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The Truth Behind Clickbait Headlines

There’s nothing quite so disappointing as looking forward to reading an intriguing post or article, only to realise you’ve been the victim of ‘clickbait’.

We’ve all been there. It seems we can’t resist the urge to discover those 10 things nobody realises about cucumbers, how one woman lost three stone in one week or 11 mind-blowing facts that will change our lives. Despite these sensationalist headlines often lacking quality, audiences continue to be intrigued by deceptive titles – the likes of which commonly lead to tedious and generic content.

What is clickbait?

The term ‘clickbait’ began life as an online phenomenon, describing sensationalised content with a tempting, provocative or extremely exaggerated headline. Ultimately, the main purpose is to encourage click-through to a particular website. It can be a great tactic for gaining views and improving CTR’s but isn’t likely to drive engaged leads.

News outlet clickbait

Clickbait has been particularly prominent on social media due to its highly shareable nature. However, more recently clickbait-tactics have started being employed by both local and national news outlets, as traditional media fights to compete with sensationalised digital article writing.

Technically this tactic makes sense for newspapers, as research from the Federal University of Minas Garais, Brazil shows that extreme headlines — whether positive or negative — are more powerful. The downside is that after clicking through with high expectations, users are often left disappointed, frustrated and misled by the content itself.

With that in mind, here are just a few examples of shameless clickbait being used in mainstream media.

The Sun

The Sun has previously landed in hot water for its controversial clickbait shock-tactics.

The tabloid was forced to issue an apology after linking to an article on Twitter, with the headline ’78-year-old man beats his wife to death before dumping her in a grave – and you won’t believe what he uses (emoji)’. In this instance, The Sun is clearly trying to get attention by appealing to its readers ‘morbid curiosity’, yet the total lack of sensitivity around the story’s subject matter is perhaps most shocking of all.

Unfortunately, this shocking use of clickbait is not a one-time mishap. The Sun issue apologises for its posts on a regular basis – even inspiring a separate twitter account called ‘The Sun Apologises‘, which has attracted almost fifty thousand followers.


The Daily Mirror

In a similar vein, the Daily Mirror has been known to promote their news articles in the most shocking and outrageous way possible. The newspaper is particularly affiliated with fearmongering, misleading its readers by sensationalising news stories, leaving out crucial information and causing readers undue worry and fear.

Fearmongering is a classic clickbait tactic, as it’s expected to cause a ‘knee-jerk’ click-through reaction. For example, see this tweet from 18/01/2018:

See Daily Mirror’s other Tweets

The post promotes a news story about a ‘credible’ bomb threat in the city centre of Salisbury. The writer of this particular article managed to get through the whole piece without mentioning that the situation had been resolved, with the police confirming that there was never a danger to life. Only on the last line of the article, below their READ MORE call to action, did the writer state that the police had ‘stood down’ and that no further action was needed.


The Daily Mail

James King, a journalist who claims to be a former employee of the newspaper, describes The Daily Mail’s editorial model as wholly dependant on ‘sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication’. King went on to describe his time at the publication in an article written for Gawker, titled ‘My Year Ripping Off the Web With The Daily Mail Online’.

The Daily Mail has even been called out by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who told CNBC, ‘The Daily Mail has mastered the art of running stories that aren’t true’. In a televised interview in May 2017, Wales accuses The Daily Mail of publishing fake news and using ‘hyped up’ headlines, stating that because of this, Wikipedia will no longer be accepting The Daily Mail as a source.

Fighting back against clickbait

Wikipedia’s refusal to accept The Daily Mail as a legitimate news source is just one-way clickbait tactics are being punished across the web. Facebook has also recently announced a clampdown on so-called ‘fake news‘ being promoted on site, implementing a series of updates specifically designed to penalise clickbait.

What’s more, online users are also fighting back themselves. ‘Bait shaming’ has become a new trend online, consisting of users summarising the outcome of each clickbait article to prevent other unsuspecting users being reeled in.


Tyler Hakes reports that there have even been talks of potentially creating a platform which filters out clickbait articles, blogs, news stories and social media posts automatically.

While clickbait may have been a quick-win tactic to gain more traffic in the past, it’s clear now that the future of copywriting and content marketing success does not lie in clickbait.

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