville are so we can tell businesses that advertise to them that we have identified them and can provide highly targeted direct to the correct target advertising.

While your click may only earn the site a half penny or so in undirected advertising, when they sell what info they’ve glommed from your browser and that’s aggregated across all the websites they might own into a targeted piece of solid sellable information, bam. You’re sold. Your data gets linked to something that has access to your profile? Expect junk mail and phone calls. Awww yeah consumerism.

Now this isn’t particularly an evil nefarious plot, it’s just business, but click bait sites are notorious for taking real content from other sites and using it as their own. It’s easier to search for content that might pertain to a demographic than actually reach out to that demographic and ask for it. Why would they help you if you’re not going to compensate them?

Maddox had a fairly good yell-up on Buzzfeed, one of the more clickbaity of the click bait – fun watch if you’re not at work as it is definitely not safe for work.

It’s probably not preventable, but if everyone stopped clicking the clickbait, pretty sure we’d all be a happier internet world.

That’s about all I have to say about that. Oh wait.. there weren’t 27 things… and they weren’t amazing/your mind wasn’t blown and nothing amazing happened? Yeah that’s because this is just like all that click bait out there.

Start telling your friends to stop posting that stuff. It’s just them doing the dirty work for marketing agencies to sell you stuff.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.