WE ALL KNOW the intrigue. Just one click, and we will be shocked. Or surprised. Or amazed. Or shaken into a perpetual state of disbelief. Even if it’s just for a split second – a headline’s promise of something remarkable on the other side is a tempting offer. All you need to sacrifice is a few moments of your time, and you will feel something. Perhaps something unexpected.
Clickbait, despite its throwaway reputation, is tempting. Tempting to click on, of course (that’s the whole point after all) and just as tempting to use in some shape or form. By tempting a click, you’re tempting a wider audience. More engagement. More conversions. More raving fans…
At least, that’s the hope.
Sometimes the promise is delivered. Sometimes there really is something genuinely shocking, surprising or amazing on the other side that simply cannot be believed…
But it’s rare. Or at least, it’s becoming increasingly rare. Since the ever-prominent Click Through Rate began its long and rather unscrupulous reign (as perpetuated by the popularity of content sharing sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Cracked), the prevalence of clickbait surged.
After all, if the click through to the content is the key metric for measurement – that’s really all that matters, right?
Clickbait works in the same way that any headline/feature image does: by creating intrigue in the subject matter at hand. But what separates clickbait from an informative and engaging headline typically boils down to two things:
#1. How closely the content matches the headline
#2. The width of the ‘curiosity gap’
If the headline exists purely to get clicked on – and treats the subject matter and the audience as mere trivialities – then it’s clickbait. Pure and simple.
When the only purpose for the content is to get figurative ‘bums on seats’ to generate advertising spend (the overarching purpose of the vast majority of content sharing sites) then this hardly matters. The click really is the king. What happens once that traffic has reached your page is irrelevant, as long as you can prove to potential advertisers that they get there in the first place.
But very few businesses are built around this. Thankfully most have something to sell: a product or a service of some description. Once the content has generated enough attention, they want the attendees to take another action.
Clickbait is ultimately shallow. All it wants is attention. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter where and it doesn’t matter how. Now, a clickbait-y headline doesn’t mean the content behind isn’t rich, engaging and full of juicy takeaways, of course, but as the headline has been constructed with ‘attention’ in mind, the chances are the wrong people are reading it.
You have the attention of the curious, but very rarely will the curious convert. They want the cheap, quick fix that the clickbait promises.
And that’s where the clickbait curse rears its ugly head.
Clickbait was effective. Despairingly so. And brands cottoned on to this – experimenting with their own super-sharable content with the kind of attention-grabbing headlines that got the clicks.
But this heyday was a pretty short lived one. No sooner had it become popular, it became annoying. And fast. The people behind the clicks quickly realised the content behind 90% of the headlines was either uninteresting to them, or untrustworthy.
The likes of Facebook (and even the content sharing sites themselves) began their own war on sensationalist clickbait too – going so far as to ban it entirely.
Let us not forget the ‘fake news’ controversy – something that has always existed in some shape or form, but has only recently acquired widespread attention in mainstream media. Naturally, sensationalist headlines and sensationalist content (… or ‘alt facts’ as Trump’s Administration like to call it) go hand in hand, so you’re at serious risk of sounding like a complete sensationalist (i.e. a liar) by using clickbait.
Even as a verifiable and distinguished brand, to use a headline that sounds like it may be clickbait will encourage the wrong kind of clicks, and discourage the right ones too. And yet, it’s probably still tempting to use it, or something vaguely resembling it.
The fact of the matter is, people aren’t as easily shocked, surprised or amazed as they once were. The internet, in all of its abundance, has been around for a long time now, and nearly everything worth sharing has been shared, repurposed, repositioned, recycled and then shared again a thousand times.
You’ve already seen it. I’ve already seen it. Everybody has seen it. At least twice.
But that doesn’t mean content is dead – far from it! While people are no longer easily shocked, they still wish to be engaged, educated and entertained. And that’s where you come in.
Do it right, and you may well convert them into a customer. And not an annoyed one, at that.
They laughed when I sat down at this computer. But when I started to type…
Raven Brookes – Content Marketer at drp. Who can be typically found either behind a keyboard, in a gym, drinking green tea or eating fire.