What is Clickbait? A Marketer's Guide

Mascot and Creative Champion
Published14 Oct, 2020
What is Clickbait? A Marketer's Guide - Superside

Clickbait is a word all marketers know, yet many associate it only with negative connotations. Do some quick searching on the internet and you’ll find tons of blogs telling you why clickbait is bad. This makes sense considering it’s linked to false advertising and misleading CTAs. You know, like those banner ads that popup with clickbait titles like: “You Could be Making $30,000+ Per Month! Find Out How,” or "You Won't Believe What Prince Harry Did Last Weekend in Paris!”

The thing is, clickbait campaigns can also be used for good. More marketers are realizing it’s potential and leveraging this strategy to help drive traffic, clicks, engagement and more.

On the other (more positive) end of the spectrum, you can think of clickbait like a buzzworthy article featuring a topic that’s just too enticing NOT to click. Sure, it may have baited you with a flashy image or somewhat controversial headline, but the content itself delivers—no false promises here!

In this post we cover the below key questions:

  • What is a clickbait campaign?
  • Why do clickbait campaigns work?
  • What are the pros and cons of clickbait?
  • When should marketers use clickbait?

Scroll on and get aquainted with this age-old (but newly refreshed) marketing tactic.

What is Clickbait?

The definition of clickbait is: content produced with the main purpose of attracting attention and encouraging visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

That doesn’t sound so ominous now, does it?

The purpose of clickbait is to drive engagement through action. In today's digital age, this could be likes, shares, or clicks, but the concept has been around for decades (and linked to this advertisement from 1927). Higher engagement leads to a higher Google search ranking which, in turn, can lead to increased brand trust and potential new conversions.

Algorithms do not process human emotional variables; they only determine when things are considered relevant to a user. Clickbait encourages engagement. The time that someone spends looking at an article or particular page is clocked as their attention rate. Engagement data is then used in places such as YouTube to suggest videos you may like or Google to increase your page ranking. In a crowded online space, these metrics can lead to tremendous growth.

Why do Clickbait Campaigns Work?

Clickbait works by enticing people to click on a photo or video that takes them through to a new webpage or advertisement. The tactic can be reduced down to one simple acronym: FOMO. “Fear of missing out” is a real thing, and when people think there’s something they don’t know that they should know—well, they do some digging. They click that link.

“Clickbait is structured in such a way that the title is essentially telling you that it knows something that you don’t know, and all you have to do is click to find the answer.”

- Blake Stimac, Wix

These campaigns inspire engagement, which often leads to social and word-of-mouth sharing. In reality, increased engagement is a primary goal for many brands and businesses. So when people discovered this luring effect, it wasn't long before there was a sea of clickbait headlines floating around the internet. Heck, we see clickbait titles in newspapers and print as well!

Sponsored ads using manipulative tactics, or sharing fake news, became the bulk of clickbait content on the internet, all trying to encourage users to click. Over time, internet users became simultaneously aware of, and then annoyed by these misleading clickbait trends, and the phrase quickly gained a bad reputation. Humans on the internet are open to discovery, but they want to be greeted with relevant content. When they are left disappointed, they feel their time has been wasted and they are not happy.

But at its core, clickbait focuses on creating an emotional connection with users as they browse the web. The point of clickbait content is to pique curiosity by introducing uncertainty. Most people don't like to live in the unknown, and the need to understand something drives them to click through to an unknown article or video.

Into the Unknown

There are psychological reasons why the gap between what we want to know and what we already understand causes this reaction.

Clickbait introduces ambiguity, which humans dislike, and it triggers a response by the limbic system. Clickbait can be disruptive and shock us out of a consistent pattern of behavior (like browsing online or scrolling on social).

It uses well-worn, psychological patterns that people are already looking for. It gives them what they need, when they need it.

- Neil Patel

There are many psychological triggers that marketers use to convert leads into customers, so don’t get on your high horse about clickbait! We’re all trying to manipulate one another in some way—yes, even in our friendships and relationships.

What are the Pros and Cons of Clickbait?

The Good

There's no denying that clickbait gets views, and if this is your goal, the technique can be a smart marketing decision when used correctly. The right creative title can provide the potential for conversion, often at a lower cost than any other form of advertising.

Clickbait can help you stand out in a competitive online space and potentially drive new leads. However, be aware of user behavior, as many prefer to spend more time on the platform they've chosen to be on, rather than being sent somewhere else online. Consider delivering value in the initial headline, thumbnail image, or ad to give users an extra incentive to click on your content.

If you’re looking for examples of good clickbait campaigns, we’ve got a whole other article on that which you can find here!

Below is an example of an effective "good" clickbait title. It's targetting a relevant and top of mind topic and using a FOMO tactic.

The Bad

The consensus is that clickbait is not welcome to the party, and there is a frustration that arrives when it appears on a webpage or as a pop-up. These things are especially true when a piece of content seems so far-fetched or unable to deliver on its promise.

You definitely don't want to make a bad first impression—or second or third, for that matter—so be wary of clickbait marketing that isn't relevant or delivering value to the viewer. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer/audience and use that empathetic approach to guide your clickbait campaign.

We've all seen ads like the below examples. It's spammy. It's often senseless or crude. It's not the right type of content businesses should use to drive clicks!

The Ugly

In an effort to curtail clickbait, Facebook, Google, and YouTube are all taking steps to ban this content. There is a fine line between sensationalism (aka * Yellow Journalism) and emotional engagement. Be careful to air on the side of caution to ensure your accounts don't get shadowbanned or deactivated.

* Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts.

When to Use Clickbait

Clickbait can be a strong part of your marketing mix, but only when done right. Success lies in your ability to gain the trust of the person who arrives on the link associated with your campaign.

Simply put, bad clickbait campaigns don't work and are looked down upon by SEO, tech, and social platforms. Headlines that over promise or "bend the truth" (saying something is free and then having hidden fees and shipping costs, for instance) impair reality and are always in danger of being removed. Misusing clickbait tactics can also lead to bigger issues, and depending on the level of misinformation presented, lawsuits.

That being said, there really is value in using clickbait in your marketing strategy.

Hopefully you now have a more well-rounded understanding of clickbait and it’s potential! Though we don’t encourage companies to only share clickbait content (ahem, People’s Magazine), it can be leveraged to drive real business results.

Shmoon Mascot and Creative Champion
My fellow Supersiders and I enable and elevate ambitious marketers and creative teams—breaking through bottlenecks and scaling creative. There is a better way to get design done. We chase the sun to bring you the "Shmoon"— that's me :)
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