In December 2006, Jay Geiger wrote a blog post that included a never-before-seen word: clickbait. The logic was simple — click referred to the click of a computer mouse while bait referred to something that lures in online users like a worm might lure in a giant salmon.
By 2016, this term landed in the Oxford English Dictionary where it is defined as:
“(on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.”
Hearing this you may think to yourself, “But that’s exactly what good marketing aims to do! What are we if we are unable to create enticing and eye-catching content?” In short: yes, clickbait is often an effective way to garner clicks. However, the situation is a little more complex than that. Crisis management consultant Eric Dezenhaal writes in his book, Glass Jaw: “Clickbait is usually driven by online “story” headlines, which need not relate to story content. Internet news is replete with headlines suggesting that notorious murders have been solved, awful diseases are cured, and celebrity marriages are imploding, but the story content reveals nothing of the sort. No matter, it has been clicked.”
In the world of online marketing, clicks equal dollars. Dezenhaal sums it up nicely, saying, “Clicks are tracked and measured in order to determine advertising rates. The more clicks, the more the website or blog can charge advertisers.” This drive for profit is what motivates tabloids and advertisers to essentially write sensationalized headlines. As Dezenhaal said, the content falls short of providing what it had offered upfront. It is one thing to trick someone into consuming your content but it is another to hold up your end of the deal by providing something useful to them in return. This exchange that takes place between you and the consumer is important — providing useful information bolsters your reputation and, in turn, can instigate brand loyalty.
So, with all this in mind, can a case even be made for clickbait being a good idea? Surprisingly, yes, cases can be made for both sides of the debate. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons for clickbait:
- Clickbait is an easy way to draw in more page views.
- Clickbait can greatly increase the number of shares the content receives.
- With more page views and shares, you are effectively increasing your brand awareness.
- Clickbait can be enticing without being untruthful — omitting information and creating curiosity in your readers is also a form of clickbait. Ex: The One Marketing Tool Professionals Can’t Live Without
- The viral nature of clickbait titles often draws in viewers who only want to know more about what the headline posed but have no real interest in what your brand has to offer.
- If the content isn’t useful, the viewer likely will only spend seconds on the site, making your bounce rate soar. (Facebook even posted a blog article regarding updates that penalized those who relied on clickbait frequently.)
- Your analytics will be all over the place, making them harder to measure. (Sure, you received 70,000 hits on your webpage but users only stayed for 10 seconds on average.)
- You risk disappointing your audience by not living up to their expectations, leading to mistrust in your brand and the content it offers
In the end, the choice is yours to make. It might align better with your brand voice to avoid clickbait titles altogether. On the other hand, clickbait can be beneficial if it’s done correctly. If you feel confident you can write a killer headline and follow through with an equally good article, go for it!
Think of it this way: Maybe P.T. Barnum’s circus wasn’t really the “Greatest Show on Earth” as the title suggested. What we do know is that Barnum attempted to hold up his end of the deal by offering quality content that he could stand behind proudly, and his circus made history because of it.
Where do you stand in the clickbait debate? Can you see it being beneficial to your marketing strategy or would you rather avoid it altogether? Comment below to continue the debate!
Author: Celeste Russell
Hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada, Celeste began working with NISM as a summer intern in 2019. Since then she has found a real home in the community, earned her SMS certification, and currently works as the Social Media Coordinator. Celeste is expected to graduate this May from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Acting & Communication for the Arts. Her passions have always included effective communication both on and off the stage and she is grateful that working with NISM allows her the opportunity to pursue her acting career simultaneously.
Feel free to connect with Celeste on LinkedIn.