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What is clickbait and why does it work so well?

Clickbait has gotten a bad rap in recent years.

In the age of misinformation, people hesitate to make sensationalist claims—and rightfully so.

When done right, clickbait is one of the most effective ways to get people’s attention and drive traffic toward your content.

However, what’s important is once you get them to your site, you offer more than just a catchy headline.

In this post, we’ll explain what clickbait is, how to do it ethically, and why you should use it more.

What Is Clickbait?

Clickbait is any content written to attract clicks. It usually contains:

  • A catchy or compelling headline
  • A strong appeal to emotion
  • Scannable content optimized for web reading
  • Witty copy
  • Content aimed at social media sharing

Although widely attributed to online media, this type of content has existed since print journalism dawned. In the 19th century, when newspapers were fighting for circulation numbers, they found the best way to attract new visitors was by using catchy headlines to entice readers.

Here’s an example from a 1913 version of New York World, a newspaper run by the infamous Joseph Pulitzer. As you can see, every headline is attention-grabbing, emotional, and aimed at hooking a read at first glance.

early clickbait example what is clickbait

Fast forward to the 21st century, and catchy newspaper headlines have become catchy blog titles.

With the introduction of SEO, and more brands wanting to increase traffic to their websites, brands such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and Gawker began publishing popular listicle content like: “27 Famous Actors Who Tricked You Into Thinking They’re American” and “6 songs that seem romantic but aren’t, and one that seems like it isn’t but is.

This content was widely successful, primarily due to social media’s popularity and relatable content’s virality.

These days, it is used in almost every type of digital content, from “15 Marketing Tools You Need to Dominate Your Social Strategy” to “The Secret Behind My 1,866,913 Monthly Search Visitors.” Yup, I use it too, when it makes sense.

Types of Clickbait

Clickbait content can be anything, from blogs to videos, news articles, ads, and beyond.

The most common types include listicles, how-tos, and blog posts that capitalize on trending topics.

Here are a few examples of common headings:

  • “The Ultimate Guide to _____”
  • “X Ways to Improve Your _____”
  • “A List of the Best _____ in L.A.”
  • “The Secret to ______ That Will Change Your Life Forever.”
  • “Why We Love _____ and Why You Will, Too.”
  • “You’ll Never Guess What _____ Did Last Night.”

You’ll also see clickbait headlines on video platforms like YouTube. Check out Bright Side’s YouTube channel for great examples of attention-grabbing headlines below:

Brightside YouTube channel what is clickbait

Why Clickbait Works

Clickbait often gets a bad rap online, mostly due to allegations about misleading content.

That being said, there are many ways to leverage it ethically without misleading your readers.

It works because of its ability to tap into genuine human emotion and curiosity.

Everyone wants to know the secret to get more followers, just like everyone wants to know about the best fight scenes in TV and movie history.

This is called the curiosity gap, the psychological feeling of wanting to know more.

Marketers and writers structure clickbait titles to make the reader think they will learn something new by clicking the link.

The essential ethical note is to offer real value within your article rather than using a misleading headline to get page traffic.

Clickbait is also an important part of measuring online success.

If no one clicks on your blog, you lose the opportunity to talk to thousands of potential customers.

If you want to expand your reach, then you want more clicks. If you want more clicks, you need to build a strategy to get them.

That being said, you don’t need to resort to sensationalism to do this.

Instead, think about the goals of your audience. My blog, for example, teaches readers about digital marketing techniques. While it may use catchy headlines, such as “The 10 Ingredients of Great Content Writing” or “19 Strategies That’ll Help You Become an Influencer,” it offers actionable information within those blogs that help readers achieve their goals.

When using clickbait strategies, focus on your customer pain points and create content that educates and excites them.

If your headline matches your content, you can avoid audience backlash.

Clickbait Strategies to Avoid

While clickbait can be a successful digital marketing strategy, it can also hurt your brand if done wrong.

Many social media sites and search engines have added rules to their policies to discourage the use of sensationalist or misleading content.

Google’s policy prohibits “Ads that use clickbait tactics or sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic.” This can include ads that:

  • Claim to reveal secrets or other sensationalist information.
  • Use wording such as, “Click here to learn more …” or, “You won’t believe
  • what happened next ….”
  • Use altered images or disaster photos.
  • Include “before and after” photos showcasing significant changes in the human body.
  • Use negative events, such as death, illness, or disaster, to evoke action in viewers.

On Facebook, clickbait articles will appear lower in News Feeds, and repeated sharing can result in page restrictions.

It’s also important to avoid misleading clickbait on your website, as it can damage trust in your brand.

Ultimately, success comes down to two things:

1. Write compelling, honest, engaging headlines.

2. Don’t disappoint your readers once they click on them.

Consequences of “Bad” Clickbait

Why would you want to use “bad” clickbait in your headline? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

bad clickbait example what is clickbait

In this case, Delicious talked about the chicken Big Mac in Paris. The story itself isn’t accurate. It’s just the headline gives a different impression.

It’s tempting to get people eager to visit your site by including a click-worthy heading. However, that’s not going to build you long-term success because:

  • Bad clickbait (misleading headlines, etc.) loses your trust and damages your credibility. You can’t expect people to trust you if it becomes obvious you’ve created a headline just to win clicks.
  • Negative company image: If you create headlines purely for clickbait, visitors could view your brand as manipulative and misleading. If your headline promises something and your content doesn’t deliver, that doesn’t look good for your business.
  • Lower engagement: Clickbait headlines might get you a clickthrough. However, visitors to your page will likely exit when they realize the content doesn’t live up to the title.
  • Poor quality content: Do you want to engage readers and keep them on your page? Then focus on quality content rather than clickbait-style headlines or clickbait content. Write actionable material that your readers can learn from. That’s how you get people to come back for more.
  • Lower revenue: Got a product/service to sell? Want people to hang around long enough to consider purchasing? Or click on an affiliate link to earn a commission? Your visitors are far less likely to do that if you rely on clickbait headlines. Research also shows that sites depending on clickbait headlines and clickbait content get a lower-than-expected ROI. This is because of the poor user experience and lower impact impressions.

7 Tips to Use Clickbait in Your Content Marketing Strategy

Now that you know how to use clickbait ethically, it’s time to implement these strategies into your content marketing.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Use the curiosity gap, but don’t exploit it. Avoid sensationalist material and inaccurate claims.
  2. Be honest with your readers and avoid misinformation. Be a beacon of honesty. According to Adobe, seven in ten customers buy more from trustworthy brands. They’re also more likely to abandon brands they don’t trust. If you remain truthful with your viewers, you’ll have a better chance of converting them.
  3. Use numbers in your headlines. Numbers represent actionable steps users can use to reach their goals. Numbered lists also improve scannability and make it easier for readers to digest content.
  4. Pay attention to your data. When using clickbait headlines, measure them against other headlines and see which performs better. Like anything in marketing, the numbers don’t lie. There’s no point investing in a tactic if it doesn’t work for your audience.
  5. Write for more than clicks. A headline is just the beginning. What really matters is the quality of your content as a whole. While a witty headline may bring them to your page, your content makes them stay.
  6. Include emotional triggers in your headlines, as they tend to resonate with readers and encourage them to click through and read more. Power words like “free,” “easy,” “secret,” or “now,” create a psychological response in people and encourage action.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make bold claims in your headlines. However, ensure you deliver on the promises you make in your content.

Remember, the primary goal of content marketing is to create engaging content that provides value to your audience. You can use clickbait tactics to capture attention. However, you must balance it with valuable content for your audience, and your headlines accurately reflect your content.

How To Write Clickbait Headlines

Ready to start writing a clickbait headline of your own? Follow these steps to write a great headline that drives clicks.

1. Use Google Alerts to Find Out What’s Trending

Leveraging popular trends and news is a great way to engage your users.

By setting up Google Alerts for trending or viral topics, you can stay ahead of your competition and be the first to break the news to your audience.

Pair your trending headlines with relevant keywords to boost your SEO.

2. Use Numbers or Listicle Format

Numbers are a time-honored blogging trend that increases reader engagement.

Using numbers in blog titles is effective because they show your readers there are actionable steps to follow, and the content is easy to scan.

Because online users seek quick, efficient information, they prefer content they can easily access and ingest.

Numbers also imply the presence of a listicle, which are often the most shared blog type on the internet.

3. Offer Immediate Value to Your Reader

Offering immediate value is a great way to encourage clicks on your post.

You can offer physical value through discounts, free products, consultation services, and more. Or, you can offer something less tangible, such as a secret or an industry trick.

When using this clickbait marketing strategy, be sure to follow through with your promise in your post.

No one wants a misleading headline, and you’ll lose your audience’s attention if you don’t seem trustworthy.

4. Use a Teaser

One of the best clickbait strategies is to use a teaser in your headline.

You’re leveraging the curiosity gap and creating immediate engagement by suggesting the reader will find something they don’t already know in your post.

A teaser can be several things, from “The X things you wish you knew…” or “You’ll never guess what ____ did in Paris.”

As we said before, be sure to follow through with your teaser in the body of your post to avoid annoying your audience.

9 Tips For Building A Clickbait Headline

You understand what clickbait is. You know it’s not all bad. You also know how it can elevate clickthroughs. Now it’s time to put it all together with the following tips.

1. Add Crazy-high Numbers

Everybody’s impressed when you can walk out a huge number.

It could relate to money, percentages, or anything else.

For instance, I got a ton of engagement in my article about YouTube advertising spend.

2. Make Controversial Claims

Although it’s great for creating viral content, controversy isn’t always good for business.

However, sometimes it can get you more attention.

You don’t want to start controversy just to be controversial. That’s silly.

However, if you have an opinion contrary to the status quo, go ahead and share it, as I did on this podcast.

3. Assemble a List of Simple Tricks

Hands up, who doesn’t like listicles? They’re probably one of the most popular forms of content because they’re easy to scan and absorb.

Listicles work well — not just for clickbait but also for SEO.

One way to jazz them up is to use adjectives to describe the tips, tricks, or things you’re going to list.

  • 5 simple tricks to…
  • 10 crazy ways to…
  • 7 Simple strategies
  • 31 magical fixes for…

You get the point. Add an appealing adjective to the listicle headline to make it even more clickbait-y.

4. Revisit Old-school Ads

In the past clickbait-style headlines got people to turn the page in a magazine or to buy a product advertised in the newspaper.

Consider this ad from the early 20th century.

Look familiar?

It should. The same headline format has been used on thousands of blog posts to sell get-rich-quick schemes.

Studying old ads can help you formulate new clickbait headlines for today’s consumers.

5. Beef Up Short Headlines with Teasers

We’ve all seen the clickbait headlines that call out some revelation in the article; you can do the same.

For instance, if you’re writing a short, SEO-optimized headline, you can transform it into clickbait. Here are a few examples off the top of my head:

  • 20 Ways to Boost Traffic by 206% (You Can’t Miss #18)
  • 32 Tricks for Better Lead Gen (Try #30 First)
  • 7 Simple Strategies for Better Social Engagement (#7 Can’t Lose)

You get the point. It’s like a movie trailer — tease what the audience has to gain by clicking.

6. Start (or End) with “This is Why”

Adding “this is why” somewhere in your SEO-optimized headline can transform it into effective clickbait.

You have two options for this strategy.

The first is to begin with the phrase “This is Why.”

However, modern SEO best practices involve moving the most important words in the headline to the beginning. All we need is some fancy rearranging.

Here, we’ve changed “This Is Why You Can’t Grow Your Blog Traffic” to “You Can’t Grow Your Blog Traffic (This Is Why).

That’s a simple but compelling way to get people to click.

7. Use “Will Make You” in a Headline

This is a great construction for an SEO-optimized title because it lets you put your most important keyword at the beginning of the headline. For example:

  • These X SEO Tricks Will Make You 300% More Money
  • Check Out X Social Media Hacks That Will Make You Insta-Famous
  • Our New Paid Search Service Will Make You Sigh With Relief

8. Evoke a Trusted Celebrity

No, you shouldn’t turn your website into a tabloid rag. Put that thought out of your mind.

However, you could use a well-known name in your industry to combine clickbait and SEO in your headline.

Consider this recent headline. Seth Godin is arguably one of the most trusted experts in marketing, entrepreneurship, leadership, and productivity.

In this case, it summarizes a Seth Godin podcast interview. Obviously, we can’t all sit down for a chat with a celebrity.

However, you could use quotes from your subject’s latest book or recent blog posts, for instance.

I’ve read lots of articles in this vein. You can write them, too, if you’re creative enough.

9. Stumped? Write Two Titles

When you can’t transform an SEO-optimized title into clickbait, you have another option.

What you might not realize is that you can put two titles in a single article or page:

1. Title tag: This headline goes within the <title></title> tags on a web page. It appears in search engines and the browser bar when someone clicks on it.

2. H1: The H1 tag goes within <h1> tags and appears at the top of your article if you decide to put it there.

If you use WordPress, you can easily differentiate your title and H1 tag using Yoast. It’s a plugin that gives you more control over your SEO.

For example, use the SEO title in the headline field on your WordPress post page. Then, add the clickbait title to the field in the Yoast section.

This way, search engines will see the SEO-optimized title embedded in the H1 tags, but searchers will see the clickbait title when they peruse the search engines.

Win-win, right?

Clickbait Headline Examples

Can you guess one of the secrets to success on TikTok? Yup, it’s clickbait. Again, that doesn’t mean misleading headlines. It refers to headlines designed to get a clickthrough, like this one from Jimmy Darts.

The American media personality, who carries out acts of kindness, uploaded an inspiring video to TikTok.

It’s titled “Tom is no longer Homeless” and shows how Darts befriended a homeless man, Tom, and got him a job.

Jimmy Darts TikTok video what is clickbait

The headline is guaranteed to get clicks as well as warm the heart.

The Penny Hoarder is one of the most successful sites about making money, saving money, and everything financial.

The secret to its success? You could argue it’s the clickbait-style headlines. Just look at the site.

We’ve got:

  • Can You Say Free Days? How to Visit National Parks on a Budget
  • 5 Strategies That Will Help You Stop Arguing with Your Partner About Money

The best thing about these headlines? Although they’re click-worthy, they’re accurate. They deliver the content they promise.

The other thing that stands out about the headlines? They resonate with a wide audience. And you know what? The broader the appeal, the greater the possibility of clicks.

If you want more lessons in clickbait marketing, look no further than Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed headlines examples what it clickbait

The site got clickbait-style headlines down to a fine art years ago. Just click on the homepage for some inspiration. See what Buzzfeed does?

It creates intrigue, excitement, and engagement. The headlines make you want to click through.

Most importantly, though, its articles rarely disappoint.

FAQs

Is clickbait good or bad?

Neither. It is a powerful marketing strategy if used correctly. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging clicks on your post if you’re offering value to your audience beyond the headline. 

What is the goal of clickbait?

The goal is to grab users’ attention and encourage clicks on your content. 

Does clickbait still work?

Yes, though it is different now. Because of the prevalence of online misinformation, many entities now have regulations to discourage the misuse of clickbait headlines. Yet there are still ethical and productive ways to use this tactic.

How does clickbait affect us?

It works in our curiosity gap and piques our interest in topics or news. 

What is clickbait in marketing?

Clickbait is a technique that entices users to click on a link or engage with content.
Clickbait aims to attract as many clicks or views as possible. It can be a controversial tactic as often the headlines don’t reflect the content. Visitors to the page can find this misleading, which may affect how they view the brand.

Conclusion

Although it often gets bad press, clickbait is an important marketing strategy that can help improve traffic to your content or website.

When using this strategy, it’s vital to be ethical and not mislead your users or capitalize on negative content just to boost your views.

However, if you believe in your content and think it will benefit your users, there’s no reason to feel bad about crafting enticing titles.

What is your favorite kind of clickbait headline?

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