Why it's time to retire 'this one weird trick'
If that headline immediately made you think of clickbait, you’re on the right track.
“This one weird trick…”
“You won’t believe what happened next…”
“…number 8 will shock you”
“Can you solve this ancient puzzle? 97% of people can’t…”
We’ve all seen these kinds of titles hundreds of times. They started in the realm of spam and dodgy adverts, but because they (used to) work, businesses have been using them more and more as part of their digital marketing, in order to generate clicks.
Articles and even email headlines are becoming peppered with these cheap and easy pleas for attention.
If clickbait works, then what’s the issue?
The answer to that depends on your definition of ‘works’. Sure, you might get a lot of clicks — although now that clickbait has become so ubiquitous, web users are increasingly wise to the format and are avoiding it more and more — but if that’s your only measure of success, you’re falling into the ‘all traffic is good traffic’ trap.
Take a look at engagement stats — like time on page, pages per session, and bounce rate — and see if they tell a different story. If your clickbait articles bring in traffic, only for those users to bounce away as soon as they’re done reading (or sooner, if they’re annoyed at being taken in), well that traffic wasn’t worth very much at all.
Keep your word, keep your reputation
One of the problems with clickbait articles is that they rarely fulfil what their headlines promise.
‘Number 8’ is rarely all that shocking, ‘what happened next’ was not nearly so unpredictable as advertised, and ‘this one weird trick’ was an old folk remedy that people have known about forever.
If your brand uses clickbait techniques and doesn’t deliver on your promises — even if they’re just the promise of what an article will include — you’re devaluing your content:
Last week, you posted a clickbait article promising to tell me about something shocking. I wasn’t shocked.
Two weeks ago, I clicked on one of your articles that promised hilarity, and it turned out to be a rehash of a boring Twitter conversation I’d seen on four websites already.
This week, you’re launching a new product, but I don’t bother to click the link to find out if the new features are ‘revolutionary’ — you’ve lost my trust.
Clickbait is all about hyperbole. And when you start to use that as standard, anything you do that is genuinely remarkable will be dulled by your exuberance over things that didn’t matter.
Don’t bother sharing
Facebook has started to crack down on clickbait content. Well, that’s probably a simplistic view, but they are looking at engagement stats when working on what to show in people’s news feeds. If an article gets a click and an immediate bounce, it’s ‘devalued’ and will be shown less.
Clickbait is that unsatisfying fluff that hooks you for a second and leaves you disappointed. Sure, some people will share it, but most will leave it be. Whereas if you provide insightful, interesting, or useful content, people will actually want to share it.
Deserve your clicks
Don’t be cheap and easy. That insightful, interesting, and useful content — that’s what you should be producing. Give people a genuine reason to click. Write twenty titles for your article before you post it. Even if that takes almost as long as the post itself.
Your title or headline is the only information you have to offer the reader unless they click — so make them want to click. But do it honestly.
Then, make sure your article lives up to the promise of the headline.