Clickbait exists for one reason and one reason only – to encourage people to click on a headline, regardless of how irrelevant and stupid it might be. For exactly the same reasons that sensationalist newspapers are so popular, clickbait is often extremely successful at achieving its goal. However, marketers thinking about using this tactic also have to ask themselves what’s more important – a sale or a click? Many headlines have become so clichéd that they’re immediately obvious to most of us. In fact, the following examples come from headlines that are often automatically generated, bringing an already questionable marketing method to a new low:
#1. <Your Location> Millionaire Exposes…
Doesn’t it seem uncanny that there’s someone living just down the road from you who became a millionaire in his or her bedroom practically overnight by doing almost nothing at all? In a terribly poor attempt at building trust, many clickbait headlines use geotagging to guess the approximate location of the viewer based on their IP address. These headlines typically feature the same elements, including your location, a hyperbolic key phrase and an arbitrary number illustrating just how much the non-existent millionaire earned in one day or week. Often, they’re accompanied by completely unrelated thumbnail images of supermodels or palm trees.
#2. You’ll Never Guess How/Why/Where…
Clickbait accomplishes its goal for a well-known psychological reason that all comes down to building curiosity by holding back information. As such, clickbait titles rarely contain anything about the actual content of the webpage they point to, leaving audiences feeling deprived unless they continue. Often what they find is something completely uninteresting or irrelevant, and they’ll quickly leave frustrated. Even if the intentions behind such headlines as these were honest, they’re so overused to the extent they’ve become laughable. You’ll see the same headlines used to advertise everything from ‘miracle’ diet pills to get-rich-quick guides.
#3. Discovery Leaves Companies Furious
What this kind of headline does is try to build up trust by making us sympathise with the underdog, who doesn’t actually exist anyway. A common example might go something along the lines of ‘housewife’s anti-aging discovery leaves doctors furious’. In other words, the big bad expert or company is jealous because the underdog has found a more effective solution than they were aware of and is costing them a lot of money because of it. In reality, the company has never heard of him or her, and the implied case study is a complete farce. This type of headline is a favourite in the world of fake and/or useless online pharmaceuticals.
#4. The Amazing New Product/Service Everyone Is Talking About
One of the most vague and useless types of headlines of all is one that refers to a product or service being absolutely amazing without actually giving any hint as to what the product or service in question is. Additionally, an accompanying image will, at best, give nothing more than a vague hint of what the actual product is. These headlines are often used to draw attention to junk products such as Forex trading software that claims to earn money by automatically trading on the stock market on your behalf. Similar clickbait phrases include ‘you won’t believe what happens next’ or ‘this product will restore your faith in humanity’.
#5. This One Weird Trick
Not all clickbait headlines make use out of absurd hyperbole. Others attempt to build up trust by being deliberately vague and confusing. The classic one-weird-trick ad has long been a favourite for advertising fake online pharmaceuticals, particularly those claiming to help you lose weight, reverse aging, stop going bald, cure diabetes or turn you into Iron Man just by taking a pill. Incidentally, the person who proliferated this particular clickbait scam has been subject to multiple lawsuits since 2006. Perhaps, ironically, there was one weird trick involved in actually getting people to buy such junk at all in the first place.
The above headlines are examples of the ugliest that online advertising has to offer, but whether clickbait is all bad remains somewhat more controversial. After all, every marketer needs to make an effort to draw people’s interest and, sometimes, this involves applying a bit of creativity to make an otherwise mundane topic that bit more interesting. What a headline should do is build up curiosity while also maintaining expectations throughout. After all, getting someone to visit your website is only the first and relatively small part of the battle when it comes to online sales. In other words, a good headline gets the right clicks, not just any clicks.