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If you've seen a headline like the one above recently then you're not alone. The clickbait headlines are seriously growing in number. After writing this I'm still not sure how I feel about them, but here's an overview of why they're so important in the online world.

Let's go back to basics. Clickbait is generally mediocre content packaged with a super appealing headline that will posses your finger to click a link even if you don't want to.

Once the preserve of the spammy pop-up advert (remember when you were you the millionth visitor to the site and won a prize) they're now being used to much more by sites which are anything but spam.

The one website which typifies the use of the Clickbait headline is Buzzfeed. If you haven't come across it you'll be greeted with a page which headlines like:

24 Things All Perfectionists Have Nightmares About

You Probably Missed This One Thing In The First “Harry Potter” Film

29 Little Things Guys Can Do To Instantly Be More Attractive

Click on any of these and you'll be normally be met with a long old page full of listicles, GIF's, videos and quizzes showing everything that you could easily live without.

Everyone knows the reason why it's popular - do you? 

There's been a lot of discussions about why this sort of content is so popular, after all humanity would not collapse if people didn't know about the '21 Things you should never say to people who are Gluten Free'. But why are companies posting this sort of thing? 

People are bored. People have the internet. Produce enough compelling shareable content that appeals to the biggest and broadest worldwide demographic and you have yourself a winning business strategy.

The gluten free article was posted 2 days ago since writing this and has racked up an incredible 25k shares on Facebook and 446k page views. Multiply this by all the articles on the site and you're talking about an audience of many millions. The most popular article on the site currently is 'Which US President are you' which has so brought in 1.88 million shares in the last 6 months alone.

Why does that traffic matter? 

You can make a serious amount of money.

With Buzzfeed it's all about advertising. They allow companies in who have sponsored articles (known as native advertising) to promote themselves. Just have a look at this post from Transport for London.

Alternative you can just stick advertising on the site and get paid for each click that you send that way. It brings in a serious amount of money. Just have a read through the Viperchill blog posts on others are doing it. One guy is reportedly made $400,000 in a single month.

You'll never be able to guess what's going to happen next? 

If this was something that was happening in a bubble then all would be well, but it seems to be starting to panic major news providers as Buzzfeed has started making in roads to become a serious news provider. Just have a look at this article from the Guardian.

As traditional papers lament the decline of their readership figures as the world moves to online sources for their news, publishers are trying to find a way to bring in extra revenue and are taking a leaf out of Buzzfeeds' book.

These are some of the headlines recently from the Guardian:

  • Psst! Your phone is snooping on you. What you need to know and how to stop it – video
  • Are these the best concert films of all time?

and from the Telegraph:

  • Ice Ice Baby: 10 best ice-bucket challenge videos
  • Should you be intimidated by a swan?
  • How to write the perfect LinkedIn profile in 7 Steps.

I don't know if this is the same for other news publications elsewhere, but it seems like a tacky tone to take when newspapers pride themselves on traditional meaningful headlines and journalism. 

Admittedly these sorts of headlines I picked out above are more difficult to find. The rest of their content is traditionally what you'd expect from the papers. If you want a perfect example of somewhere between the two try the Huffington Post.

But why write headlines like these? To make content go 'viral' > To gain traffic > To gain ad clicks.

The Guardian relies on driving this traffic to more 'traditional online adverts - if there is such a thing. If you look at the bottom of a Telegraph page you'll get regular ads, Google ads and 'sponsored stories' i.e links to other articles across the web. 

The one question that keeps business owners awake at night

Now even Moz is beginning to question it's own approach to generating traffic though headlines. Of course, you want your content to be read and shared, but not at the cost of delivering lower quality more broadly appealing headlines.They'll test and figure it out I'm sure.

It then makes me think about my own blogging and writing generally, should I have called my recent post on destination marketing in Australia.

Streuth - 3 campaigns that have transformed how we visit down under

I'd rather be honest. After all if you've read this far you're hopefully not in the mood to piss about with a quiz on how Swedish you are? (Yes that is another genuine Buzzfeed quiz).

What it does show is that the landscape in which journalism and content is created is still evolving at a rapid rate, one in which Buzzfeed has done incredibly well out of.

How it develops I don't want to say, but my money wouldn't be on it being a long term success story. Things change and the hype about the hype will eventually blow over. Remember how excited everyone was about MySpace back in the day. How about now? 

For now I'm keeping my content style - and their headlines - the same as ever.

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