It starts with a single adrenaline rush. A blog post that draws in an inordinate number of viewers. An e-book with more downloads than any other you’ve ever created. It may even inspire some social interaction.
Like Miley, you can’t stop. You’ve spiraled out of control into the grimy underworld of clickbait, the subject of many a writer’s disdain across the web.
Clickbait comes in many forms. Most often, it’s a misleading headline or shallow piece of content that doesn’t offer much more than a passing thrill to your audience. It’s a major temptation for content creators. It’s also the source of success for major online publications like Huffington Post, Gawker, and Buzzfeed.
Much of today’s clickbait echoes the yellow journalism of the late nineteenth century when newspaper magnates Pulitzer and Hearst duked it out for market share. They used eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. The articles themselves contained little to no interesting content.
If it worked for Pulitzer and Hearst, why can’t it work for you?
Why Clickbait Is Poisonous
Clickbait can be much more damaging to a brand than many of us realize. Misleading headlines destroy trust your other content has been steadily building for your organization.
Shallow content is a drain on resources that could be spent creating something truly valuable. In many cases, it attracts people outside of your audience, which accomplishes nothing in the grand scheme of your content marketing strategy.
It should come as no surprise that clickbait doesn’t do so hot in organic search rankings either. Google has openly declared war on the kind of native advertising Buzzfeed has sometimes practiced. (Granted most BF sponsored content is clearly marked these days.) Buzzfeed fired the first shots though: the site constantly features duplicate content, a practice any SEO professional will tell you dries up search juice. (That’s just one of many examples of how Buzzfeed puts all its eggs in social media’s basket.)
You owe it to your audience and your organization to create content that both compels and delivers on its promises. But even the most coordinated content marketing program can fall into the trap of producing clickbait. How do you make sure you avoid it?
4 Steps to Destroy Clickbait on Sight
Putting clickbait in the crosshairs is a necessary part of a strong content marketing program. We create clickbait even when we don’t realize it. Put your content to the test with these 4 steps.
1. Does your headline represent the content accurately?
Your headline is a first impression. Well-crafted headlines attract readers. But if you misrepresent your content, your audience may feel you’ve abused their trust.
Misleading headlines can run the gamut from obvious to subtle. They may include:
- A question that suggests a fact but is disproven by the content
- A statement that exaggerates the content
- A position intentionally meant to provoke readers
- A timely theme that isn’t reflected in the content
2. Is the content designed to get eyes or is it truly relevant to your audience?
This question seems obvious. But we’re often so concerned with how many people we reach that we don’t consider the quality of those readers. As a result, we sometimes create content with the idea of attracting more readers, instead of higher quality ones.
These pieces become clickbait because readers won’t interact with other content on your site. They’re not your target audience. They come for a thrill, and they leave just as quickly.
3. Are readers converting or bouncing?
Even a discerning eye can miss accidental clickbait. High bounce rates can be a good indicator that certain posts are attracting the wrong kind of reader.
Keeping a close eye on your bounce rate (and average number of pages viewed per visit) will help you understand which content is simply baiting readers instead of returning real value for your brand. You may notice patterns emerging that you can try to eliminate as you create content in the future.
4. Is your topic boring?
There’s a major difference between exciting content and clickbait.
Content creators working with dry topics can easily fall into the clickbait trap—reaching a little too far to compare an industry topic to a current event, for example. There are better ways to transform a boring topic into something your audience will love.
Spicing up content shouldn’t rely on sensationalism. It should rely on more exciting writing, unconventional methods of conveying information, and lots of multimedia content like pictures and videos.
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About the Author
Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Say hello on Twitter: @MarkSherbin.