Why We Never Recommend Clickbait Titles and Why Some Brands Still Do It
Sometimes you just can’t resist clickbait. The title is so enticing you simply must know the story. Then, you click and read the article or watch the video and it turns out to be widely known information, misleading/misinformation, negative in nature or not even interesting. Sometimes it even leads to a page with lots of pop-ups or requires you to scroll sentence by sentence which prevents you from even reading the article at all.
While frustrating, clickbait titles continue to be used and clicked by many.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, clickbait is content that is meant to capture the attention of people online and encourage them to click through to learn more. It could be any type of content from an article, blog, landing page, video, etc. The catch is that once you click through, the content is usually at minimum a letdown or at worst something that is questionable or has malicious intent.
Some brands use clickbait as an attempt to garner the attention of readers, hoping to draw them in, putting the desire for clicks and web traffic above providing valuable and informative content. However, this practice can undermine credibility and trust with the customer. Even though some brands still engage in the practice, keep reading to learn why we don’t suggest using clickbait.
How much clickbait is out there?
NewsLab, from the University of Mississippi, found that 33.54% of the headlines from mainstream news and 39.26% of headlines from unreliable sources would be considered clickbait. Content can include celebrity gossip, conspiracy theories, satire, junk science or offensive themes.
Here are some examples from Search Engine Journal of clickbait titles:
- “27 Reasons Why Celebrities Love THIS Product”
- “19 Things You Don’t Know About Your Favorite Sports Teams”
- “Dancing with the Stars Celeb Reveals…”
- “This is How Business Owners Are Saving Thousands on Their Taxes”
- “166 Photos You Won’t Believe Are Not Photoshopped”
Why should you avoid clickbait titles in PR and digital marketing?
Clickbait in PR
Any type of communication put out by a brand is a reflection of its integrity and the type of relationship it wants to have with its customers. Clickbait should not be used in any content disseminated from the company including press releases, blogs, pillar content, how-to videos and especially in crisis communications.
A business’s relationship with the press and online media is essential to garnering earned media posts that can not only get them important coverage and reach new potential customers but also lends credibility to the brand. It’s not worth risking the relationship with these important members of the media for a paltry click.
Clickbait in digital marketing
Some might argue that clickbait in digital marketing is acceptable since it’s a less formal type of communication. Still, we don’t recommend using this strategy in social media placements, digital marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns or other digital avenues.
Similar to the reasons why we don’t utilize salacious titles for PR purposes, clickbait-y titles and content in digital marketing can harm the relationship with the customer, the media and can even end up wasting marketing dollars, ultimately diminishing return on investment (ROI). In addition, sometimes these types of titles are flagged by the platforms and can hinder a company’s ability to run ads.
Six Consequences of Using Clickbait Titles
1. Grows mistrust
When a user clicks on an article and gets clickbait, it provides a poor user experience and create a negative reflection on the brand. That’s bad for the brand, and as Gartner found out, 81% of customers will refuse to do business with or buy from a brand they don’t trust. On top of that 89% will disengage from a brand that breaches their trust. Meaning, this could impact your follower count on social media, email marketing subscriptions, loyalty programs and more.
Brands can show dependability by delivering on the promise of valuable content. Titles should be honest and accurate about what will be delivered once clicked. The content should be informational and provide important insights to the customer. The content should help customers address a pain point or solve a problem. There should be no exaggeration or embellishment of what will be found once the link is clicked. Gartner continues to show that brands that focus on being dependable gain three times more customer trust.
2. Contributes to the spread of misinformation
Misinformation has been a big topic over the last several years, and clickbait is one of the worst offenders. A brand can be so desperate for clicks that it might decide to publish something shocking just to grab the attention of its customer. The problem with this tactic is that it is overtly misleading and ultimately a disservice to the customer, the subject of the content and the brand. Readers that trust your brand and discover that they have received inaccurate information will likely disengage.
3. Promotes gossip and sensationalism
There is so much information available online at the click of a button. Instead of taking time to thoroughly research content or consider the ramifications of publishing something, brands might give in to the blunt tool of a clickbait title. We strongly recommend against mentioning celebrities for attention. If there is a genuine partnership with approval on content that’s fine, but anything that mentions a big name simply for a click is a huge gamble.
4. Increases your bounce rate
So, you might get the click, but the minute the reader realizes that they’ve been bamboozled, they bounce. Despite increasing your number of click-throughs, ultimately the customer is not staying on your website to learn more about your product or service. They aren’t scrolling through additional blogs to connect more with your brand. Every other data point will suffer and you’ll fail to collect important customer information.
5. Harmful to your SEO
When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), clickbait is a killer. The search engine will scan your title and content. If the two don’t match up or seem like they are legitimate, the search engine will place a lower rank on your content. So, you might be getting clicks from paid placements on social media, but your search results and rank will decline.
6. Wastes money
Search Engine Journal reports that clickbait is detrimental to ad spend and reduces return on ROI. If you click in; see that the content is not what you bargained for and you click away – the advertiser still pays for that click. Was it worth it for the advertiser? Likely not.
In addition, it’s estimated that one-tenth of a U.S. advertiser’s budget can go to programmatic display and video ads on clickbait sites. While this isn’t necessarily the brand creating misleading content, advertisers have to stay wary, as even accidentally being associated with this type of content can be detrimental to a brand’s overall reputation.
Why Some Brands Still Do It
It works! The bottom line is that clickbait is designed to get engagement and it succeeds quite frequently. Brands that are thinking in the short-term might only want to get the click and aren’t considering how this type of misleading communication can negatively impact the relationship with the customer.
Sadly, it might also be that the brand simply doesn’t care. If the goal is to deliver pop-up ads and collect that revenue, or to mislead, create destructive content or serve other malicious intentions, then clickbait is certainly the way to go. There are bad actors out there, and it’s important that your brand doesn’t get identified as one.
Can you use clickbait in a positive way?
The short answer is yes, but there’s a lot of nuance that needs to be covered.
Clickbait can also sometimes mean having a title so intriguing, so interesting, so enticing that the reader absolutely must click through. There’s nothing wrong with having excellent copy that attracts the attention of your reader. The key is that your content needs to deliver on the promise of the title in an honest and authentic way.
Neil Patel has some suggestions on how to tap the allure of clickbait titles and use them ethically:
- Utilize the curiosity gap, but don’t exploit it. Avoid sensationalist material and inaccurate claims.
- Deliver on any promises you make. Your audience expects the information you promise to them. If they consistently feel they can’t trust your claims, they won’t continue interacting with your brand.
- Be honest with your readers and avoid misinformation. Be a beacon of honesty. If you remain truthful with your viewers, you’ll have a better chance of converting them.
- Use numbers in your headlines. Numbers represent actionable steps users can use to reach their goals. Numbered lists also improve scanability and make it easier for readers to digest content.
- Pay attention to your data. When using clickbait headlines, measure them against other headlines and see which perform better. Like anything in marketing, the numbers don’t lie. There’s no point investing in a tactic if it doesn’t work for your audience.
- Write for more than clicks. A headline is just the beginning. What really matters is the quality of your content as a whole. While a witty headline may bring them to your page, your content will make them stay—so don’t neglect the rest.
Don’t Let Your Brand be Associated with Clickbait
Clickbait in its truest form—as deception—is detrimental to the brand and the reader, which is why we never recommend using it. From eroding customer trust, to harming relationships with the media, wasting valuable marketing dollars, spreading misinformation, negatively impacting performance points such as SEO and bounce rate, and other poor outcomes, engaging in clickbait is not worth the risk to the brand. Some brands still engage in the practice, but ultimately will pay the price in lost customers and revenue.
There are respectable ways to tap the strategy that clickbait employs without completely abandoning the relationship with your customer. You can still have a tempting title, but when all is said and done, it needs to accurately and honestly reflect what will be delivered. If your title is misleading in any way, it should not be used.