Revealed: The Great Football Media Clickbait Swindle

Are you wise to the clickbait headline routine yet? Most aren’t, when you consider the growing amount of football sites peddling no-mark content in the name of ad revenue.

“Massive injury blow for Aston Villa striker” reads the headline.

‘OMG! Is Kodjia out for the rest of the season?’ you think.


Ah, some youth player you’ve never heard of is injured and out for two weeks.

The Content Con

The sad thing is the above example actually happened. The outlet was fully aware that nobody would have clicked on a headline of a youth player being injured, so it took some poetic licence with the headline to lay some bait.

It’s how they get you.

In some respects, when it comes to online football stories, riffing on a popular saying, a  headline is 9/10 of online journalism law. Sometimes literally, with the resulting story offering up little meat to the headline bone.

Likewise, if you’ve written an article of Nobel Prize winning level of journalism, initially, whether someone will read it or not, will be down to how enticing the headline is.

Of course, it’s common sense that a good headline is better than a dull one, but where do you draw the line?

It many ways it’s the way the internet works, and too often for football websites set up to earn advertising money or the online sites of local papers trying to financially counter falling sales of the paper, it’s simply the rules of the game to be played.

But like any game, there are unethical cheats.


On the popular news aggregate Newsnow, which is a potentially useful site for football fans which lists all the news for their respective clubs in one place, headline is king.

Newsnow states:

‘Our mission is to help provide people with links to the news they need to read, and publishers with people to read the news they write.’

Unfortunately, Newsnow’s mission statement has become increasingly detached from reality, as there are certain websites that have been primarily set up to take advantage of it, thus leading to it being full of ‘churnalism’ aimed simply at triggering advertising revenue.

Tricks of the Trade

‘Reliable Journalists’

There’s several headline tricks that football websites use, one being the cringe-worthy tactic to include in the headline a variation of ‘Reliable journalist confirms…’ followed by some transfer rumour.

It roughly translates to ‘this must be true, so you must read this’. The reality is the story is cut and paste from an online newspaper article or taken from a tweet from someone with ‘journalist’ in their Twitter bio – whether they actually work for a creditable outlet is another story.

Tweet Harvest

Then there’s the lazy ‘journalism’ favourite – variations of “Fans react on Twitter” and “Fans let their feeling be known”. Which leads to a post with a bunch of screen grabs or embeds of people’s Twitter comments on a topic.

Because you can normally find Twitter comments to suit any agenda or view, it’s easy to support any sensationalist headline you want to run.

Sometimes the same website will run polar opposite stories of ‘fan reaction’ to a particular issue – for and against – just to get a two-for-the-price-of-one opportunity for click juice.


Likewise, once upon a time, one or two articles in a local paper would cover off a story or a pre-match press conference, now in the modern age, it’s a case of spreading and recycling a handful of quotes across 20-odd online articles.


The Melodramatic

There’s also the melodrama approach, take this example on the 4th October from the Birmingham Mail (I’m trying not to pick on them…)


‘Revealed: The bad news Aston Villa fans didn’t want to hear’

‘Revealed’ – a word used in a headline to add extra emphasis to some news that has been unearthed after journalistic investigation (see the homage in this column’s headline!).

So what’s the bad news that Aston Villa fans didn’t want to hear?

Has Xia gone bankrupt already? Have the EFL deducted points off Villa for negative play? Has Harry Redknapp been employed as Villa’s Director of Football?



Oh…Neil Taylor’s suspension has been upheld. Something that pretty much every Villa fan expected.

OK. A headline of ‘Neil Taylor’s suspension upheld’ obviously gives you all the info you need, so there’s no need to click through. They have to frame it somehow, as they have a business to run, but surely you’d expect something like, ‘Villa defender hears result of FA appeal ‘, rather than such nefarious baiting?

Hiroshi Kiyotake

Transformers – Bulls**t in Disguise

The most nefarious act in hankering for Newsnow traffic though is something MOMS has noticed the site HITC (Here Is The City) seemingly turning into standard practise.

HITC is a site that initially was set up for finance news, and its choice to go into the ‘vertical’ market of football was appropriately purely a financial decision.

The truth be known, if HITC didn’t do football content, the world would not be any worse off.

So what is their main trick?

Well, they so knowingly utilise enticing sensationalist headline bait, that once the story is published and becomes a headline on Newsnow, they swiftly and sheepishly edit the headline on their own site to a more sombre one, so when someone clicks through, it doesn’t look like entrapment.

Or the reader for a brief moment questions their own sanity – ‘that’s not the headline, I read…oh, well’ – shrugs their shoulders and reads on.

Lets look at some examples:

Newsnow Headline – Example 1

 ’27-year-old assist-king bouncing back in style after 2015 Aston Villa release’

OMG! Villa released an assist-king. The fools! Why? Who? 


Mysteriously, when the article appears the headline has transformed to:

‘Enda Stevens bouncing back at Sheffield United after Aston Villa release’

Despite having a handful of assists to his name this season, if Enda Stevens was in the original headline, there would be minimal interest, although his rise with Sheffield United is a valid story.

Newsnow Headline – Example 2

‘Steve Bruce predicts one Villa player could struggle for another two months yet’

What? A Villa player is going to struggle for two whole months?! I don’t like the sound of this, I must click this to find out who…


On arriving to the website, the headline has mysteriously transformed into the ‘No Sh*t Sherlock’ headline about a player coming back from long-term injury:

‘Steve Bruce predicts it’ll take a while for Aston Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia to hit top form’

Newsnow Headline – Example 3

‘Has Villa losing out to rivals for striker target proved a blessing?’

The Villa board missed out on a transfer to our rivals? What rivals? What player? 


You see the headline that it’s transformed into…

‘Has Aston Villa missing out on Sam Gallagher been a blessing in disguise?’

…and start to laugh.

What? Gallagher, the poor soul that has been sitting on relegation threatened Birmingham City’s bench?

Newsnow Headline – Example 4

‘SkySports pundit admits being stunned Aston Villa pulled off 2016 transfer’

Villa have pulled off a transfer miracle?! Oh do pray tell…


Shamelessly turns into:

‘Don Goodman admits he was stunned Aston Villa winger Albert Adomah was allowed to leave Middlesbrough’

Which is the whole story in the headline, so you wouldn’t need to click it.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Favourite Transformative Headline

My favourite transforming headline of the past few weeks though has to go to another clickbait footy site called ‘This is Futbol’.

‘Aston Villa will land automatic promotion if they hijack interest for £8m attacker in January’

A headline that tempts you in by offering guaranteed ‘automatic promotion’ just by spending £8m.

Why didn’t they write this article at the beginning of last season?

it would have saved Tony Xia a ton of cash on the likes of Ross McCormack, Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan. Plus, Roberto Di Matteo would be currently managing Villa in the Premier League.

Take the £8m already! Where do I click?


Oh…the headline magically transforms into


To which a voice in your head says, ‘hey, there was surely no need for the bold letters and the writer of this headline needs committing to an asylum’.

Tell me, how does Danny Ings guarantee any team anything?

Gabby Agbonlahor has played more games in the past two years.

No disrespect to the player, who’s had a tough time of late with two long-term injuries and has only made six league appearances in over two years, but the writer is clearly living in a fantasy world.

In all seriousness, the initial headline that appeared on Newsnow is a disgrace and takes click-baiting to a whole new level. Maybe Newsnow should do something to clear the cesspit up?

In the end though, it’s up to you.

Be careful what you click.


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