The Carbon Footprint Of Clickbait

31 Aug 2023

News just in: clickbait isn’t just annoying - it’s officially bad for the planet

A report by Ebiquity and Scope3 called ‘The Hidden Cost Of Digital Advertising’ found that of the $375m spent on advertising by 43 of the world’s leading advertisers - 15.3% was found to generate excessive CO2 emissions while providing no value to businesses. 

Aka, a sizeable chunk of the content we find on the internet is clickbait.

After analysing 116bn display ad impressions, it was found that the amount of CO2 generated by clickbait per year is the equivalent of flying 1.35 million people from London to Paris. It would take 3.7 million trees to absorb this amount of carbon.

Calls are now being made for advertisers to stop working with publishers that generate clickbait content such as articles, blog posts, videos or display ads.

However, while there is awareness of the quality issues that clickbait creates, more attention is also badly needed on the carbon impact of clickbait.

That's because CO2 is generated every time someone creates, shares and opens clickbait content. 

Why Is Clickbait Bad For The Environment?

From misleading headlines on news websites to spammy ads for Bitcoin or weight loss drugs - clickbait is often difficult to avoid on the internet. 

Using the new metric to measure digital carbon emissions CO2PM (CO2 per mille), the Ebiquity and Scope3 study found that 670g of CO2 is generated per 1,000 impressions.

Across the advertising industry, that equates to 77,826 metric tons of carbon dioxide. An increasing percentage of the total CO2 generated is originates from clickbait.

Clickbait mostly appears on so called ‘made-for-advertising’ websites (MFA). These low-grade websites are created solely to generate money from advertising, with no thought of the value provided for users. Once someone clicks on the page, the ads served to that user generate an income for the website owner. Making money is as far as the thought process goes for MFA website owners.

However, as clickbait sites are often image and video heavy, this generates more CO2 than normal when servers crawl the page, and likewise, when users try to load the page compared with lighter plain text content. 

Given clickbait results in a wasted journey, it also provides no relevance to the user either.

How Do Clickbait Sites Generate CO2PM?

  • Analytics tools

  • Comment sections 

  • Display ads

  • Embedded advertisements

  • Fonts 

  • HTML/Javascript to load the page

  • Images

  • Pop-ups 

  • Recommended content

  • Video players

Since clickbait websites make their money from serving lots of display ads and videos, they are often very slow to load, so that they can maximise ad revenue. All of the excess data that needs to be stored and loaded also results in excessive carbon emissions.

You might be interested in: How To Get A Zero Carbon Website

How To Spot Clickbait

While on the surface clickbait might seem harmless, the research about the CO2 generated shows it is anything but.

Publishers have a responsibility to understand their digital carbon footprint, and look to reduce this wherever possible.

Clickbait articles and videos often use sensational or misleading headlines.

For instance, ‘You won’t BELIEVE what this celebrity eats for breakfast’ or ‘This secret trick to becoming a millionaire overnight’ - essentially anything that is too good to be true or complete nonsense.

Clickbait video titles are often very dramatic and the thumbnail does not faithfully represent the content that you click on to watch.

In short, clickbait looks to play on your emotions whether that be shock, intrigue or the desire for a quick fix to a problem you are experiencing.

Guidance For Users

Clickbait does more than give you a wasted journey (all while making money from you). 

Alongside generating carbon emissions, clickbait can also sometimes be used to steal personal data including for phishing scams, especially if a link takes you to another website or a form.

Therefore, users should be vigilant to avoid clickbait and also call it out when they see it. One easy step is to only visit trusted news websites rather than those known for clickbait or sensationalist headlines.

However, anyone can also notify the publisher that clickbait on a website is both misleading and not environmentally friendly.

If the website or company has a sustainability policy, communication should be forwarded to editors or sustainability officers since we know that clickbait has a carbon footprint.

Guidance For Publishers & Content Creators 

Don’t - Purposely set out to create made-for-advertising websites or video channels. 

Don’t - Use misleading, sensationalist or inflammatory headlines for the purpose of generating clicks or ad revenue. 

Don’t - Include an excessive amount of display ads, autoplaying videos or advertising pop-ups within your content. 

Don’t - Include image headers or thumbnails which don’t appear in the content (or aren’t relevant to it).

Do - Check the current CO2 production of your website by using Website Carbon Calculator.

Do - Focus on providing a quality user experience first.

Do - Aim for evergreen content wherever possible.

Do - Create sustainability policies for new digital content. 

Do - Take accountability for past and current digital carbon emissions through training and site modifications. 

P.S… Boss making you write clickbait? You may also be interested in: What Is Climate Quitting?

EcoSend - Make Your Email Marketing Sustainable In One Easy Switch

If you do any kind of email marketing as a business or publisher, then switching to EcoSend could lower your digital carbon footprint.

Some 300 billion emails are sent every single day. Depending on the size of the email, a single message can emit up to 26g of carbon which soon adds up. 

EcoSend runs on renewable energy sources, and we’ll plant trees on your behalf for using us. All of which means you can still send incredible email campaigns, but in a way that's much kinder to the planet.

In short, quitting clickbait + switching to EcoSend could seriously lower your carbon emissions as a business.

✉️ ➡️ - Sign up for your free trial of EcoSend today, or drop us a message if you have any questions about our sustainable email tool. 

About the author

Rachael O'Flaherty

Content Writer

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The email marketing platform for better business

Win new customers, send better email, and make the planet better with every campaign.

  • Free Email Templates

  • Smart Segmentation

  • Lead Forms

  • Automated Campaigns

  • Automatic Offsetting

  • Team Sharing

  • HTML Email Editor

  • Multi-channel Campaigns

  • Drip Campaigns

  • MailChimp Import

  • Zapier Integration

  • Powerful API