Clickbait Culture: Are Headlines Messing With Our Heads?

by | Jul 8, 2022 | Art, blog, Business, Content Marketing

The internet is a place of constant competition. Whether you’re posting about your family vacation, promoting a brand, or trying to sell your wares, there is intense pressure to always be the best in the digital world. Entire industries have been borne of this pressure, as everyone tries harder and harder to be the go-to source of information for their followers.

Of course, as with any scenario, intense competition presents opportunities for shortcuts. Rather than creating high-quality content or properly building their SEO through truly relevant information, some websites go straight for the kill right out of the gate, without substance to back them up. We call these articles “clickbait.” Clickbait articles have inflammatory or sensational headlines aimed at getting viewers to click or share out of fear, excitement, or anger.

Though these articles may seem harmless or silly, many people have not considered how clickbait influences their mental health, societal outlook, and overall wellbeing. Even when you feel like you can spot these articles from a mile away, the headlines might have a negative effect on you, and we have the science to prove it.

Why Does Clickbait Work?

You don’t need to be stupid or ignorant to fall victim to clickbait. In fact, even the most intelligent people can be sucked in by the headlines and photos that often accompany clickbait articles. This is baffling to many people, but the reasoning has a lot to do with our lizard brains (that is, our instincts).

As human beings, we are wired to search out information. We do this so we can adapt to and survive our changing world, and nothing is more natural. Clickbait offers us the potential to uncover something shocking that could give us the information necessary to stay safe. Plus, our brain’s dopamine center wants the satisfaction of gaining new information by clicking on the article. Instinct and dopamine is a combination that few brains can resist, which leads even the most informed readers to take the bait.

The Psychological Impact

Some clickbait headlines seem innocent. After all, how could clicking on an article about the worst celebrity nose jobs possibly affect your mood? However, the impact can be significant.

Though it’s true that one article may not be so bad for you, it does open the urge to look for more. If you click on one, you may find in the weeks following that you can’t resist clicking on a few others, perhaps increasing the seriousness and impact of the article topics. It’s like how once you eat fast food once, you find yourself craving it for weeks afterward. The dopamine rush is just too addicting.

Even skimming over headlines can have a negative psychological impact. When you are berated with sentences like “7 Ways Congress Is Ruining America” and “You Won’t Believe How These Customers Treated Their Waitress,” you can’t help but feel like everything sucks. Clickbait capitalizes on strong emotions, and usually, negative ones are more effective. The more scared they can make you feel, the more your instinct will want you to click on their article. This means website traffic for them and sensationalized information for you. Repeated exposure can leave you feeling like the world is crap, and maybe the apocalypse wouldn’t be so bad.

It’s also worth noting that disheartened individuals are far less likely to take action or make positive change than people who have a good perspective on the world around them. When we’re exposed to enough clickbait about how terrible and dangerous everything is, we can easily feel paralyzed and not know how to proceed. In this way, clickbait contributes to an already anxious society, putting the last nail in the coffin of apathy-induced inaction.

Misinformation

The most important thing to remember is that clickbait is not always accurate. Though some information may technically be correct, most of these articles aim to overstate the facts or spin them to seem more like gossip than news. This is what makes these articles fun or enticing to read.

However, there are a lot of clickbait articles that are not accurate at all. There is no governing force telling people what they can and cannot write online. This means that anyone can put information out there as fact when it isn’t true in the slightest. They may even add charts, graphs, or sources that make them seem legitimate when their sources don’t actually support their conclusion. They are counting on the fact that readers won’t fact-check them.

Unfortunately, they’re right. Few readers actually study sources or cross-check their information before sharing or spreading the information in the article. A common phenomenon is for individuals to share articles for the headline alone without reading a word of what is inside. Users figure that if the headline matches their perspective, the article will support it. Many times, though, the article lacks quality content, and the only aspect of note is the headline.

How To Survive Clickbait

As a user, it is important to know how to navigate the internet without falling victim to misinformation. It’s best to stick to the clickbait that’s fun and innocent rather than starting an internet war with your cousins because of an article you blindly shared on Instagram. These are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Actually read the articles. Before you share information, either in person or online, make sure you’ve actually read the article. Not only will this ensure that misinformation doesn’t spread, but it will also ensure that you have a substantial amount of information to share.
  • Check your facts. If the article is presenting information regarding science, politics, or any other serious topics, be sure to cross-check the information from at least two other reputable sources before you share.
  • Acknowledge that you’re reading clickbait. Reading lists about service industry mishaps and bad makeovers can be fun and entertaining. If you want to click on such articles, go ahead! However, keep in mind that you are reading clickbait and take the information with a grain of salt.

With the internet as it is, you can always find information to support your argument. However, that doesn’t mean that the information is correct. Be a conscientious user and stop misinformation from spreading.

Clickbait for Marketing

Clickbait can be a powerful tool for marketers, and it’s okay to use it sometimes. In fact, using attention-grabbing headlines is part of good marketing. Splashy article titles can absolutely increase your website traffic and create real SEO growth, so don’t be afraid to go for it. Your aim, after all, is to get people to visit your site and rely on you for their information, products, or services.

If you decide to use clickbait as part of your marketing platform, create evergreen, informed content to support the article’s headline. This supports good long-term SEO while capitalizing on the dopamine rush that readers get from clicking on the article. The headline will get readers to click, and the information will get them to stay. No one said that the truth has to be boring. Use science to your advantage.

Better Content Matters Can Help

If you’re struggling to create evergreen content that attracts visitors and benefits your site’s SEO, Better Content Matters can help. Our team is highly experienced and professionally trained, and we are ready to create content for your business’s website. Contact us today to get started.

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Gabby Vandenavond