How to Harness The Principles of Clickbait (Without Being Cheesy)

How to Harness The Principles of Clickbait (Without Being Cheesy)

We’ve all seen cheesy, clickbait titles with phrases like, “You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!” 

Sites like BuzzFeed made clickbait content famous — but does it work for businesses looking to increase traffic and sales?

It can, but only if you use it well. 

The truth is, many people are just plain tired of clickbait. So why do sites keep using it? Because it can work — if you don’t overdo it. 

How do you leverage clickbait strategies without being lame or cheesy? First, you need to understand why clickbait works. 

Why Does Clickbait Work?

Clickbait works because humans are curious by nature. Clickbait creates a curiosity gap, a psychological effect that occurs when someone learns new and interesting information is available. 

Essentially, dangling unknown information in front of someone makes them want to read. 

There’s also a physical impact to closing the curiosity gap. When people obtain that new information, their brain rewards them with dopamine, the hormone that makes us feel good after eating chocolate or getting a hug from a close friend.       

Clickbait titles also drive an emotional response, making them more likely to be shared on social media, expanding their reach.

For example, Inc.com uses clickbait titles like “People Are Suing Equifax in Small-Claims Court and It’s Totally Brilliant. Here’s Why.” People want to know why it’s brilliant, so they click. 

Despite the popularity of clickbait, there are definite drawbacks to using this strategy — and you’ll never guess what they are! The good news is you don’t have to guess; we’re going to talk about it in the next section. 😉

What Are The Drawbacks to Clickbait? 

Most internet users are just plain tired of clickbait articles that promise a groundbreaking revelation but don’t deliver. Facebook even adjusted its algorithm to limit the spread of clickbait. 

Clickbait can also erode brand trust. Your audience assumes you’re just out for clicks and aren’t creating useful content that lives up to its headline. This can reduce site traffic and also damage your brand. 

From a data perspective, poorly used clickbait strategies can increase bounce rates. Users are intrigued by the title, but they’ll leave the site quickly if the content is lacking. High bounce rates can decrease your site ranking on search engines, resulting in lower sales and less traffic. 

Another issue is clickbait can be so effective it attracts anyone — including people outside of your target audience. An increase in traffic is great but if conversions don’t follow, all that effort might be wasted. 

So, how do you leverage the benefits of clickbait without the drawbacks? Here are four strategies that help you do just that. 

1. Use Emotionally Engaging Content, But Don’t Over Do It 

Cheesy clickbait titles aren’t the only way to create emotionally engaging content. Instead of using worn-out cliches, build emotional connections in other ways. 

For example, storytelling can build connections by telling personal stories about your team, customers, or just someone your audience might feel a connection with. 

FOMO, or fear of missing out, can create an emotional connection without being over the top. “You won’t want to miss this!” titles can be misleading, but using stats and real results can create FOMO. 

For example, “We Analyzed X Customers Making X Per Year — Here’s What They All Have in Common” is emotionally engaging without being cheesy. It provides real numbers and encourages users to click and find out what they might be missing out on. 

2. A/B Test Your Titles 

There is a lot of advice out there about what makes the most effective titles. Use numbers, create a list, make sure to use action words. How do you know what works? 

The truth is the most effective titles are the ones that work for you — and the only way to find out is to test. 

A/B testing provides data on what works, not just what some marketing expert says might work. 

Testing titles means you can focus on the data points that matter for your organization. You can test titles based on specific goals. Maybe you don’t just want more traffic;  you want more leads or to attract higher revenue clients. 

Here are a few testing strategies to find the most effective titles: 

  1. Test similar wording in different formats: For example, “X Reasons Why We Love Y” versus “We Love Y — Here’s Why You Should Too.” 
  2. Test titles on different platforms: The type of titles we click on social media platforms might be different from those on Google. Make sure to test on several platforms and compare the results. 
  3. Test and then test again: Don’t just test two titles and call it a day. Consider running two or three rounds of tests before settling on a final title — at least at first. Eventually, you’ll have a better idea of which titles work and can reduce your testing schedule. 

3. Offer Immediate Value  

Nobody likes a bait and switch. A lot of clickbait articles make a promise in their title but never deliver. You’ve likely seen articles with a picture and a title like, “X Celebrities and What They Look Like Now!” You click, only to find the featured celebrity is on page 25 of a slideshow. (Or not in the article at all.) 

If you want to leverage the power of clickbait while being taken seriously, avoid the bait and switch. 

Get right to the point in your opening paragraph. Explain what the content covers, why it matters, and exactly how the title relates to your content. 

If you use a teaser title and never deliver, visitors will hit the back button back faster than you can say, “But Wait, There’s More!” 

4. Don’t Just Write for Clicks 

Clicks aren’t everything. Sure, more traffic is great, but traffic alone doesn’t drive revenue. 

Clickbait titles draw users in, but they won’t stick around if the content is terrible. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t use clickbait titles — just don’t be a one-trick pony. Aim for long-term success by writing useful, easy-to-read content and optimizing for search engine optimization (SEO.) 

Offer actionable tips, suggestions, or interesting information. Use headlines to highlight actionable or intriguing points. For example, a post about creating an editorial calendar might include tips like: 

  1. Outline your content goals 
  2. Decide what topics you’ll cover 
  3. Identify your channels 
  4. Decide how often you’ll post 
  5. Assign tasks 

Each heading is clear, direct, and offers actionable advice. 

Your content should also be optimized for SEO. Make sure to add links to useful content, use headings and images to break up content, and create content based on keyword research. 

Clickbait Principles Are Powerful — If You Use Them Correctly 

There’s a reason clickbait has stuck around: it works. However, to be effective, you have to create content that delivers value. Users who are annoyed at over-the-top titles and thin content are unlikely to return to your website. 

Finally, don’t rely on strategies other sites use. Use A/B testing to find out what title formats are most effective with your specific audience.

Danielle Antosz
Danielle Antosz is a content marketing and SEO specialist with more than a decade of experience helping B2B, tech, and SaaS companies grow their businesses online. You can stalk her on Twitter @dantosz.

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