You’ll Never Believe It!: A Guide To Clickbait

Christy Walters


February 26, 2020 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

three people sitting at a table in an office on their laptops exploring clickbait

Have you ever clicked on an article on social media expecting to read an interesting story? Then, once you read the content, you realize it had nothing to do with the headline at all. The publisher tricked you and you found a piece of clickbait. Today we’re discussing the place clickbait has business and content marketing with topics like:

What Is Clickbait?

Clickbait is a deceptive form of content creation developed to lure visitors to a website under false pretenses. Although all content marketing is meant to generate clicks and audience interest, clickbait uses psychological strategies to manipulate users to click and then doesn’t fulfill the promise made in the headline or thumbnail image. Most clickbait content comes in the form of written articles or blog posts. But as video content becomes more prevalent, this type of content has also seen a rise in clickbait.

Although we associate clickbait with the internet, the idea of tricking clients and customers for conversions is a practice older than the World Wide Web. Clickbait gets its roots from sales tactics like bait-and-switch, where salespeople promise one offer and trick people into choosing another. Yellow journalism, or the idea of sensationalizing headlines or making up entire news stories to sell papers and magazines, is also an early relative of clickbait.

Characteristics of Clickbait

If you want to know how to spot clickbait online, here are a few characteristics that most clickbait content has in common include:

  • The content appears on social media sites, in native advertising, or in banner ads on less-than-reputable websites
  • Brief written content, typically less than 300 words
  • Long video content, typically over 10 minutes
  • Thumbnail images and headlines that don’t have anything to do with one another
  • Vague headlines that appeal to strong emotions or make a claim that’s too good to be true, such as:
    • “After She Called the Cops, You’ll Never Believe What She Did Next”
    • “You’ll Freak Once You See What This Fast Food Chain Did”
    • “Once You See This You’ll Never Look at Dogs the Same”
    • “She Finally Admitted This Shocking Secret That Tore Her Family Apart”
    • “The Ugly Truth That This Grocery Chain Doesn’t Want You to Know”

4 Reasons People Fall for Clickbait

three people sitting at a table in an office on their laptops exploring clickbait

Image via Unsplash by @anniespratt

With all the negativity surrounding clickbait, you might wonder why it ever works at all. Here are a few of the reasons clickbait techniques are so effective at grabbing an audience’s attention:

1. Clickbait Plays On Emotions and Curiosity

The best content marketing tells a story that captures the audience’s interest through human emotion. Unfortunately, that same fact makes clickbait so irresistible. Especially when clickbait headlines focus on emotions like fear, terror, or uncertainty, your brain responds. Even if you’re not an anxious person, you may feel the need to click on an article titled, “I Didn’t Know I Was Putting My Family in Danger Until I Read This!” just to be sure you’re not doing whatever it is to put your family in danger.

Logically, as everyday internet users, most of us know that whatever is on the other side of the link isn’t going to help protect our families. But what if it could? We better click just to be safe. And that’s what content companies that engage in clickbait are expecting.

2. Clickbait Is Disruptive

Clickbait typically isn’t like other kinds of organic content marketing. It’s not welcomed into your inbox like email newsletters or appearing seamlessly in your search engine results. Instead, clickbait is often disruptive. It’s a pop-up ad on a website or a “suggested” post on social media that you never asked to see. The first few times you encounter the disruption, you may ignore it and try to navigate away. But if you see it repeatedly, which you often do with most clickbait, you become tempted to click just to get it to go away.

3. The Techniques Encourage FOMO

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, isn’t a new emotion, but it’s much more widespread thanks to social media. People who spend a lot of time on social media, like Millennials and the generations that come after them, are hyper-sensitive to this emotion. Clickbait headlines play on this specific emotion by making the reader feel like they’re the only person who doesn’t know something, and they have to click to find out. By reading the content, they’ll no longer be missing out on what all their peers or friends know. But once they click, the content behind the link doesn’t deliver on that promise.

4. The Headlines Promote Something That Sounds Too Good to Be Real

As technology-savvy people, we like to think we’re smart enough not to fall for scams online. But clickbait artists are tricky enough to make headlines sound too good to be true, but also just genuine enough that have to click and see for yourself. This is common with direct mail clickbait, such as emails and text messages. In many of these situations, the links also contain malware or a scam offer that could do more than just trick the reader, but harm their devices or bank account, too.

Why Do Brands Use Clickbait?

If clickbait is a poor practice, why do businesses, brands, and marketers use it in their strategies? Sometimes the promise of quick rewards and better metrics is more of a draw than ethical and sound business practices. Here are a few reasons some businesses use clickbait practices in their content marketing:

Increased Page Views

The more clicks you get on your content, the higher your page view metrics will be. That’s a simple math equation. Companies that want to get more traffic to their website or increase page views for any reason may default to clickbait techniques.

More Social Shares

Similar to increased page views, a brand may use clickbait techniques to get more shares on social media. Many people who share content on social platforms don’t actually read the content they share. Instead, they share and comment based on the headlines alone. Though the most recent data on this is over five years old, most shows that between 40% and 60% of social media users share content without reading it. Marketers who know this fact may spend more time crafting sensational headlines rather than quality content to increase their share count.

Better Brand Awareness

More clicks, traffic, and social shares are three ways to increase brand awareness. Brands that operate under the motto of “all press is good press” may not care what the audience thinks of their companies, as long as they know the name. Brand recognition is only as valuable as the reputation behind it. Although clickbait may generate some initial brand awareness, low-quality practices over time could hurt a company instead of helping it. There are other ways to grab brand awareness that help your reputation, like providing high-quality content.

Should Your Content Team Use Clickbait?

Don’t be fooled by content that tells you there is “good” clickbait. There is no such thing. Clickbait is a deceptive practice that can misrepresent and damage your brand’s reputation and trust with its audience. Getting higher page views, clicks, and other arbitrary metrics is not as important as developing a transparent, honest bond with your audience. When marketers talk about “good” clickbait, what they’re really referencing are the ethical ways to get more people to click your content. There are plenty of them that you can use instead of clickbait, like:

  • Fulfilling your promises through content: Make sure you deliver on the promise made in your headline or title in every piece of content
  • Conducting in-depth research: Sometimes the truth is more interesting than fiction, and you can find it by doing your research on industry topics
  • Paying attention to search intent: When you know what your audience is looking for online, you can provide content they want to see and click without any tricks
  • Being specific in headlines: Avoid the vague “click me” template of clickbait headlines by using data and facts your audience actually wants to read
  • Embracing independent thinking: You can spark emotional reactions from your audience without deception by taking an opposing or controversial viewpoint in your content

How Does Clickbait Affect SEO?

It shouldn’t come as a shock that in addition to weeding out other content practices like AI-generated articles, Google also takes a strong stance against clickbait. In an announcement for a new algorithm update, the search engine announced its plans to prioritize user-generated content over AI content. The company cites that AI-generated content is generally misleading, irrelevant, and unhelpful, just like clickbait.

What does this mean for brands that currently use AI-generated content or clickbait strategies in their marketing? It means now’s the time to start a content analysis and preserve your search engine positioning by fixing any potential content Google could view as spammy or clickbait-y. Luckily, CopyPress can help you get a head start. Request your free content analysis report to get insights into your current content, backlink profile, and syndication opportunities to get more clicks on your content without getting a Google penalty for spam.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Attend CopyPress’s Google Core Update Webinar To Learn More About Clickbait and SEO

Google’s taken its stance on AI-generated content and clickbait, but who knows what they’ll change next? Our CopyPress team is ready to discuss these topics and more in our new webinar about Google’s recent core updates. Get insights from our CEO Dave Snyder, Marketing Director David Cross, and guest speaker on Google and SEO, Brian Chappell, founder of Adapt Marketing. Register for the webinar today, and then subscribe to our newsletter so you never miss any updates on upcoming presentations or the next big Google change.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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