The Clickbait Lowdown: When and When Not to Use It

December 11, 2018 David Rivera
The Clickbait Lowdown: When and When Not to Use It

The past years have seen a steady climb of clickbait posts and videos all over social media and various search engines. While this isn’t inherently bad, using clickbait headlines can sometimes be a hit or miss—especially when not used the right way.

Although using clickbait has its noble intentions, the sole purpose of creating clickbait headlines are to effectively grab the number one currency on the internet, and that’s attention. However, clickbait headlines have been overused through the years and have now become one of the “things to avoid” items in any content creation guide. Despite this, many still use them and clickbaits still work.

The Clickbait War

Online Optimism SEO and Content Strategist David Ambrogio simply defines clickbait as “any content with sensationalist headlines used to encourage clicks or drive ad revenue.” That statement in itself proves that although some may see clickbait as a negative tactic by online marketers, it doesn’t deny the fact that it also helps in boosting one’s ad revenue. Head of Digital Marketing Gregory Golinski, on the other hand, argues that using clickbait only benefits the creator and not the user. Simply put, it doesn’t actually give value. “Clickbait is tricking people into consuming your content by making them believe it will be better than what it really is,” Golinski says. “You take something from your audience without fulfilling your part of the deal: creating useful, quality content.”

There’s a distinct grey area when it comes to figuring out the real deal about clickbait. It’s a never-ending dance between the pros and cons. But to really understand the value and the dangers of using clickbait headlines, it’s important to know when to effectively use it and when to drop it altogether.

Since the 2016 elections, clickbait was often associated with the rise of fake news both politically and socially. Maybe that’s why clickbait gets such a bad rap in the first place. University of Florida professor Andrew Selepak likened clickbait to how master showman P.T. Barnum used pre-online clickbait to his advantage in the late 1800s. “While it is debatable that P.T. Barnum truly had the greatest show on earth, his clickbait advertising did get people to come see his show, and what they saw was entertaining,” said Selepak.

With all the hoo-ha surrounding clickbait, there’s only one question that marketers are asking—when should we practice using clickbait headlines then? It all boils down to the context and usage.

According to Patsy Nearkhou of Talkative UK, clickbait headlines come in two types—the spectacular and the mysterious. Spectacular headlines are those that are laden with grand statements and contains a little bit of exaggeration. A Mysterious headline, on the other hand, spikes the reader’s curiosity. It’s not as grand as the first one, but definitely more obscure.

“The continuous theme across all clickbait titles is that they appeal to the reader’s curiosity… they appeal to the same psychological process,” Nearkhou says. “They work because people are naturally curious creatures so it’s irrelevant whether they use grandiose or subtle tactics.”

Clickbait will only work to your advantage if it’s used and done correctly. Neil Patel believes that people are still interested in clickbait headlines, but it’s the content that would have to supplement that interest.

Making Clickbaits Work

Your headline is only as good as your content. Just like in news writing, the headline has to be supported by a strong lead and detailed story. The Scribesmith copywriter and brand strategist Eman Zabi suggest writing a strong headline that reels the readers in and is supplemented with an equally good article. “Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with the headlines. Clear beats clever, but there’s no reason you can’t pull off both,” Zabi says.

Then again, using clickbaits must be native to the platform you are using. Although content platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Google still deem clickbait as a common practice, it doesn’t have to always be the case for all types of content. After all, if you’re creating a scholarly or knowledge-based article, it would be a bit counterproductive to come up with a clickbaity headline for an article that doesn’t require it in the first place.

But to rise above the competition, though, CXL content lead Derek Gleason encourages you to mix a smart title with a clickbait keyword that would help readers distinguish your content as something that’s immensely relevant. “You may need to start dropping words like ‘ultimate’ into your title so that your link seems better than those offering simple ‘guides,” Gleason says.

The bottom line here is that clickbait isn’t necessarily a “don’t” for content marketing. When used in the right context and execution, it could translate into clicks, views, and ad revenue. You have to think about creating them, though, because this is a trap where most writers fall into. Create/write the headline and make sure to supplement that attention with good content.

As Matt Slaymaker of Folsom Creative puts it, “clickbait has one motivation – to entice users to click on a link/video by using highly engaging headlines and thumbnails. Good clickbait is when your thumbnail and headline are provocative and enticing, yet true to the content of the article or video.”

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