I don’t intend to make this article clickbait-y, so here’s the answer right away: no, online clickbait headlines are not dead, but they’re a dying breed.
Just a decade or so ago, a low-quality, sensationalistic content site would have had an excellent chance to captivate audiences. At the time, many still got titillated by a title like “This couple was getting married, but what happened next will shock you.”
You wanted to be shocked. I wanted to be shocked. We were wide-eyed, naïve, and — after clicking — also underwhelmed.
This article will give an insight into how clickbait has evolved and how you, a marketer, can make the most of the current momentum.
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What is a Clickbait Headline?
A clickbait headline is like digital junk food for your brain.
This type of article title heavily relies on the surprise/shock value of an otherwise low-quality story. It mostly uses simple words from spoken language and often borrows from slang or other abbreviations.
But why do we click?
Clickbait preys on humans’ innate craving for stories they can be moved by. You are usually promised an emotional story with an unbelievable twist. What you’ll find instead, will be some poorly written content with little substance often spread out over 26+ pages. Oh, and a lot of ads. So. Many. Ads.
A site using this tactic seemingly has never heard of quality content curation. The least shocking thing about these posts is their consistency in making spelling mistakes.
Biology also plays a part. When you click on a very intriguing link, your brain releases dopamine — a neurochemical known as the “reward” chemical. Clickbaits exploit precisely this; the anticipation alone floods your brain with dopamine.
The below phrases can ALL be found in typical clickbait headlines:
- “You won’t believe what happened after…”
- “This will make you…”
- “This will shock you…”
- “OMG, I couldn’t believe she just did that!”
- “Leading expert reveals the biggest secret…”
- “Find out what happened after…”
- “STORYTIME (not clickbait)”
Why Clickbait Has Slowed Down
Low-effort, clickbait posts may have been all the rage in the early 2010s, but you probably noticed seeing fewer and fewer out there in recent days. There are a handful of reasons why.
1. Desensitization of Consumers
Clickbait can only fool you so many times. Just like how you grew accustomed to skipping ad banners on blogs without thinking, you are now desensitized to the tantalizing headlines, too.
You probably now know that there isn’t just one secret way to lose weight. That shocking thing he did before the wedding was to ask for grandma’s blessing of the union. That leaked photo of a UFO sighting was a satellite. Almost all big reveals turn out to be something trivial, and, therefore, a letdown.
Website owners have grown to understand the need for original, good-quality content. To save time, they still might use AI tools to help them keep up with the trends. Let’s expand more on quality content in a bit.
2. Unsatisfactory Experiences
You likely remember the feeling of being cheated whenever you see a clickbait title, so you no longer click. Wading through 26 pages of slow-loading ads only to arrive at a boring ending is not worth the time.
According to a new COVID-19 era statistic, people spend 7 hours a day consuming online content. Still, there is a massive difference between wasting time with something you enjoy or getting caught in a clickbait trap.
It’s clear that people are dissatisfied. Just observe the number of memes, hashtags, and social accounts created in protest of the clickbait phenomenon. This is bad news for monetized content sites. Why? It’s rare to win a user back beyond an unhappy Evaluation Phase in their customer lifecycle.
For example, Stop Clickbait is a Facebook page that “clicks so you don’t have to”. They actively spoil every sensationalistic article in one sentence, plus the occasional reminder of how many clicks they saved us.
3. Clickbait is Seen as Less Trustworthy
Clickbait articles are inherently not objective. They revolve around dramatic stories and only cash in on the shock value. This is evident after visiting just one or two sites. Every day, more and more users realize that these sources lack legitimacy and trustworthiness; however, it’s a slow process. It’s a practice that poses an ongoing threat to real journalism. When a source has more ads than meaningful content, it’s no wonder they are flagged as spam.
They are also badly written and often peppered with typos. If you feel like you’ve lost a couple of IQ-points after reading one of them, you’re not alone (statement not fact-checked).
4. Growth of In-Feed Consumption
The main content distribution channels, such as Facebook and Google, were largely affected by the clickbait epidemic from the start — especially before their first crackdown on fake news in 2016, they were breeding grounds for in-feed sharing and clickbait material consumption.
Google recently updated their Misrepresentation policy to introduce a clause about clickbait ads. With the launch, the following will not be allowed:
“Ads that use clickbait tactics or sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic” and “ads that use negative life events such as death, accidents, illness, arrests or bankruptcy to induce fear, guilt or other strong negative emotions to pressure the viewer to take immediate action.”
Facebook has set up very similar rules in their Business Help Center. They consider ad attributes — such as withheld information, sensationalized language, engagement bait, and other low-quality post-click experiences — as low-quality.
Clickbait examples via Facebook Business Help Center
Facebook states that your ads “may cost more and see fewer results” if you included any of the above attributes.
How Can Marketers Evolve?
If you are a marketer guilty of using clickbait techniques in the past, don’t feel bad. As long as you’re ready to employ a high-quality content marketing plan, you’ll be able to keep up with the market.
Let’s examine a few pointers to start.
1. Rely on Authenticity
Authenticity is conscious brand building in disguise. Establishing yourself or your company as an authentic source can include a number of things.
Many freelancers use guest posting as an expansion of our personal brand, for example. CoSchedule is always looking for engaging guest writers for their blog.
2. Build Up Emotion-Bait Tactics
You can create grabby titles without being spammy. Use emotion-bait tactics, such as traditional storytelling; tell them the story of how you started your company from scratch, share a case study or a customer story, or share user-generated content. Your followers will take notice and start engaging with your posts.
The Facebook page Humans of New York was built entirely around stories. A novice photographer started it to take a photo of at least 10,000 people. It quickly outgrew the initial premise and became a blog followed by millions.
3. Leverage Different Strategies on Different Platforms
You don’t need to be present on all platforms. Maintain as many channels as you can realistically commit to with quality content. Develop a different strategy on each platform to make the most of it.
Here are the most popular ones and how you can leverage them.
- Blog — Your own blog gives you the biggest room for creativity. You can fully flesh out your storytelling tactics here. However, the post headlines will still need to adhere to SEO best practices. You can post full interviews or informative pieces on your blog. I have also seen interactive quizzes as a successful engagement tool.
- Facebook — Share your blog posts or other original content on Facebook. Watch out for any of the potential trigger words that make the algorithm slow down your post distribution.
- Twitter — Twitter’s latest effort to battle low-quality, unfactual content is to label them accordingly. Your tweets may be labeled as “misleading information”, “disputed claims”, or “unverified claims”. Stick to facts and other engaging content, and you’ll be golden.
- Instagram and Pinterest — Both of these platforms are highly visual so creating and editing pristine photos is a must. Still, you can play around with the typeface and engaging copy for each post.
- Medium — Medium is all about sharing high-quality content. If you want to get into Medium’s distribution system, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. More specifically, they say this about clickbait: “A tasteful, narrow ‘curiosity gap’ in the headline is okay, as long as the reader has a good idea of what they’re clicking on and the story delivers on its premise.”
4. Use Actionable Headlines
There are a lot of different ways to craft an actionable headline, but here are four easy ways to craft actionable headlines that make the biggest impact on your readers.
Add a Verb
Strategically placing a verb into your headline can directly prompt the reader to take action.
Example: “5 Ways to Change Your Bad Habits into Good Ones”
Add Power Words
Create a sense of urgency with words, like “now”, “last-minute”, “new”, or “free”; although, you should use the last one sparingly.
Example: “How to Start Your Own Business — our new ebook is now available!”
Make It About the Reader
Using “you” in your copy can help the reader feel like they are personally being addressed.
Example: “15 Ideas to Help You Stop Procrastinating”
Add a Call-To-Action
In some headlines, such as social posts, you may have the room to add a call-to-action. The key here is to keep them very short to prompt urgency.
Example: “25% off our executive suites. Book now!”
Still want to improve your headline further? Try CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer Studio. It evaluates each title based on word balance, sentiment, skimmability, and more.
5. Partner With Trusted Influencers and Reach Out to the Media
You can boost your reach and improve your trustworthiness by partnering with well-known figures.
Firstly, you will need to front-load your outreach here — as in, you’ll need to put most of your efforts into researching your potential influencers. Finding the right fit for your brand can earn you new, loyal followers and strengthen your reputation.
Then, start building a relationship with the influencer. The bigger they are, the more requests they get. Stand out from the crowd by having a thorough understanding of their personal brand.
Especially if you have some feel-good human interest stories, you can try approaching local and broader media. Journalistic outreach has its own ropes to learn. Getting your pitch right involves composing the right email message, knowing the type of stories they need, using a clear call-to-action, and more.
If you’re new to the game, I’d recommend that you try a PR outreach tool.
6. Include High-Quality Sources
Each industry has its thought-leaders with thousands to millions of followers. These can be both individuals or companies.
Often, business owners are worried about linking out to these sources, thinking that they are “sending away” traffic. This is not the case if you have a genuinely engaging, high-quality presence. Quite the opposite is true: citing other reliable websites will make readers trust your copy by proxy. It’s also an encouraged SEO tactic.
Other reputable sources you can link out to:
- Credible news sources
- Educational websites
- Peer-reviewed studies
Clickbait headlines are not dead… yet. They’re dying out as more and more people refuse to interact with them and social platforms take a stand against these practices.
In summary, you can avoid becoming a clickbait yourself by:
- Monitoring your own content for trigger-words
- Creating high-value content
- Only publishing well-researched sources
- Establishing a trustworthy, reliable brand
- Connecting with your readers on a personal level
- Leveraging social media
- Doing regular outreach to influencers
You can also create your own checklist to refer to every time before hitting “publish”. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will arrive at your very own clean content strategy that truly captivates audiences.
May 12, 2021