Anyone who has ever published any kind of content on the internet has probably heard of the term “clickbait.” The term is often used dismissively as a way to characterize low-quality content. But what exactly is clickbait? Is it something you should strive to avoid at all costs, or does it have any legitimate place in your online marketing strategy? Answering these questions requires taking a deep dive into one of the most fiercely debated phenomena of the modern internet era.
What is clickbait?
Clickbait has become such a widely used word that it has even made its way into the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary’s definition of clickbait is simple: “content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” In other words, clickbait is exactly what it sounds like: bait offered up to internet users as a means of getting more clicks for a website.
How does clickbait work?
The bait most often takes the form of a headline that spins the subject of the content in a way that is designed to grab the reader’s attention. This, of course, is what all headlines are supposed to do, whether you’re writing for your blog, BuzzFeed, or The New York Times. What sets clickbait headlines apart from other types of headlines is that they tend to make use of a device known as the curiosity gap.
The curiosity gap refers to the deliberate withholding of information in a headline. Curiosity will drive the reader to click simply to find out what is being withheld, and the headline will have accomplished its purpose of getting another view for the page. These are some (fictional) examples of clickbait headlines that would probably inspire a lot of people to click out of curiosity:
- His Doctors Told Him He’d Never Walk Again. This is the Miracle Cure That Saved Him.
- How Much Sugar Is in a Bottle of Coke? The Answer May Shock You.
- Can a Raccoon and a Dog Be Friends? Watch This Touching Video to Find Out.
- Do You Want to Live a Long, Healthy Life? Here Are 5 Foods You Should Never Eat.
What are the drawbacks of clickbait?
As you may have guessed, clickbait headlines sometimes promise a lot more than the content itself can deliver. When the actual content of an article turns out to be substantially different than what any reasonable person might have expected after reading the headline, the reader is likely to feel cheated. That reader may be less likely to click on your articles in the future, and may even avoid your website altogether. Exploiting the curiosity gap may get you a flurry of clicks at first, but it may also cost you potential customers in the long run.
Many of the internet’s most popular content providers have recognized that readers find the deliberate deceptiveness of this sort of clickbait grating and off-putting. BuzzFeed’s editor in chief has denounced curiosity gap headlines as “vacuous” and argued for the effectiveness of more straightforward headlines. Facebook has made a concerted effort to discourage clickbait from showing up on its users’ News Feed pages. By 2014, the clickbait phenomenon had become such a familiar part of the internet landscape that the creators of the satirical newspaper The Onion started a website called ClickHole to parody it. Sample headline: “16 Pictures Of Beyoncé Where She’s Not Sinking In Quicksand.”
Does clickbait have a place in your SEO strategy?
The word clickbait is usually used in a pejorative sense, and it’s not hard to understand why. However, the basic concept behind clickbait is an entirely legitimate one for content creation—as long as you’re careful not to misuse it. Coming up with surprising and original concepts for articles is absolutely essential for producing popular online content. Getting people to click on those articles means coming up with headlines that will capture their attention without being deceptive about the content itself.
Suppose you’re writing an article about a recently published study about the effects of caffeine. Here’s one way you could write a headline for it:
- Caffeine Is Actually Good for You, Recent Study Discovers
There’s only one thing wrong with this headline—it gives away the point of the story. The reader doesn’t have to read a word of the article to know what the study says. There’s no reason to click—and that’s one fewer view for your article. Here’s a better headline:
- Is All That Caffeine You’re Consuming Good for You?
Imagine scrolling past that headline while you’re sipping your morning coffee. The question, inevitably, nags at you. You find yourself clicking on the headline, just to satisfy your curiosity. The headline wasn’t misleading in any way, but it withheld just enough information to do what it was designed to do—to get you to give the article a chance.
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