Kyosei Creative | Deliver What Your Headline Promises. Quit Clickbait.

Deliver What Your Headline Promises. Quit Clickbait.

To many Internet-dwellers, clickbait-y headlines have become synonymous with headaches, cursing and disappointment. It’s time for online marketers to adapt.

Traditionally, Internet ad money is generated by clicks and views, so it’s no surprise that we live in the age of clickbait. Log on to Facebook, or any website, and you’ll see it. Text “optimized” to get a quick click, leading to poor quality or irrelevant content. Too smart to get caught up in it? Wait until you see a provocative line – “You won’t believe how these cute cats made $10,000 online,” perhaps — and bam, you’re on the site for a vaguely pornographic browser game infested with pop-up ads. At best, clickbait doesn’t live up to the hype that its headlines promises (Yes, HuffPo and Upworthy, I’m talking to you. This is 2014 and nothing shocks us anymore). At worst, it’s little more than spam.

We can diagnose the root of the clickbait epidemic: an overreliance on page metrics rather than long-term return on investment. In a few cases (when you’re running a content-light, ad-heavy site or a glurgefest like Upworthy) this makes sense. You can juice your advertisers for a bit more. That’s because clickbait exists to harvest page views – and it does that well. It’s a cheap, quick way to drive curious eyeballs to your page. But, unless your site is trying to make a quick buck with ad revenue, this isn’t going to work for you. If you trick people to come to your page, you better have something worthwhile for them to see. Otherwise they’ll bounce away never to return again.

Page views: An archaic metric

Once upon a time, page views represented a crucial metric for Google searches. Those days are gone.  Now, Google weights time spent on a page much higher. For the most part, however, ad revenue is still based on gross number of visitors to a website. As analytics tools become more powerful and online marketers become more savvy, they’ll likely move to more complicated metrics that don’t reward pages built to deceive visitors for views, but for now, that’s all they’ve got.

Ads aside, it’s important to keep in mind that page views are not a very good metric for site engagement or lead generation. If you’re actually trying to do some quality content marketing, all you’re doing by spitting out hyperbolic headlines with crappy content is trashing your own brand.

And, on August 25, 2014, Facebook announced that it was going to adjust its algorithms to punish clickbait articles in user timelines. They plan to do this by accounting for how much time is spent on articles clicked-through to, rather than sheer number of clicks. Sound familiar? That’s one of Google’s key metrics, too.

Anatomy of clickbait

One thing’s for certain: the ubiquitous grammar of clickbait has caught on because it works. Try NOT to click on “10 celebrity plastic surgery disasters you won’t believe.” I’d argue, however, that the difference between clickbait and good headlines has nothing to do with the headline itself—a good headline and a good piece of clickbait both attract attention in the same way. A good headline and a clickbait headline may in fact be grammatically identical. The difference is that clickbait promises something that it does not (or cannot) deliver.

What about click-baity headlines that lead to quality content? I’d call that an oxymoron. Another quick look at the Internet shows that many traditional publishers with quality content are taking part in the attention-arms-race with clickbait-esque titles. This is fine, but dangerous; as more and more people have bad clickbait experiences, more and more of your audience is likely to feel jaded towards the whole enterprise—there are, after all, only so many times you can be disappointed by a link that promises “you won’t believe what happens next.”

I always believe what happens next.


attic-640x382Some people have adopted interesting solutions. Downworthy is a Chrome app that detects clickbaity phrases and replaces them with more realistic versions. It turns “Will Blow Your Mind” to “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment,” “You Won’t Believe” to “In All Likelihood, You’ll Believe” and some other good ones, too. It’s pretty clear—to know clickbait is to hate it. Be creative with your headlines and find unique ways to get attention, or you could find your headlines mocked by Downworthy and similar apps.


Stop clickbait for a better brand (and a better Internet)

When it comes to using clickbait, consider this: What do you want to build? Is your web project a content-light ad-fest? Or is it an actual attempt to build your brand and get engagement, sales and leads? In the first case, clickbait might be an okay option (at least while ads are paying per view); in the second, you’d better focus on delivering seamless, engaging content. All too often, online marketers focus on page view metrics and forget how important it is to work on building effective long-term relationships with their audience—and to that end, clickbait is usually counterproductive.

Clickbait also fills the Internet up with trash and glurge. We love the Internet. Let’s do our best to keep it from being polluted by low-quality content.

Finally, let me stress: don’t shy away from clever headlines. Those are key. Today’s clickbait headlines have found an easy hack to human attention by accessing curiosity, hope and fear in pretty predictable ways, but many savvy netfolk have wised up to them. Of course, some haven’t. That’s why it still works.

Whether you go with clickbait-style headlines or get creative, make sure you can back it up with quality content. Tell engaging stories. Give great information. Otherwise, you’ll find visitors to your site will click on only one button: back.

And you’ll disappear from Facebook feeds and Google, too.


Photo credit fergregory, Dollar Photo Club.

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