Why Clickbait Works (And Why You Should Do More of It)
We’ve all found ourselves in such situations:
You are busy on your computer, conducting some internet research for your latest article or project. While reading through the information on a webpage, an article on the side bar catches your attention. “You won’t believe how these five billionaires made their wealth. Number 5 will shock you!”
Who wouldn’t want to know the unbelievable ways through which billionaires made their money? Who knows, you could even get some ideas on how to become a billionaire yourself.
So you click on the article, but unfortunately, there is nothing unbelievable or even mildly interesting about the article.
However, on the side bar of this page are several other articles with such enticing titles.
Good luck not clicking on them!
Today, it is almost impossible to surf the internet without coming across articles with enticing titles trying to convince you to click on them.
One minute, you are reading about tips on how to get your dream job, and the next, you are clicking through pictures of celebrity homes.
The funny thing about clickbait articles is that we almost always know that they are clickbait.
However, this does not stop us from falling for them hook, line, and sinker.
There is something about them that seems to overrun our self-will.
This is why you will find yourself clicking on the next article about “The scariest places on earth,” even if the one you just finished reading about “Five things about Donald Trump that will shock you” did not actually leave you shocked.
Why do we always fall for these articles?
WHAT IS CLICKBAIT, AND WHY DOES IT WORK?
Clickbait refers to pieces of digital content that are meant to lure you to click on them by playing on your psychology.
They grab your attention either due to their shock value, their sensationalism, or due to how relatable they are to you.
In most cases, since the intention of the clickbait author is to simply get clicks and page views, MOST clickbait content does not actually deliver on its promise, and if it does, it does so in a very poor manner. What matters is that you did actually click to view the content.
Sometimes, however, some clickbait content does deliver what it promised.
There are still arguments on whether such content should be considered as clickbait or not.
It is no secret that clickbait content is very effective at attracting the attention of internet users.
Riding on clickbait content, sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy have been able to capitalize on people’s curiosity to draw tons of traffic to traffic every month.
So, what is it about clickbait content that keeps us clicking even when we know that we are being baited? There are several reasons why clickbait works. These include:
Clickbait Preys on Our Emotions
Clickbait takes advantage of behavioral science. While we like to think of ourselves as highly logical and rational creatures, the truth is that humans are highly emotional.
Clickbait authors know this, and therefore they create clickbait titles in such a way to appeal to our emotions.
If you take a closer look at most clickbait titles, you will notice that most of them evoke emotions such as fear, envy, sadness, anger, surprise, inspiration, excitement, humor, and so on.
This is not by accident, but rather by design.
Already, studies show that emotions have a huge on what we click on.
What’s more, the more extreme and polarizing these emotions are, the more likely they are to get us to click.
Clickbait Takes Advantage of Our Curiosity
Aside from being driven by emotions, rather than logic and rationality, human beings are also very curious.
Various theories have been postulated to explain why curiosity is such a huge influence on human behavior.
The most popular theory is the information gap theory, which was proposed by George Loewenstein.
According to this theory, whenever someone perceives that there is a gap between what they know and what they would like to know, this triggers an emotional response that creates an uncomfortable feeling of deprivation.
Once this uncomfortable feeling of deprivation is triggered, a person will try as much as possible to reduce or eliminate this feeling by searching for the missing information.
This is why you find it hard to ignore those “you won’t believe what happened next” articles.
Even when we know we are being baited, we still go ahead and click on these articles.
The desire to eliminate the cognitive discomfort of not knowing is greater than the disappointment of opening an article to find that it does not deliver on its promise.
When you come across a clickbait article, the following questions go off on in your head?
What if the article will actually show me the unbelievable ways through which millionaires make money?
What if I’ll actually learn how to become irresistible to the opposite sex?
This will always drive people to click on these articles even when they know that they are clickbait.
Reliance on Numbers and Lists
People like numbers and lists for several reasons.
First, numbers are a great way of organizing information and making it easier for the brain to consume.
Given blocks of text versus information that has been reduced to numbers, people will opt for the latter.
Second, numbers help give readers an idea of how long an article is and how much time and attention they will need to dedicate to reading the story.
When you come across an article titled “5 things you never knew about the prince of Saudi”, you already know that there is a predetermined end point for the article, and you can easily tell how much of the article is remaining depending on where you are in the article.
In addition, numbers eliminate or reduce the paradox of choice and give a measure of certainty to whatever it is you are reading.
Finally, when you are scrolling through an endless stream of text, numbers tend to stand out – especially odd numbers.
This is why a lot of clickbait authors rely on numbers and lists.
You’ll notice that most clickbait headlines look something like this:
- 5 things you never knew about….
- 10 most shocking facts about…
- 25 awesome products that will…
- 19 mistakes that…
They do this because they understand that numbers will catch your attention and will give you the perception that whatever information is contained in the article is more credible and easy to consume.
Clickbait Relies on Your Anticipation
We have seen above the different tactics that clickbait content uses to catch out attention and get us to click on these headlines. However, here’s the thing.
Clickbait content has been around for several decades, even before the advent of the internet.
We know that more often than not, clicking on clickbait content will leave you disappointed.
Once bitten twice shy logic would say that, as you get more exposed to clickbait content, its effectiveness would decrease, since you know it probably consists of false, empty promises and emotional ploys.
So, why is it that clickbait content is still effective despite people having been exposed to it for year?
Here’s the thing about the human brain (and most animals as well).
People have no problem putting up with huge amounts of disappointment, provided they occasionally get what they expected.
The more unpredictable the occasions where they get what they expected, the higher the chances that they will put up with even greater amounts of disappointment.
This is what gets people addicted to gambling in spite of losing a lot more times than they win.
The same thing happens with clickbait content.
While this kind of content disappoints most of the time, it sometimes delivers on what it promised.
However, you have no way of knowing whether it will deliver this time round or not.
Therefore, people keep clicking in the hope that they’ve chanced upon content that will actually satisfy their curiosity.
This is why clickbait content has remained effective, even when it seems that people should know better.
HOW TO INCLUDE CLICKBAIT IN YOUR CONTENT MARKETING
We have seen some of the reasons why clickbait is such an effective way of attracting readers’ attention. However, a lot of content marketers do not like using clickbait.
This is due to the fact that clickbait attracts a bad rap.
Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy rely on clickbait because it fuels their revenue stream.
These sites generate revenue through ads, and for them, what counts are clicks and page views.
They don’t care whether these visitors stick around long enough to read the content in their articles.
Provided someone clicked on the article, this person contributes to visitor numbers, which can in turn be monetized to generate advertising revenue.
On the other hand, if you are selling your own products or trying to promote your brand, you care about much more than clicks and page views.
You want your visitors to stick around long enough to engage with your content and learn more about your brand and your products and services.
Therefore, the conventional approach to clickbait content might not work for you.
The visitors driven to your site through conventional clickbait methods will not translate into any meaningful ROI for you.
Still, it is possible to drive attention to your website and drive impact by applying some aspects of clickbait marketing.
Below are some tactics on how to use clickbait strategies to market your business without alienating your visitors or negatively affecting your brand.
We have already seen that people will try as much as they can to eliminate the discomfort of not knowing something they would like to know. Cliffhangers are the ultimate way to evoke your readers’ curiosity.
The easiest way to employ cliffhangers in your sentence is to use the phrase “Things nobody tells you about” and then insert something your readers are struggling with.
As you can see from the below screenshot, this is a tactic that is used even by Forbes.
By hinting that there’s some secret information that is being kept from them and that could potentially help them with a problem they are facing, there’s no way your readers will avoid clicking on your article.
Making this simple tweak to your headlines can lead to a significant increase in traffic to your article.
Take a minute to analyze some of your headlines. If you are writing an article on “How to land your dream job,” consider changing it to “Things nobody tells you about landing your dream job.”
Instead of “4 secrets to scoring amazing LinkedIn recommendations” change the headline to “4 things no one tells you about scoring amazing LinkedIn recommendations.”
Once you use this tactic, it is important to then provide your readers with knowledge that is not commonly known by everyone, else you will be misleading your readers, which is something you want to avoid.
Convert Your Articles Into Listicles
We saw that clickbait authors love using numbers in their headlines because the numbers catch the attention of readers, give the perception that the article is easy to read, and give readers a good idea of the amount of attention and time they need to expend on the article.
Therefore, why not take advantage of this tactic to increase traffic to your articles by turning them into listicles?
Instead of simply writing about “The critical elements of an effective project plan,” why not write about the “The 10 critical elements of an effective project plan?”
Use “Need To Know” In Your Headlines
Using “need to know” in your headlines is another way of tapping into people’s curiosity to drive them to click on your articles. Such headlines imply that there is some information that they are supposed to know, but do not know.
This triggers the reader’s FOMO and the cognitive discomfort we discussed earlier. Using this tactic to drive traffic to your articles is pretty easy.
Just take any regular informative article and add “need to know” in its headline. To make the headline even more likely to drive clicks, add a number to it.
For instance, if you have article on “How to get ladies to fall in love with you,” edit the headline to “5 things you need to know to get ladies to fall in love with you.”
Trust me, the second headline will attract more traffic than the first.
Ride on Celebrities’ Fame
It is common knowledge that humans love to gossip, and all people engage in some form of gossip. We have an innate drive to want to know about other people’s lives.
The more famous these people are, the higher the drive.
This is why the celebrity gossip industry is worth over $3 billion, and is the same reason why a lot of clickbait content centers on celebrities – what celebrities did, what they wore, the cars they drive, the houses they live in, who they are dating, and so on.
While you don’t have to share to share clickbait gossip articles to attract traffic to your website, you can still ride on celebrities’ fame to drive people to your articles while at the same time offering value to your readers.
To do this, take a topic that is interesting to your readers, find a celebrity who is relevant to this topic, and include their name in your article headline.
For instance, if you are writing about wealth generation, you can a headline like, “How to invest your money like Bill Gates.”
This headline is certainly going to pull bigger traffic compared to “How to invest your money.”
Ride on Hot Topics and Current Events
This is a tactic that has been around for ages, and one that clickbait authors have perfected.
Whenever there is a topic or event that is generating a lot of buzz, people will definitely want to learn more about the topic or event, and you can take advantage of this interest to drive traffic to your website or article.
For instance, if it is the holiday season and you want to talk about a boring topic such as personal finance, you could write an article on “10 ways to save money this Christmas.”
Since it’s the holiday season, a lot of people are searching for things related to Christmas, and making such a tweak to your headline can help you gain more traffic.
Similarly, if there is a trending show, such as the Game of Thrones did earlier this year, you can include catchphrases from the show in your headlines, but you should make sure they fit organically.
In addition to helping tap into the huge traffic seeking information about a hot topic, including a trending keyword on your headline will also boost your search engine rankings.
Use Shock Value
This is another practice that clickbait authors have perfected. If you look at most clickbait articles, you will notice that they use words and phrases such as “you won’t believe what happened…” “You’ll never guess what happened…” “Unbelievable,” “Shocking,” “amusing,” and so on.
Such words and phrases play on shock value to raise readers’ curiosity.
These words make a promise to the reader that they will find information that will stun them.
Incorporating such words and phrases into your headlines can help you attract more traffic to your articles.
There’s one thing you need to keep in mind, however.
Such words raise the expectations of your readers.
Therefore, if you are going to use such words in your article, you should make sure that the content within the article is strong enough to meet your reader’s expectations.
If you are unable to deliver what you promised in your headline, this will only end up hurting your brand, and readers will lose trust in your content.
I mentioned earlier that the more polarizing or extreme a message is, the stronger the emotion this message will evoke, which in turn increases the likelihood of people responding to the message or wanting to find out more about what it claims.
You can take advantage of this to drive more traffic to your articles by offering very strong opinions about a topic.
People will want to know why you are making such claims, thereby increasing their likelihood of clicking on your articles.
In addition, such opinions will drive engagement as people try to share their opinion or tell you why you are wrong.
The debate you spark by posting controversial opinions could even cause your content to go viral, which will in turn attract even greater attention to your content.
Abodo used this tactic perfectly with this article about some of the racist cities in America.
The article sparked a huge and heated debate, and in the process, the article ended up being shared on social media over 67,000 times.
That said, you should also exercise a bit of caution if you decide to use this strategy.
Go for opinions that are unpopular but tolerable. Going for highly sensitive topics can backfire on you and your brand.
Everyone hates clickbait content, but it remains to be one of the most effective ways of getting readers’ attention and driving traffic to websites.
Despite the bad rap it gets, you can still use clickbait strategies to get people to your site without alienating your visitors or negatively impacting your brand.
Clickbait is all about how you write your headlines, and by adopting the clickbait strategies discussed above, you can significantly boost the amount of traffic on your website.
That said, I need to give a disclaimer.
The reason people hate clickbait content is because in most cases, it does not deliver on what it promises.
If you want to use these clickbait headline strategies effectively without ruining your brand, you need to make sure that your content always matches what is promised in the headline.
If you promise your readers 10 unbelievable facts about something, you should deliver ten facts about this thing, and these 10 facts should be unbelievable.
If you are able to do that, applying these clickbait strategies in your content marketing will definitely work for you.
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