Clickbait drives traffic. It may not be fair, but it’s undeniably true; 2014 may as well have been The Year of Clickbait as far as the digital world as a whole was considered. An incredible number of news and entertainment venues were successfully launched last year based on just this type of traffic. But while clickbait tactics may work for some digital marketing campaigns, they usually don’t work for most content marketing campaigns. The goals of most content marketing campaigns and clickbait usually diametrically opposed.
Users have spoken: they hate clickbait. They may keep clicking on it, but that doesn’t mean they like clicking on it. For advertisers who simply want to build traffic, that’s fine; for companies looking to build a brand, it’s not. Contrary to what some believe, not all press is good press — and not all traffic is good traffic.
The core problem with clickbait is that it breaks the implied trust between the reader and the writer. The writer has promised one thing and then performed a bait-and-switch, leaving the user with content that they aren’t interested in. For companies seeking to build a reputation, that’s the exact opposite of the desired intention. A successful content marketing campaign should eventually lead to a trustworthy brand identity.
Every type of content has a different life expectancy. Clickbait is generally not aimed at longevity; the entire goal of clickbait is to just get someone, anyone, to click on it when they see it. While social sharing can extend the lifetime of clickbait content, social sharing doesn’t have a lengthy engagement either. Most clickbait sites support their traffic with a constant influx of new content.
When was the last time you clicked on a clickbait headline that showed up in your search engine results page? Most people don’t. In fact, most people don’t even find clickbait titles in their search engine results — it’s not as though they are carefully keyword optimized. They almost can’t be; keyword optimization would go against the basic principles of the clickbait title.
Content marketing campaigns are aimed at long-lasting content; content that will drive traffic for a long time to come. On some level, content marketing doesn’t need to be clickbait — it will eventually gain the traffic that it deserves through its value. A major appeal to content marketing is that the traffic ultimately becomes sustaining with a minimal amount of upkeep.
Clickbait’s major goal is traffic. But traffic isn’t particularly important to a content marketing campaign — engagement is. Clickbait isn’t geared towards engagement. In fact, a significant portion of readers likely bounce right off of a clickbait page once they realize that it isn’t going to be delivering on its title.
Raw traffic doesn’t mean much to a content marketing campaign. It doesn’t build a brand and it doesn’t drive conversions. If anything, it can throw off a marketer’s metrics by reducing the percentage of conversions and making the campaign look less successful than it actually is. It’s unlikely that users will convert to anything when they have arrived at a page through misinformation. Content marketing produces conversions by providing the customer with exactly what they need.
Clickbait is generally used to describe content that is inherently bait-and-switch: a compelling title that either exaggerates the article’s premise or outright lies about it. But clickbait titles can theoretically be true — it’s just so difficult to achieve that most people don’t bother. For example, “What This Russian Doctor is Planning to Do With This Man’s Head Will Shock You!” is both clickbait and, at the same time, probably pretty true.
There’s nothing that says that marketers can’t leverage the principles behind clickbait to make their titles more compelling. Clickbait takes advantage of something called the “curiosity gap,” which is the natural human inclination to learn more when a question has already been raised. There are ways to take advantage of this curiosity gap without outright misleading your readers.
Standard clickbait tactics are simply incompatible with the majority of content marketing strategies — though there are always exceptions. Clickbait does not produce content that will build the brand’s reputation or that will remain relevant for a long period of time. For the purposes of content marketing, it’s usually best to be as straightforward as possible.
While clickbait may still be a popular trend as of 2015, its days may well be numbered. Readers have become savvy to the tactic and are starting to aggressively resist it. There will come a time when readers will be so over-exposed to clickbait that it will become meaningless to them, and therefore ineffective.