Rajath Ramakrishna

Clickbaits are here to stay

Posted on — | 4 min read

More than a decade ago I came across BuzzFeed articles like “10 things you didn’t know about the Illuminati, number 7 will surprise you” for the first time. At the time, I didn’t even know they were called clickbait. This reminded me of the tabloids I saw near checkout lines in grocery stores. Every time I’d see one of those magazines, I used to think, “This is beyond ridiculous. Who reads this stuff?”. In my mind, I used to categorize tabloids as the lowest form of “news” and just a desperate attempt to get peoples’ attention to buy those magazines, and in my opinion that’s still the case.

But when I started seeing more and more clickbaits online, I started becoming infuriated because now they were everywhere. I was seeing the equivalent of tabloid headlines in most of the websites I used to visit and it felt like there was no escaping them. I initially thought only sites like BuzzFeed and similar ones would be so desperate for attention and clicks, and real news sites wouldn’t need clickbaits.

I was wrong. I started seeing them even on websites like HackerNews or AndroidPolice. It was annoying me so much that I didn’t click those links on purpose, even though I knew it had information that I was looking for. It was my way of “vote with your clicks”. And then, it was all over YouTube too. The channels I subscribe to - Red Delta Project, Veritasium, etc. that have nothing to do with gossip or sensational news, but instead make educational content were also filled with titles that were very clickbait-y.

I didn’t like it, and I was hoping this was just a fad that would pass. I thought it would be one of those things where companies would jump on just to be part of whatever trend was going on and then drop it when it’s no longer “cool”. But at the back of my mind, I was thinking that clickbaits are only growing because they work. People click such links and clicks is what a service primarily measures (among other things) the popularity of its article.

I recently saw a video on Veritasium titled Clickbait Is Unreasonably Effective. This hit home with me. If people tend to click on clickbait articles, then there will be more clickbait articles. This is one thing if a blog contains a bunch of such articles. But if a serivce like YouTube takes uploaded videos and ranks them, and happens to find clickbait-y videos perform better, it’ll just rank those videos higher. And if I’m a YouTube content creator, and I want to stay in the game, I’d have to play the same game. As much as I hate clickbait, I’d still have to add a clickbait title, a clickbait thumbnail and a clickbait caption in the thumbnail. And not to forget a corny facial expression on the thumbnail.

What I saw in the above video did put things into perspective as to why clickbait even exists and why everybody seems to be using it more and more. I still cringe when I see such titles. What scares me even more is, a lot of times any title I try to come up with for a blog post that I write, I start feeling like it’s clickbait-y. I spend more time thinking about how to not make the title sound very clickbait-y. Or how to make the title sound as least clickbait-y as possible. Sometimes I fail. But I still try.

I guess what I’m trying to say are two things:

  1. Whether anybody likes it or not, I think clickbaits will continue ot exist and thrive as long as clicks (or click-through rate) is used as one of the dominant metrics. That’s just the world we live in now.
  2. I try my best to come up with titles that are not clickbait-sounding. I’d rather want the reader to not be interested to read my blogpost after looking at the headline than cringe hard at the headline.