“This little secret will make you rich”. “Use this trick to triple your email open rate”. Clickbait is not a new phenomenon in online marketing circles. Its been around since the inception of the internet. Ever since Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, fake news has pushed the advent of clickbait out of the shadows and placed it under more scrutiny. Social Networks like Google and Facebook are now trying to eradicate most forms of clickbait which lead customers to pages which have little customer value but a dramatic, suspenseful or misleading headline.


Click Me, Click Me

The prime aim of clickbait is to capture your attention and entice you to click on a hyperlink. It achieves this through the use of sensationalized headlines. These headlines usually arouse peoples curiosity or shock them to an extent that they feel compelled to click the link to find out more. Often these links turn out to be dubious - overpromising and underdelivering leading to a disappointed customer viewing experience. Or when they work they take the customer on a journey of mindless surfing of low-quality content. Ultimately the viewer is left with a sense of disappointment or angst at having wasted so much of their time.


The Use of Clickbait

Clickbait holds a strange place in many companies marketing departments. Some encourage it and include in their digital marketing job adverts requesting candidates must be able to create clickbait content. The rest have a general malaise around the subject. Many use it but don’t like to admit it. At its core, one could argue most advertising especially online is clickbait. Its created to get a person to click on a link and visit a company’s website with the end goal of becoming a customer.

However, the issue is more nuanced than this. Online ads should primarily provide a method of lead generation for companies. They attract potential customers to try their product/service which satisfies a need/want. Ads are segmented and programmed to appear to browsers most likely to be interested in the product. Ads cost money so most advertisers seek to get their ads to appear to people who fit a customer profile. This minimizes wasted budget spend. They aren’t or at least shouldn’t be clickbait getting customers to a page with false or misleading claims. Clicks cost money and constantly attracting the wrong customer is expensive.

This separation between creating click-worthy ads highlighting benefits to profiled potential customers vs low quality, untargeted sponsored ads, and dramatic articles which represent clickbait is an important distinction worth emphasizing.


The Seedy World of Clickbait

Most advertising, articles, and promotions contain elements of storytelling to make the material more engaging. Storytelling encourages sensationalism as its main tenet is to create something extraordinary out of the ordinary. Clickbait, however, takes this to new levels often exacerbating the truth to generate links to unrelated topics or poor quality content. Its also written in a similar style to provide shock appeal.

Social media has particularly been a haven for clickbait in recent times. We’re also witnessing the infusion of clickbait in vlogging and influencer marketing with influencers using it as a way to attract more views and sell affiliate products. Its all leading to a widespread lack of quality content throughout the internet. Videos proclaiming to offer you special secrets have become legendary in their effectiveness. Most of these clickbaits’ appeal to our baser instincts promising to help us get more resources (money), get laid(sex), or boost our social standing in our tribe(community). They delay the big reveal until the end of the video keeping the viewer hooked until the ultimate anti-climatic unveiling.

As humans, we have an insatiable appetite to feed our curiosity. Our brains naturally seek to fill information gaps in our knowledge. George Loewenstein calls this the information gap. In the mid-1990s, Loewenstein wrote that “the curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.” Clickbait appeals to this aspect in our brains encouraging us to fill in a story. If you consciously look at many Youtube videos particularly vloggers today, most take advantage of this information filling aspect of our brains with their video titles. “Did me and my girlfriend get back together?”, “You really need to see this”, “Why I quit…”.


The Impact of Clickbait on Online Marketing

Any content creator must go through the often laborious stage of creating a heading for their vlog, blog, article, video etc. This can often be the hardest stage as you want to create a title that will expose your material to the widest number of people possible. Here in lies the appeal for any person or company to use clickbait. Often this is harmless. You’re trying to create an enticing heading to get your followers to click or attract the attention of new followers. The issue lies in when you create deliberately misleading content and follow it up with low-quality material annoying viewers.

Social media and the internet should be used to share ideas and help others and expand intellectual and social horizons. As a creator, you should aim to create high-quality content that informs, guides, helps or inspires your audience. Answer questions. Spread knowledge. Don’t just put out more rubbish into the universe and put a clickbait title on it.