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What is clickbait?

Lynn Wright / 09 June 2016 ( 02 October 2018 )

Designed to attract huge numbers of readers with sensational headlines, clickbait articles are on the rise. Here’s how to spot and avoid clickbait.

An older couple read articles online

Sensational headlines used to be the preserve of tabloid newspapers and celebrity scandal magazines. But in a bid to attract ever more visitors to online content, some websites are turning to ‘clickbait’ – provocative headlines and photos aimed at enticing you to click a link in the hope of reading an outrageous article.

With commercial websites under pressure to earn money from online advertising, clickbait articles use deliberately scandalous headlines and stories designed to do one thing: attract as many visitors as possible.

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What is clickbait?

Clickbait is a term used to describe a headline or link to an online story that promises a lot, but ultimately doesn’t deliver. It’s deeply rooted in psychology, and uses a combination of curiosity and withholding information to entice people to click on the link.

Clickbait headlines ramp up your curiosity, yet withhold detail so you need to click to find out more. A headline such as ‘19 naughty celebrity tattoos (number 7 will make you gasp)’ is intriguing but doesn’t give anything away.

And by attracting millions of visitors, some clickbait articles can earn websites huge revenue from advertising.

The dangers of clickbait         

Clickbait articles are mostly harmless, but can slow down web browsing if each time you click on an article your web browser struggles to cope with a deluge of advertising. It’s also an example of poor-quality journalism, being typically based on inaccurate research, plagiarism and made-up nonsense.

Some clickbait articles lead to dangerous websites with advertising links used to install malware and viruses that can harm your PC or compromise your computer’s security. Other sites install cookies to track your web browsing so that specific advertising is served up when you visit other websites.

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How to spot clickbait     

Clickbait articles are easy to spot. They often involve outrageous headlines such as ’28 celebrities you didn’t know were gay’, or offer quick-fix solutions for common problems such as weight loss or promise easy ways to make money. Some clickbait will look at your computer’s location, and add it into the headline, such as ‘London mum-of-four makes £500 an hour. Her secret will amaze you’. Some just rely on intrigue, such as ‘The three deadliest drugs in the UK that are completely legal’ – this referred to tobacco, alcohol and painkillers.

How to avoid clickbait       

If the article’s headline looks sensationalist, and includes a shocking photo, then it’s likely clickbait. Many clickbait articles appear beneath regular news articles and features on news and magazine websites, and usually have the phrase ‘Sponsored content’, ‘More stories you might like’ or ‘Sponsored links’ written above them. Some newspapers use services that critics claim are clickbait services, serving up stories such as ‘Warning! Don’t watch this with your husband’ and ‘Controversial slimming pill sweeps the UK’.

You’ll likely encounter the same kind of stories and pictures, with slightly different headlines or claims, as you visit some news and gossip websites – making it easier to wise up to which content is clickbait.

Saga doesn’t use clickbait services – meaning all related articles and content on our site are genuine articles you can trust and click on.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.