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What Is Clickbait? You’ll Never Believe the Actual Definition!

On August 18, I published a blog post on the Pennwriters’ Facebook page. It came complete with the blog picture and caption shown below.

If you can’t see it very well, the caption reads: “What do you think about this take on self-published authors? Agree or disagree?”

That led to a plethora of fascinating answers. But one of the ones that stood out the most to me was the responder who thought it looked like clickbait.

That made me stop and wonder something somewhat significant that I’d never thought about before…

Exactly what is clickbait?

The reason why I had to wonder that wasn’t because I’d never heard the term before. Heck, I worked for a company that put out clickbait all the time with advertisement headlines like:

  • “It’s the Most Profitable Energy Company in the World… and You’ve Never Heard of It”

  • “The Fredonia Reactor – Could It Hand You Profits of 1,099%?”

  • “The #1 Threat to U.S. National Security… and Your Retirement.”

Then, once you clicked on one, it would take you to a longwinded writeup that teased and taunted for pages on end. There was never any useful information included, only promises that as soon as you paid $99 – a special annual price just for you, don’t you know – you could get the real report.

That, to me, was clickbait. Especially considering that the promised details were almost always a waste of your time.

And that most definitely wasn’t what I was doing with the aforementioned article. So again… What is clickbait?

I really wanted to know.

Apparently, I and the person who accused me of posting clickbait aren’t the only two confused about the question. When I did both a Bing and Google search for it, the first thing that came up was this dictionary definition:

click•bait /klikbāt/ noun: (on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

That’s doesn’t sound bad at all, but I also don’t think it sounds accurate. Not by any definition of the word I’ve ever heard of, anyway. The sometimes sketchy Wikipedia and absolutely undignified Urban Diction seem much more reliable in this regard.

Since the former explanation is really long-winded though, let’s just go with the latter. It reads:

It means what you think it means: bait for clicks. It’s a link which entices you to click on it.
The “bait” comes in many shapes and sizes, but it is usually intentionally misleading and/or crassly provocative. Clicking will inevitably cause disappointment. Clickbait is usually created for money.
One common type is adverts and spam, such as you might find on a random website or in your Facebook feed. Such clickbait usually leads to a site which tries to sell you something or possibly extort you by withholding the promised “bait.”

By the first definition, maybe the blog image I used could be called clickbait? After all, my intent with it was for people to click on it through to the actual blog post.

But by the second and more commonly understood explanation, no. It was offering a valuable discussion on an interesting topic that was valid for people on the page it was posted.

Incidentally, that’s precisely what your articles and even your advertisements are supposed to do: offer valid outlets for people’s time and money. So kids, don’t do clickbait at home.

Or anywhere else. At least according to the Urban Dictionary definition. Which you probably shouldn’t touch either on your own.

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