“You WILL NEVER BELIEVE what this nurse did to make some extra money.” — (she has started working as a nanny)
“10 Ways to Get the Girl of Your Dreams! #7 will SHOCK you!” — (#7: Make her laugh)
Click baits are overly sensationalized headlines that make an emotional claim to arouse your curiosity and click a link to an article. We all have seen them. We have all been baited into clicking at least one of them when scrolling through social media just to quench our curiosity. Perhaps it is the term “bait” and the sensationalist way many content marketers use them that has given them a bad rep, but catchy headlines are not inherently a bad thing. It is all about using them with respect to the reader, providing value with the content, and making sure that they are not misled by the headline.
What Makes a “Clickbait”?
Not all articles with catchy headlines are considered to be clickbait. There are several characteristics a headline has to follow in order to fall under that title. For the most part, it is the strong appeal to emotion and overly sensationalized nature of a headline and misleading the reader in the content of the article that turns it into clickbait. Nowadays most clickbait articles are aimed at getting shares and clicks from content-rich social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Fun fact: Even though the term clickbait was popularized in the modern social media landscape, the concept of baiting a reader with a sensationalized headline existed since the early days of print journalism.
(Source: The NewYorker)
The Psychology Behind Why Clickbait Articles Work
“The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity.” – Anatole France
Humans are inherently curious creatures. We have an unquenchable thirst for new knowledge or a desire to learn new things as a basic element of our cognition. With an endless amount of information sources at our fingertips at present, we cannot help but seek and consume information all day long.
As the most intelligent beings on this planet, it makes sense for us humans to be curious about the world around us in order to inform and be prepared at all times. It has always been the driving force behind everything we know and everything we are in this stage of evolution.
Based on “The Information Gap Theory of Curiosity” by academic George Lowenstein, there is a concept called the ‘Curiosity Gap” which explains the clickbait phenomenon and the human psychology behind it. Simply put, it is the difference between what a reader knows and what they like to know. Content marketers such as Buzzfeed, Bored Panda, Upworthy, and Popsugar use this concept to effectively market their content. They fill the curiosity gap with their headlines, enticing the readers to click on the article to quench their curiosity.
Example headlines that have implemented the “Curiosity Gap”:
- You will never guess…
- 10 Easy Hacks to…
- Why we love “X” and you will too…
- 10 “X”s that will change the way you think
- The Ultimate Guide to “X”.
Using the Good Kind of “Clickbait” As a Content Marketing Strategy
When Buzzfeed gained viral popularity with social media shares around the early 2010s, they were accused of using an excessive amount of clickbait content. Their response to the accusation was that their articles cannot be considered “clickbait” since they never mislead their readers even though the headlines appeal to the emotions of the readers. Even Merriam-Webster defines the term as not only appealing to the emotion of the reader but also leading them to the content of low value.
Therefore, simply using the “curiosity gap” and enticing a reader with some emotion is not inherently a bad thing, as long as you provide the reader with quality content and value. There are many reputable companies such as Spotify, Facebook, and even Google that use the concept behind clickbait, without all its negative components. In other words, there are ways you can write headlines to target the emotional response of a reader in a positive way without misleading them with your content.
Here are a few ways you can create content that gets the coveted clicks without making your content “clickbait”.
1. Do not over-exploit the emotional aspect of your headlines
As long as you deliver on what you promise with a catchy headline, you are not baiting your reading in a negative manner. However, as a content marketer, you need to be careful not to exploit it by being overly sensational with your headlines. It is also important that you never make any claims that are false just for the shock value.
2. If you make a claim on your headline, make sure it is delivered with value in the content.
Every person who takes a second off their day to click on your article is making an investment and you should never break their trust by not delivering on the claims that you make in your headline. Simply put, whatever the promise that you make on your headline should be delivered in the content. Otherwise, change your headline. This is why content marketers such as Buzzfeed keep staying afloat since they have consistently delivered on even the most outrageous claims they make in their headlines.
3. Never spread misinformation
One of the biggest negative aspects of clickbait articles especially on social media is that they tend to spread misinformation. As a content marketer, it is of utmost importance that you avoid spreading misinformation at all costs. Even if you manage to get a few clicks using content that is obvious misinformation, it is never sustainable. Losing the trust of your audience is a mistake that you will not be able to recover from.
4. Let facts and data speak
Whether your content is meant to inform or entertain, you should always leave your facts and data to speak first. Avoid unnecessary fluff in your content. Whenever you can present data with direct and accurate numbers, do so. The sources you should use in your research should be credible and trustworthy as well.
5. A “click” has value. Whenever someone clicks on a link and visits your website, make it worth their while.
Never write a headline or an article just to get a “click”. The click is simply the first step in a long journey a potential lead makes on your website. With an almost infinite number of options at their fingertips, the reader has decided to click on your article. Respect that action and provide them with the best possible value with your content.
While “clickbait” headlines are considered inherently bad, there are many ways you can use an emotional push with your headlines while also creating high-quality content. What makes your content different from a regular misleading clickbait headline is making sure that you deliver on the promises that you make. As long as you create content rich with accurate data which provides value to your readers, it is perfectly fine to write catchy and enticing headlines to attract your target audience.