Clickbait: Don’t Mislead Your Readers, Content Marketers

It’s estimated that over two millions blogs are published every day on the web.

With a number that prodigious, it’s no easy feat getting your publications to stand out in front of a large audience unless you’ve already established yourself as a notable leader in your industry.

Because it’s such a struggle for most content marketers to get their work noticed on a wide scale, it’s no wonder that they’re tempted to experiment with an array of tactics to try to get more eyes on their material.

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of these strategies in action; Newsjacking is a big one that we’ve talked about on here. Another major one that you’ve most likely witnessed, and the one that guarantees the most eye-rolls when done in an inapt fashion, is clickbait.

What is clickbait?

If the term is new to you, clickbait is any type of content that is designed to draw in as many clicks as possible. This is usually implemented by creating headlines of a sensational nature so that users feel compelled to click on the article, video, infographic, etc. to see what it entails. This can be done by using:

  • shock-value (You’ll Faint When You See What a Doctor Found Inside This Man’s Stomach)
  • mystery (You’ll Never Believe What Your Favorite 90’s Celebrity Looks Like Now)
  • emotions (We Dare You to Watch This Video Without Tearing Up)

As you can see, clickbait headlines are often created to peak your interest while being extremely vague as to what they’re referring to. After all, if they revealed what you want to know in the headline, what incentive would you have to click on the actual article?

What are the advantages of using this marketing tactic?

Using clickbait may sound deceptive, but it does have its advantages. Marketers use attention-grabbing, scandalous headlines with the intention of:

  • Increasing page views on a piece of content. This is the main reason content marketers use clickbait. With how rapid online-users pump out content on a daily basis, it makes sense that publishers will deploy any method in order to attract more readers.
  • Generating more social media engagement. Social media platforms are the perfect breeding ground for clickbait. It exists all over the web, but websites such as Facebook and Twitter are where this type of content truly takes flight. After all, social media is designed for users to be able to scroll through a variety of postings until they see something that grabs their attention, and clickbait headlines are written for the bored skimmer.

Should you use it?

Well, there is no doubt that clickbait can increase page views. Let’s be honest; who out there hasn’t let their curiosity get the better of them and clicked on an article simply because it promised to blow their mind?

As for actual social media engagement, though, clickbait seems to be most effective for the websites who are dedicated to showcasing the weird, horrific, astonishing, and beautiful snippets of the web. If you take a look at the most viral Facebook publishers of November 2013 according to The Whip, Buzzfeed and Upworthy, two of the top websites known for their use of sensational headlines and random news stories, came in at second and third place. Fast-forward to a similar study based off of 2015’s accumulated data, and you’ll see that Buzzfeed has claimed the throne of the most distributed publisher.

That being said, it doesn’t work for most brands and industries, and as for the ones that it does do the trick for, the type of content that is most successful is generally designed for those who are looking for short-lived entertainment. The average length of viral videos is under two minutes, and the type of content that goes viral plays towards users’ emotions, whether it be provocative, heart-tugging, astonishing, or humorous.

Clickbait is also most effective when the headlines match the content of the piece, but far too often the headlines are frustratingly misleading. To clarify, let’s take a look at one that works:


Yes, it applies the overused “You Won’t Believe…” headline, but it does allude to what the video is about in the title, and it highlights a natural phenomenon that most of us have never known about before. Because of this, there most likely won’t be many people who feel duped after clicking on the video.

Now let’s analyze one that will leave most readers shaking their heads:


This is an example from a financial advice website. Now if the writer revealed how someone can make an easy million dollars, that fact might actually be mind-blowing. However, the article goes on to list basic facts about money, one of them being that the majority of Americans experience financial stress. I don’t know about you, but most people wouldn’t find this fact particularly  earth-shattering.

The point is that most readers who click on the article will feel that it pales in comparison to the headline. The facts may be informative and even interesting, but the truth is that they won’t leave many people awestruck as the title suggests. This is why clickbait is not for the majority of industries, and using it could compromise the integrity of your brand.

What are the drawbacks of using clickbait?

Clickbait may bring you a quick surge of page visits, but the long-term effects could be unfavorable. If you lure readers to your content with a beguiling headline, here are a few of the likely drawbacks:

  • Loss of trust with your audience. Readers are much more aware of clickbait than they used to be, and your content marketing strategy will be more credible if you don’t try and trick your readers into clicking on your posts. In most niches, it’s commonly looked at as a cheap marketing ploy, so unless you have the luxury of running one of the few websites whose job it is to highlight strange universal occurrences or unlikely animal friendships, your content will be much more respectable if you stop telling readers they won’t believe what you’re about to say.    
  • Everyone’s doing it. The truth is that there are few content professionals who haven’t experimented with clickbait, and online users are building up a tolerance to the inticing titles. When every article is promising to leave you shocked, it’s pretty understandable if curiosity starts to wane and consequently, page visits don’t stack up rapidly.
  • Higher bounce rate. When a headline purposely misleads online users, it won’t take long for readers to realize the actual content is underwhelming. When this happens, most users will exit that page right away in hopes of finding something that delivers the value it promises to. To prevent disgruntled users, the heads of Facebook have previously stated that they aim to start tracking the time spent on a piece of content and valuing that over how many clicks it brings in.
  • Less likely to earn links. If your content does have a high bounce rate, you most likely are missing out on some natural links being built towards your website. Online users are likely to link back to something that’s useful and informational, but if they are distracted by your use of deceiving story titles, they won’t be encouraged to give you the credit you may have earned if you were more straightforward in your approach.

Closing Up

Clickbait may work for a minute portion of industries and websites, but for the most part, you’ll go further with your content marketing efforts if you build your reputation on being trustworthy, sincere, and most of all, valuable.

That being said, the use of sensational headlines to form a wider audience isn’t new in the world of content, and at the end of the day, it’s up to you if you want your brand to more closely resemble the National Enquirer or The New York Times.


"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it." — Margaret Fuller
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