That Clever Trick Of Getting You To Click

Is getting you to click a crime, even if the clever headline doesn't really reflect the content? Steve Hind believes that traditional media companies should take note from sites that use clever headlines to lure in readers. Host Arun Rath speaks with him about his op-ed in The Guardian, in defense of clickbaiting.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR West, and I'm Arun Rath with a story you do not want to miss. Hang on for a shocking discovery that will rock your world, one little secret that could lead to financial independence. Wonder what I'm talking about? Well, that's exactly what we're about to talk about: Drawing listeners - or readers in with carefully written, suspenseful headlines that get clicks but don't really reflect the content. Clickbaiting.

Steve Hind recently wrote an op-ed in The Guardian, in defense of clickbaiting. Steve Hind, welcome to the program.

STEVE HIND: Good, Arun. How are you?

RATH: I'm doing pretty well. Thank you. I want to hear some of your favorite examples of clickbait.

HIND: I actually got pointed to a video that was on YouTube via Upworthy, that was originally just called "Zach Wahls Talks About His Family." Zach Wahls is a bloke from the states raised by two gay moms. And the video, which was quite a passionate testimony from him, got a million views. It was rebranded to be called "Two Lesbians Raised A Baby, And This Is What They Got." And with that headline, it got 17 million views.

So I think a great example of how if you put a bit of thought and creativity into how you label your content, you can really transform how far it goes.

RATH: Now, clearly, this kind of technique annoys a lot of people. You know, within minutes of reading your piece, I was hooked on one of these sites that does spoilers. These feeds, what they do is they provide the answer to the question in the headline.

HIND: That's right, yes. So I'm looking at HuffPo Spoilers, at the moment. Huffington Post tweeted out a headline that just said: "Can Yoko Ono Do No Wrong?" And HuffPo Spoilers retweeted it with the word "no" in front. When you clickbait well, what you're making people do is think, oh, that is something I'd like to read - an article giving the answer to, rather than knowing the one-word answer.

RATH: Now, of course, those of us at respectable organizations, we look down our noses at this sort of gimmickry. But you say, no, not so fast. So why is clickbait not horrible?

HIND: If you're a serious news organization that has, you know, real financial pressures - which I think is almost all of them - then those extra clicks are worth money. If The Guardian can announce the news on Twitter, then it's doing a valuable public service. But it's not going to get paid by advertisers. Slate have, as their most popular piece of content on their site, the Dear Prudence advice column, which...

RATH: I think the word help is in about 99 percent of their headlines.

HIND: Help, and then, you know, something about an awkward situation with your stepfather. But, you know, Dear Prudence is keeping the lights on. It's subsidizing the more serious work. You know, this week, BuzzFeed hired Isaac Fitzgerald to be its first books editor. It says a lot that, you know, the one organization out there that's pumping out more cat gifts than any other, is also the one organization that's actually hiring people to write book reviews.

You know, you've got to check your pride at the door if ultimately, what you want to do is get as many people as possible to engage with your story.

RATH: And how do all the clicks translate into advertising revenue?

HIND: Well, basically, the way that advertisers pay for ads on websites is by page impressions. So if you can say to people, the average person that comes onto our site will read one article, click through to two more and spend five minutes on the page, you'll be able to demand a much higher premium from advertisers. And I think that's why there's an incentive to combine clickbait, to get people in, with strong content to keep them on the site.

RATH: Steve Hind is a Sydney-based strategy consultant. His piece, "In Defence of Clickbait," appeared in The Guardian. Steve, thank you.

HIND: Thank you.

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