How do the "Donald Trump's IQ will Shock You" sponsored content pieces make money?
They seem so un-targeted and don't seem to lead to any eventual product sale pages. I get that maybe they try to get a lot of clicks and do some kind of advertising arbitrage but does this really work? I've never clicked on other links on those pages.
I believe you are referring to the sponsored content links beneath main article pages, such as those by Taboola, Outbrain or other content amplification networks. An example is shown below:
They mostly make money through arbitrage. Notice how many of them tend to be listicles i.e numbered tips. You can expect to click through several pages to get all the tips and so there is ample opportunity to monetize the visitors who click through from the original ad.
For example, say the source site charges the sponsoring site on a CPC basis at 40 cents a click. the destination site can get 10 impressions from that click by making the visitor go through several mini-pages to read each of the "10 makeup tips all older women should know."
Even if all visitors don't click through all pages, if the average is, say, 5 pages then the site can get positive ROI by charging their advertisers per impression (or per thousand impressions as is common--CPM).
Some of the sponsored content leads to 'flogs' (fake blogs) with a lead generation form. They tell some story (e.g. Wisconsin mom makes $60k working from home) and then ask you to opt-in. That lead is then sold several times to various companies usually at between $5 to $15.
Some that appear to have no commercial intent (like the Donald Trump one you mention) or no listicle, lead to pages with obnoxious 'take over' ads that are very difficult not to engage with. Even if you engage by closing them out, the site may charge the advertiser for that click.
Those are just a few of the ways the sponsored content pieces make money.