Clickbait - what is it?

Posted on 08 May 2017
Reader Question:

Doctor Digital, what is clickbait, and who do I catch with it?

Doctor Digital Says:

It’s tempting to call this blog ‘I Wrote a blog on clickbait and you WONT BELIEVE what happened next’ to give a more authentic flavour to a discussion about clickbait and how it works. Clickbait is basically a stealthy and aggressive form of digital marketing designed to get you to click on the story, take you to a website, and keep you there reading other articles with similarly highbrow content.

Clickbait refers to a headline, link, or context around a link that is designed specifically for clicks without necessarily telling the “clicker” what will happen when they do click. Clickbait doesn’t have to provide information about what a link is about or is referencing, it doesn’t have to be relevant, and it doesn’t even have to be factual—it just has to get people interested enough for that initial click.

It’s become something of an art form, and is prevalent across all social media and Google searching sidebar ads, which somehow know you were searching on weightloss miracles and then bombard you with seductive headlines. The gold in clickbait is in the headline, it has to be compellingly preposterous and make you desperate to know what happens next. On a subconscious level, we know that this is marketing trickery, but the humanness of us all begs to just have a little look and make sure that we aren’t missing out. Invariably we aren’t, but when we get to the site, we are given a smorgasbord of similarly designed stories and all too often…well you know what happens when you hit the buffet.

Why it works so brilliantly on social media sites like Facebook is that because it garners such user engagement, by proxy and the genius of Facebooks algorithms, that means it shows up in even more of your, and your friends feeds, building a seemingly unstoppable tsunami of sensationalised items on your page. Interestingly, far from being repelled by these bite size tabloid snacks, they are beginning to insidiously change the way we write copy for digital advertising, and clickbait style headlines are creeping into normal product copy and everyday news stories on reputable sites as the lines between Buzzfeed and the drive for 24 hour content blur our senses and our sensibilities.

Clickbait defies all marketing, copywriting, content and SEO logic. The stories are short, they are usually completely disposable, they are only compelling as far as the headline goes, they have no SEO, usually little relationship to fact, no attribution or referencing, but their sheer engagement statistics shows that this style of baiting works.

Most serious small businesses want clicks, but they also want shares and engagement from their readers. Earning clicks by tricking your audience or being vague will only peg your business as annoying. In other words, clickbait typically has an expiration date in terms of success. It may work at first to get new eyes onto your site, but more and more people will begin to catch onto your marketing methods and turn off in droves, which means sharing and overall clicks will decrease.

After all, how important is a click if it’s not going to lead your readers to do anything but bounce off? There are certainly a few tips most marketers could take away which could improve some aspect of their content, a little flair in a headline never hurt anyone. Plus, chances are even if you aren't engaging in any of these tactics, clickbait sites will be affecting you in some way, most often by quashing your own visibility on social sites. So knowing what you are dealing with is half the battle. And resisting clicking on those headlines the other half.