Clickbait works, but it might not be best for your business

Contributing ColumnistApril 28, 2014 

Chances are you've seen headlines like this come across our Facebook wall:

"This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular."

"See What We Have As An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds"

"Nine out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact."

Those headlines make you want to click on them to find out more, don't they? How many of you would have clicked to see what the story was?

All of those headlines are from the popular viral content website, Upworthy, but they could easily have come from Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post.

Headlines like these are called clickbait. The idea is an eye-catching headline with a link will encourage people to read on. An advertiser often pays for the link and income is generated by how many people click on that link. For Buzzfeed and other websites like it, the main goal is publishing share-friendly content and then getting it actually shared.

Clickbait isn't new. It has just moved from traditional media to online. Many tabloid news outlets have been using this form of headline writing for decades. Recently, though clickbait has gained popularity across the board moving to the mainstream media to grab people's attention.

Here are some numbers to help you understand how well Clickbait works. In the last quarter of 2013, people spent more than 700 minutes per day either reading or watching video content on Upworthy which gets most of its sharing from Facebook. Yes, you're reading right, that's per day.

They also have more than 50 million monthly unique visitors to the website. That's a lot of sharing and traffic heading to their website.

Using clickbait to drive people to your site can be very tempting. Who wouldn't want that amount of traffic to, and attention on, your website?

Erik Deckers, owner of Professional Blog Service and co-author of four books, cautions businesses against jumping on the clickbait bandwagon. Clickbait can be misleading and may not truly represent the content once readers click on the link. Remember the goal of clickbait is to drive traffic to a website.

When you write a sensationalized headline, you are promising a lot. The content must meet the expectations set by the headline. Have too many exaggerated headlines without the content to back them up and trust begins to wane. Nobody wants to be duped. Eventually, people will stop clicking on the links and coming to the website. While tricks and short cuts may work short-term driving traffic, it isn't a good long-term strategy.

Your headline should inform and hook readers. To avoid trust being eroded, Deckers suggests you get back to basics and write solid headlines that people can trust. If you must use clickbait, he suggests creating strong headlines using list posts, which are basically using a number to solve someone's problem like "Three ways to do x or y." Don't feel like you have inflate them in anyway by adding extra descriptions.

When you are running a business you are looking to meet someone's need or solve his or her problem. You want to write blog posts that people will go to your website and get what they need.

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. She proudly called Lexington home but now lives in North Carolina. Email her at ann@mindthegappr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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