Spend just a few minutes online, and you’ll come face to face with clickbait content. While it may seem like an internet phenomenon, clickbait isn’t anything new. So, what is clickbait? When newspapers were king in the 19th century, clickbait was used. Instead of digital headings on your computer screen, paper boys were standing on street corners yelling the latest attention-grabbing headlines. People would become interested in the news story and buy the newspaper. These days, paper newspapers aren’t the primary source of information for people.
While clickbait articles can be effective and widely used, you should approach them with caution when using them with your blog post titles.
What Is Clickbait?
Clickbait is a sensationalized headline that’s designed to entice the reader into clicking on a link to a blog post, picture, or video. Instead of utilizing facts and information, the headline appeals to curiosity and emotions. Here are some examples of eye-catching clickbait headlines.
- You won’t believe what this cashier did for her customer!
- This one fail-proof trick will change your life forever.
- 10 ways to make money while you’re sleeping (#6 will shock you!)
- These students thought it was a typical day, then something shocking happened!
How to Identify Clickbait
Now that you have the answer to “what is clickbait?”, let’s talk about how you can identify it when you see it in the real world. There are a few characteristics that clickbait titles have. They will use sensationalism and suspenseful language that builds a curiosity gap or need in the reader. There are empty or unresolved pronouns. Instead of specifically referring to an identifiable subject, the term “it” gets used. The word it doesn’t stand for anything specific, so it’s empty because it could be anything. For example
Empty pronoun: It’s ten o’clock.
Identified pronoun: The time is ten o’clock.
Other common traits that clickbait titles have are lots of action words, reverse narrative, and overuse of numerals. These make sentences and headlines easier to read, giving them broader appeal.
Why Do Websites Use Clickbait?
The reason clickbait is so popular is that it works. These engaging titles appeal to the reader’s emotions and sense of curiosity. It’s incredibly hard to resist clicking on a title and finding out more. After all, don’t you want to know the 10 simple tricks for losing weight without exercising? (number seven will shock you! *wink*) The goal of SEO is to drive traffic to your website by increasing click-through rates. Using these types of witty headlines increases traffic.
According to the Chicago Tribune, six out of ten people share links on social media platforms without ever reading the hyperlink’s content. This means that clickbait headlines are incredibly effective at getting your content more exposure: the more social shares, the greater the audience, and the more brand awareness.
What Is the Problem With Clickbait?
The problem with clickbait is that these types of titles are typically used for articles there are lacking quality content or are unreliable as far as accuracy. The websites that heavily rely on these types of headlines don’t care about creating dedicated followers because they make money from pulling in as many clicks as possible. The more clicks the website generates, the more ad revenue generated. Buzzfeed is a website that is most well known for using clickbait headlines. Unlike other websites, Buzzfeed claims to carefully screen each piece of content that gets posted on its web pages to avoid fake news.
For the majority of companies, page views aren’t all that important. If you’re in the business of selling a product or service, it means nothing that 10,000 people came to your website if none of them made a purchase. Instead, conversions are more valuable. Even bounce rate is more informative for startups because the longer a visitor stays on the website, the more likely they are to buy. Additionally, clickbait tends to feel misleading, which creates distrust in the reader when thinking about your brand. This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. If the reader can’t trust you with your content, how will they trust you to sell them a quality service or product?
Finally, people are getting smarter. While they may not recognize clickbait as clickbait, they notice that something is off because they are desensitized. These over-sensationalized titles lose their effectiveness, and people tend to ignore them. Your clickbait headlines become more like white noise.
Should You Use Clickbait?
Yes and no. There’s a time and place for using clickbait. It shouldn’t be your only approach to crafting headlines. However, when paired with the right content marketing, it can be effective. Consider using clickbait when you want to drive traffic and have content that can live up to the expectations built up by the headline.
Don’t use the clickbait approach on all types of content that you create. This is overuse or over-optimization and will give your brand a bad reputation. You also shouldn’t use it when the content doesn’t live up to the title. This results in a bait-and-switch feeling in the reader. Clickbait shouldn’t be used when you have incomplete or incorrect information, when creating sales content, or when there’s a level of seriousness to your content.
Google’s Clickbait Policy
If you use Google ads as a part of your marketing strategy, then you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Google’s Policy on Misrepresentation, which defines Google’s definition of what is clickbait? It prohibits “Ads that use clickbait tactics or sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic.” This includes:
- Ads that claim to reveal secrets, scandals, or other sensationalist information about the product or service being advertised;
- Ads that use clickbait messaging such as ‘‘Click here to find out”, “You won’t believe what happened,” or phrases synonymous or similar to encourage the user to click on the Ad to understand the full context of the ad;
- Ads that use clearly altered zoomed-in body parts, mugshots, or real-life accident or disaster photos to promote a product or a service; or ads that use “before and after” images to promote significant alterations to the human body
- Ads that use negative events, such as death, illness, or disaster
An Alternative Approach to Clickbait
Instead of using outright clickbait for your article’s headlines, why not take the lessons we learned and ethically apply them? For example, clickbait builds hype. Instead of going all out and hyping to level 1000, tone it down and build curiosity. Don’t go overboard and exploit the reader’s curiosity. You want to create interest without sensationalizing.
Make promises, but don’t over-promise. It’s ok to clearly state that you can solve a problem, but don’t set up the reader for disappointment. You want to entice the audience by promising solutions but don’t create distrust by not delivering.
Use numbers in your headlines, but limit your use of them. A top ten list or five easy steps are easily digestible headlines that will be effective. Numbers are also quickly scannable, making them more engaging. Finally, while a headline pulls the traffic in, your content keeps them there. The headline is just the first step. The second and more important step is writing and creating content. Don’t solely depend on your witty headlines. Focus on creating high-quality content that delivers valuable information to the reader.