We've all done it—even the most savvy inbound marketing experts. You're absentmindedly scrolling through Facebook during the mid-afternoon slump when you suddenly stumble upon an article titled “She Tried to Wrestle an Alligator and You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!”
You get a strange, uncontrollable urge in your index finger to click the link and see exactly what that crazy lady was up to. After spending a disappointing minute-and-a-half reading about a zoologist taking a blood sample, you realize: you've fallen for clickbait yet again.
Used to generate lots of traffic and therefore ad views, clickbait takes advantage of inherent human curiosity. It's widely used all over the internet, from celebrity style sites ("You'll never believe who's got the WORST bikini body!") to business blogs ("Is this tiny detail of SEO going to ruin your business and leave your family destitute?").
Facebook and other distribution platforms have attempted to crack down on this kind of content. In August of 2016, Facebook introduced new anti-clickbait changes to its algorithm. Posts now receive a clickbait score that is primarily based on phrases that commonly appear in clickbait headlines but not in legitimate news articles.
Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy are particularly famous for this type of content, and it's hard to argue with the millions of people who read and share their articles.
I, for one, recently fell prey to a "Which Clueless Character Are You?" quiz. I'm Dionne, in case you were wondering.
The thing is, it's not only about algorithms. Readers can recognize clickbait and they're beginning to understand not only the general motivation behind it—more site traffic—but also that the ultimate goal is to expose them to ads.
So while clickbait may be effective for sites that make their revenue from ad impressions, these tactics can do more harm than good for most businesses. Sure, you may earn more page views, but what about the time your visitors spend on the page? How about your click-through rates? Oh, and your reputation?
Clickbait is often used in lieu of a well-planned, long-term effort to create relevant, informative, timely content that not only attracts traffic but brings in customers. Does this mean your titles should be boring and literal? No, of course not—but they should balance clickability with, you know, not pissing off your readers.
How do you know when you're jumping on the clickbait wagon? Here are 3 questions to ask before you publish, especially if your goal is to build a real audience for your content.
1. Is the Title Clear and Accurate?
For many readers, even a title like “Discover the Startling Secret behind the Newest Marketing App” is enough to raise a red flag with the word “gimmick” scrawled across it. The implication that a massive secret is contained within your humble blog post gives off a shady vibe that's all-too-similar to sites that are trying to sell weight loss supplements or discounted iPads—even if there is a startling secret.
Just like that, the reader has developed a view of your company’s content that is the opposite of what you want. Instead, consider a title like “New Twitter Analytics Features Will Be Huge for Marketers.” There’s no beating around the bush as to what will be featured, but it still gives readers a reason to click.
2. Is the Content Worthwhile?
Convincing someone to click is great, but it doesn't do you much good if they don't stick around. The content of the post or page needs to fulfill your readers' expectations, whether they expect a quick, fun read or a detailed post with clear, actionable steps.
It's easy to write a post just to target a keyword and end up with a puff piece, and you may think it's harmless—but it's not. That keyword is desirable because people are searching for answers, and it's disrespectful to lure them in and then give them nothing but fluff. You know the topic matters to them, so when you put something out there you'd better make sure you're adding value.
3. Is It Targeted to Your Buyer Persona?
The first two points will keep you in good standing with whoever happens to land on your site, but how do you know that those readers are potential customers?
For starters, you can make sure that the title, meta description, content of the post, and social shares are tailored to your buyer persona. What problem are they trying to solve? What motivates them to click? How much time do they have to spend? What kind of language will they respond to?
This helps attract not only new visitors, but brings in ones who are interested in your message and aligned with your company personality.
If you're starting to worry that your clickbait-y content may be getting you in trouble, here's one piece of good news: Facebook’s VP of Product Management on News Feed, Adam Mosseri, has said that if publishers stop posting clickbait, their referral traffic will recover.
Investing in creating content that's worth the readers’ time creates a new picture in their minds: a company that knows what brought them to the site initially and takes care of their needs in an efficient, compelling manner once they get there. That's the sort of site that readers are going to come back to time and time again.
Sure, articles that promise shocking revelations—like the fact that you are "a Dionne" instead of "a Cher"—are never going to be hurting for clicks and shares, but giving readers what they need and want will give you the professional, trustworthy vibe you need to keep readers visiting your site regularly.
Leaving without clicking below for more great tips? As if!
Editor's Note: This post has been updated. It was originally published on August 11, 2015.