You won’t believe what we think about clickbait

Clickbait headlines are totally pervasive and theyre proven to work, but are the results worth the stigma?

These days, it’s almost impossible to ignore clickbait headlines. It’s likely you see at least one headline like this creep into your digital life every day:

  • ‘You’ll NEVER guess how this Pomeranian got into the Guinness World Records’
  • ‘What this little girl did will blow your mind. 2:46 will change your life’
  • ‘If you laugh, you get it. If you’re offended, you’re part of the problem’

These kinds of posts are specifically designed to kick-start the nosy part of your brain. They exploit what some call the ‘curiosity gap’, sharing just enough so that readers have an idea of what they’re clicking, while withholding the meat of the content that compels the click.

It’s obviously been a successful tactic. Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy can pull in upwards of 10 million unique visitors a day.

This one single fact will totally blow your mind

But while clickbait has been proven to generate hits, what do these viral dark arts say about you and your brand?

Audiences have become cynical of clickbait, since most of it leads to worthless content churned out by hit-driven content farms. Readers don’t associate clickbait with quality – they associate it with being duped. It’s why Facebook is now cracking down on companies that employ clickbait tactics.

However, although you may not want to lump yourself in with the detritus of the internet, there are some lessons to be learned from the clickbait-ification of content. You can get your content seen, without having to cheapen it.

These secret do’s and don’ts of clickbait will change the way you look at the internet FOREVER

DO focus on your headline

If clickbait has reinforced any one tenet of creating engaging online content, it’s that the headline is one of your most important tools. It’s the first thing that your reader is going to see, so it has to draw them in.

Clickbait content knows this, and capitalises on it well. The helpful elements that can be taken from the trend are that clickbait headlines are…

  • engaging
  • compelling 
  • concise 
  • designed to arouse curiosity

But what do you want to avoid?

  • annoyingly familiar headlines (eg ‘you won’t believe’)
  • leaving out the real benefit of the click 
  • failing to deliver on the promise of the headline

So don’t say ‘You’ll never believe how they made this custard pie!’ Try ‘7 recipes that will make your custard pies more delicious than ever!’

Be clear in your headlines, let your audience know what the content is, and draw them in with a benefit.

DON’T trick your readers

Headlines can maximise the number of eyeballs that will fall on an article, but typically clickbait includes an element of deception – the article itself is usually not satisfying.

So once you’ve captured the curiosity of your readers, you need to make sure that you’re also delivering on the initial promise of your amazing custard story. If you just link to two gifs of custard production, you’ll only end up disappointing your audience.

Don’t trick your readers into engagement – actually engage them. Unless you’re aiming for lots of hits but a large bounce rate (and who really wants that?) you have to think about how you follow up on that headline.

The helpful elements to take away from clickbait content are that it is:

  • shareable 
  • easy to read 
  • sometimes fun 
  • can be enjoyed on a lunch break 

However, you need to work to make sure that your content is NOT:

  • short-lived 
  • unrelated to the headline 
  • created just for clicks 
  • editorially unsatisfying

DON’T overload your readers

Even though you want to deliver on the initial promise of content to your reader, this doesn’t have to be in the form of a 1,000 word essay. Clickbait-driven articles know this well.

A 300-word blog post can deliver interesting and helpful content, or you could deliver a 5-step How to… guide with 5 punchy steps and some relevant images. Make your content digestible and get your audience searching for the share button.

DO keep your readers on your site

Most clickbait is clearly manufactured just to get you onto a site. What these sites then do is try to keep you there.

Look at Upworthy or Buzzfeed and you’ll see that a great deal of non-story space is given over to links to other articles and other parts of the site.

If you’re going to draw your audience in with a bite-sized story, make sure they don’t just leave straight away. Fill your website with even more clickbait-influenced content and you could keep your audience there for hours, rather than minutes.

DO keep a consistent voice

As with any content, tone of voice is key. Clickbait-heavy sites have nailed this element of their marketing strategy: you immediately know an Upworthy headline when you read one.

Just make sure you’re using the right tone of voice for your site. For instance, you wouldn’t expect The Guardian to write ‘You won’t believe the 7 ways Ebola can get into your system!’ That kind of headline immediately devalues the following content before it’s even been read.

Different websites need to appeal to different audiences, so if you’re offering easy-going, digestible content that can be quickly read before moving on that’s fine. Just remember that an irreverent tone of voice doesn’t excuse lazy content.

Final thought

Used with confidence, clarity and with your audience’s wants and needs in mind, the psychological trickery of clickbait can, in moderation, be a clever way of drawing visitors to your site. But as always, the content must deliver! Make sure it is solid, meaningful and gives the reader something to take away from the experience – earn that click, don’t trick it.

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