What Is Clickbait, and Why Is It Harmful for Your Brand?

What Is Clickbait, and Why Is It Harmful for Your Brand?

What Is Clickbait, and Why Is It Harmful for Your Brand?

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Spam. The bane of the Internet since its earliest days. Almost everywhere you look online, whether it’s your email inbox or even on a legitimate news website or blog, you’ll find spam. Oftentimes, this spam comes in the form of clickbait, which exists for one reason and one reason only: to get people to click on a link. Clickbait links typically feature a sensational headline accompanied by an eye-catching and often completely unrelated photo. Look at the sponsored ads on many well-known news or entertainment websites, and you’ll often see several links to external stories accompanied by a heading such as ‘from around the Web’ or ‘you may also like’.

Contrary to popular belief, clickbait isn’t really anything new. In fact, it’s very similar to the tactics that tabloid newspapers have been using for as long as they have existed. Just like typical front-page tabloid headlines, clickbait relies on aggressively drawing attention, typically by trying to shock target audiences with some juicy celebrity gossip, hyperbolic claims or local geographic references by recording your IP address. Many clickbait headlines are immediately obvious, characterized by phrases such as ‘this one weird trick,’ ‘you won’t believe this’ or ‘ millionaire exposes…’. However, people continue to fall for it all the time.

Does Clickbait Work?

The reason why clickbait is so popular is because, up to a point it works. It might be intensely annoying to many of us, particularly since clickbait headlines tend to be completely inaccurate and irrelevant, existing purely for the purpose of driving traffic to a website in the hope of earning advertising revenue from yet more ads placed on that site. Affiliate marketers may also use clickbait to sell the sort of junk that tends to be the root of almost all spam, such as guides on how to make money online, lose weight fast or grow certain body parts in a matter of weeks. Nonetheless, clickbait works because it capitalizes on emotion and builds up anticipation.

There’s no doubt that clickbait is effective and, in some industries, it’s the go-to form of marketing. After all, Taboola, one of the advertising platforms at the forefront of clickbait, receives almost half a billion clicks on its links every month and enjoys an annual revenue of more than $250 million, according the BBC. There’s no doubt that clickbait can get your brand noticed online in no time and for relatively little investment too. Some marketers might try to convince you that any attention is good attention when it comes to the extremely competitive virtual marketplace, but does that mean it’s okay to build up infamy rather than fame?

Visitor Count and Customer Count Are Not the Same Thing

Clickbait headlines and sponsored content of the like might bring you lots of website traffic, but what would you rather have? Visitors angrily leaving your website or paying customers leaving great feedback? Clickbait relies on over-promising and under-delivering and, in doing so, it achieves the exact opposite to creating value. For example, a lot of clickbait attempts to shock audiences with fabricated celebrity gossip stories only to lead readers to a website that is completely unrelated. Of course, not all clickbait is this ominous in nature, but now that everyone seems to be doing it, it has become a steady downward spiral towards the lowest of the low.

Any brand that intends to stand the test of time needs to have a few fundamental goals including offering a great product, attracting loyal followers from a relevant audience and strengthening its reputation and credibility through value-adding content. As such, accurate headlines with genuine value and, just as importantly, great content to back them up, are essential for success. In particular, you should always avoid clickbait headlines for more serious topics, such as medicine or finance, lest you risk your brand ending up being squarely placed among the torrent of spam that blights the modern Web.

One of the main goals of a clickbait marketing strategy is to spread gossip and, in doing so, turn readers into marketing tools. After all, if you use Facebook, you’ve probably seen more than enough complete nonsense that people like to share, often because they’re gullible enough to believe it. On the other hand, many Facebook users just share such nonsense without even reading it. In other words, shares are extremely misleading, and there’s rarely actually any correlation between the number of times a piece of content is shared and the amount of actual in-depth attention it receives. Clickbait is inherently optimised for sharing, but rarely for anything else.

There’s no shortage of clueless hopefuls trying to make money online by joining affiliate programs selling every piece of junk imaginable from pay-to-win video games to guides on how to make millions from online gambling or forex trading. However, if you’re a real brand that intends to become anything more than a momentary distraction, then you’ll need to build trust and authority through quality, relevant content crafted with a genuinely human touch. When it comes to longevity and reputation, there simply are no quick fixes, and becoming anything other than a fly-by-night requires long-term dedication.

Santa Barbara SEO and Online Marketing

About the author:

Justin Soenke is a trend-based serial entrepreneur and thought leader in the areas of cyber-security, web design, SEO, social media, eCommerce and managed IT. Justin has overseen the creation and success of over a dozen companies in the technology, security and media sectors, and is the contributing source for his SB Design Blog, SB Tech Blog and SB SEO Blog among regular contributions to many outside blogs and websites, all for our clients.

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