Anyone active in the online world is familiar with clickbait. Whether or not you’ve come across the actual term before, you’ve surely seen it in action hundreds of times. Clickbait is the sly art of baiting readers with sensationalist, and often misleading, headlines. The biggest culprits of clickbait are sites like Buzzfeed and UpWorthy (They’re the one’s responsible for all those lists) but reputable publishers have fallen for clickbait’s charm too. This month, the New Yorker published an article about the Cascadia fault line titled The Really Big One. However, if you saw it you probably don’t know it by that title. That’s because the New Yorker inserted a different title for search engines and social media: The Earthquake That Will Devastate Seattle. Which title are you most likely to have clicked on?
So, what’s the difference between clickbait, and a well-written headline? Both have the same end-goal – to encourage people to click. The main difference is that click-bait encourages you to click by misleading and manipulating you. Clickbait is the sleazy salesperson who slinks out from a shadowy corner of the store and convinces you your life will be inadequate unless you buy X, Y and Z.
The worst kinds of clickbait are headlines that manipulate you. Browse your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed and you will invariably be hit with article headings like 10 Book Every Intelligent Person Should Read or 9 Foods You Should Have In Your Kitchen. The implication of these headlines are that, if you don’t read them, you’re dumb, or not doing a good job. Think about other things you should do – pay your bills, feed your dog, look out for your family. Should is a powerful word used to indicate duty or obligation. By using it in a headline, publishers are manipulating your emotions and inducing feelings of guilt for not clicking on the article.
Why does any of this matter?
Clickbait matters because it threatens the integrity of online content. We’re disappearing further and further into a rabbit hole where publishers cheat to try and generate traffic for their sites. Rather than get to a stage where This puppy ran across the road, just wait until you see what it does next is considered good journalism, publishers need to understand that the no.1 thing that drives traffic is good content. If that notion disappears, we’ll all be left wading in a sea of ads and headlines.
The next time you’re looking for content to share on your social media accounts, try to avoid choosing content with misleading of manipulative headline. Don’t become a part of the problem. Treat your followers with respect and only share content that is worth their time to read. Doing this will make you a great curator, and it will also keep you in favor with some social media platforms.
Facebook vs. Clickbait
Facebook is on a never-ending quest to strike a balance between brands and users. Last year, they announced that they will penalize brands who use clickbait. Facebook’s definition of the term is quite strict: titles that entice a user to click without telling them what the article is actually about. An example of this would be You’ll never believe what this woman puts on her face every morning or any article heading that includes You won’t believe what happens next or What this dog does is amazing! Users dislike this kind of content as they often cannot resist clicking before realizing the article is a waste of time.
Because users were clicking on the headlines, Facebook’s algorithms marked these posts as popular and they enjoyed a high level of reach. In order to combat this, Facebook changed their algorithms to take into account how long people spend reading the article. The longer they spend reading, the higher the content is valued. The algorithm also looks at clicks in relation to likes, comments and shares. An article with a lot of clicks but otherwise low engagement will be impacted negatively. This change is a fantastic step in the right direction as it encourages brands to share meaningful content.
Spend time on your headlines
If you are a content creator it’s important to strike a balance between writing a good headline and clickbait. It’s basic marketing to create a headline that will act as a tease and encourage people to read. Teasers were in existence well before the digital age and will likely continue to be for years to come. A good headline lets readers know what the article is about, leaves out key pieces of information (The tease), and is followed up with quality content. For example 7 proven ways to increase web traffic is a good headline as it lets readers know what the article is about, and entices them without manipulating them. In contrast, a headline like You won’t believe what this will do for your web traffic is manipulative and uninformative.
Want to learn more about creating great headlines? Watch out for my follow-up article next week!