Clickbait

EAG, April 20, 2017

Breaking News Woman
Beyoncé and Lady Gaga finally threw down last night while their entourages and bystanders dodged sequins and nails as the music divas kicked and clawed one another on a Hollywood red carpet event.

Imagine you were lucky enough to attend a Hollywood red carpet event the same night Beyoncé and Lady Gaga had a massive throw-down. What would you do?

Hardly what you were expecting to see, right?

This is an example of clickbait, a pejorative term describing web content aimed at generating online advertising revenue by baiting the reader/viewer to click to a targeted page on a website. If you are reading this, you took the bait. There never was a fight between Beyoncé and Lada Gaga, but you wouldn’t know by the clickbait headline.

Often inaccurate and dependent on sensational headlines and suggestive images, clickbait is intended to generate click-throughs and encourage people to share it on their social media networks. Others who see the clickbait repeat the process and so on and so on.

Although clickbait sounds exploitive and misleading, it’s not new. Similar techniques were used in the era of yellow journalism. Headlines with no legitimacy, no research and little truth were used to drive readership. Often, these scintillating newspaper headlines were conveniently positioned to be read through the glass front of a newspaper stand, enticing passersby to buy the newspaper and read more.

Today, newspaper stands have gone by the wayside. However, online business news sources, even considered highly legitimate, have been forced to embellish their headlines and mislead readers in order to entice a click through to the next page. Some mainstream publications compensate copywriters based on the number of clicks they generate rather than word count.

Great headline and subject line writing is necessary to get a reader’s attention. Delivering great content is part of an effective business marketing strategy, but it is complicated by clickbait appearing in the same delivery channels.

What is a small business or content marketer to do when it comes to growing readership in an era of increasingly misleading content and clickbait? From the desks of our copy and content writers, here are a few thoughts to keep your readers clicking and engaging.

  • Whether introducing a Facebook post or blog content, the headline is most important. Write your headline after the story is completed, and treat it as if it is the most important 5-words of your story.
  • Do not mislead your reader. Your headline or subject line should represent the heart of the story.
  • Do not compensate your content writers for clicks. Compensate for engagement and the quality of their writing.
  • Humor, irony and other literary tools are acceptable, but shouldn’t be used in the place of relevance to the audience. Choose the goal and match the writing style to match.
  • Don’t neglect your subject line in an e-newsletter. Subject lines should be treated like a headline in importance and relevance. Ironically, in a time of clickbait, a subject line with the month and enews title isn’t attention grabbing.
  • There is much ado about including keywords in your content, but write for readers first and the search engines second. Search engines’ algorithms are advanced enough that they can measure relevance by other means instead of the number of times a targeted keyword appears in the article.

Even though clickbait has soured readers who’ve become skeptical of embellished or sensational headlines, it is a problem that contemporary marketers to overcome. Clickbait is the online marketing equivalent of bait and switch, luring customers in with something too good to be true and selling them on something else. Like everything else in business, if you do what is best for the customer, you’ll always come out ahead in the long run and gain a larger audience that is genuinely interested in what you have to say.

 

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