“Clickbait” usually gets a bad rap because people don’t deliver on what they promise with catchy titles.
While the practice of clickbait has to do with search engine optimization and generating traffic, it is a legitimate online marketing strategy that works! If used responsibly and ethically, it can increase your online visibility. Let's see why:
Despite its shady reputation, clickbait is effective because it's based on two online behavioral drivers – curiosity and the fear of missing out. Curiosity is a basic human trait, but the online environment takes it to a whole new level with instant gratification.
Generally, you can recognize clickbait by one or several of these elements:
- a strong appeal to emotion
- a catchy title
- a compelling headline
- content that is easy to skim over
- content that is deliberately made for sharing on social media.
The most common types include the widely popular listicles, blog posts that capitalize on trending topics, and how-to materials.
The curiosity gap is the real hook
Even though we’ve all been tricked by the titles, some clickbait still makes us… well... click. It manages to leverage our emotions and our curiosity – as long as we care about the subject.
This urge to find something new and interesting is called the curiosity gap and has the power to generate strong emotions that lead to the urge to instantly click. Even if you know that content or news isn't all that's cracked up to be!
The ethical use of clickbaits
Sensationalist headlines may get more attention. However, if they don’t deliver (and, let’s face it, few do), the website will eventually lose followers, even if they start with high traffic.
If you choose to employ this very effective tactic, it’s essential to be genuine. It’s a very good strategy for extending your reach, as long as you offer quality and use it wisely to attract and retain visitors.
Apart from your own goodwill and conscience, you’ll also have the “internet brigade” to keep you in check.
How not to employ clickbait
As I was saying before, clickbait has been around for some time. Search engines and social media platforms have taken measures to discourage unfair practices. In its policy, Google forbids “ads that use clickbait tactics or sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic.”
Some examples of such ads are:
- before-and-after photos depicting significant alterations of the human body
- phrases like “You will not believe what …”, “Number X will shock you”, “Click here to learn the never before uncovered secret…”
- altered images, disaster or tragedy photos
- using negative events such as illness or death to evoke powerful emotions.
Facebook does allow some of these, but they show up lower in news feeds. If they're shared too often, you'll get more page restrictions.
Top tips for using clickbait
Now let’s move on to a few best practices to follow if you consider using this tactic in an ethical and constructive way:
- avoid gratuitous sensationalism. It’s ok to leverage the curiosity gap, not so much to shamelessly exploit it.
- use numbered listicles. These are very popular because they are easy to follow and actionable.
- create content above getting clicks. Quality material will not only retain visitors but will also be shared more often.
- keep your promises. Headlines need to be followed through.
- be honest. This is one of the best traits of a person or brand so strive to be genuine.
Marketing ethics will always be controversial. The goal is to sell, and that takes no small amount of persuasion. Some will equate this to manipulation. Ultimately, in a highly competitive market, you need to stand out and reach a larger audience. Clickbait is a good strategy as long as you are careful about doing it in a balanced and ethical manner.