Tom Chapman
Tom Chapman 19 December 2018
Categories Content

Why ‘clickbait’ is no longer a valid marketing tactic

Still measuring results by the click? Perhaps it's time to reconsider.

A clickbait headline is something which draws on the curious nature of our brains. Featuring sensational or exaggerated copy, the whole purpose of these headlines is to get people to click. You will almost certainly have seen these headlines online, sporting such language as ‘you won’t believe’ or an emotional hook – and they're frequently effective.

Although many might believe clickbait is an invention which followed the internet, examples of this tactic can be found as far back as 1927. Having said that, it’s likely that Victorian marketers employed similar approaches in their work - it’s possible that even Roman announcers tugged on the heartstrings of customers to entice them into the arena stands.

Clearly, this is a strategy which has been in use for decades and generated results - but it’s now time for a rethink and to decide whether clickbait headlines are helping or hindering your marketing strategy.

Clicks aren’t valid measurements

If you’re employing clickbait headlines in your work, chances are, you’re doing this because you want a high number of pageviews. Unfortunately, this is an incorrect way to measure success.

The whole concept of clickthrough was created by marketing professional Ken McCarthy in 1994. At the time, it was a great way to measure interactions. However, almost 25 years later, the internet has moved on; but many marketers have kept the system.

Page views and clicks, it is argued, demonstrate how many people are reading something such as an article. Consequently, marketers use this as a way to evaluate the success of a piece and justify its creation.

Unfortunately, clicks only work if we assume that readers are interested in the content. Yet, more than half of people spend less than 15 seconds on a webpage. Using click-through metrics, if an article grabbed a person’s attention for under that time, it would probably be counted as a success.

Yet, any reasonable person would argue the opposite.

Worse still, focusing on the click is very much a short-term strategy. While a clickbait-headline can certainly command a reader’s attention, that person will usually feel let down by the content provided. As a result, they might switch to a competitor to receive more trustworthy articles.

The post-truth era works against clickbait

For many of us, the last couple of years have been a shock. From the rise of Trump to Brexit, these unpredictable moments in our society has led to many categorising this period of time as the ‘post-truth’ era.

Broadly, post-truth relates to how information is conveyed. Instead of facts being prioritised, emotions are used to steer individuals towards a goal which might, or might not, be true. In post-truth, experts are frequently ignored as are relevant studies and statistics.

The internet has allowed post-truth materials to spread and, as a result, this has led to a crackdown on clickbait. For example, in 2016, Facebook announced changes to its algorithms to combat these types of articles. Furthermore, institutions such as Ofcom are supporting regulation of social media networks.

Consequently, those marketers continuing to use clickbait tactics might be penalised by social media networks in the future.

A new system is needed to measure success

It is natural, upon the failure of one success metric, to replace it with another. For example, average time spent on page. Yet, the truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all way to evaluate success. Instead, how we measure this should depend entirely on what your article is trying to achieve.

For example, if publishing a case study, success should ideally be measured on conversions and enquiries.

The fundamental truth is that content must engage with the reader. Although this sounds like hard work, in the long run it is certainly more profitable.

In the case of advertising, for example, one study completed by content intelligence platform Chartbeat discovered that those who spent greater amounts of time on page were more likely to remember adverts. In fact, individuals who spent 15 or more seconds on a page were 25% more likely to recall the name of the brand than those present for less than ten seconds.

Phase out clickbait – or create a satisfying payoff

Creating a clickbait headline for the purpose of generating pageviews isn’t a viable tactic. While suitable in the short term, advocates could suffer from reduced trust or alienate their customer base.

It’s time to ditch this success metric and instead focus on providing content which is valuable for the reader. These should be combined with individual ways to measure success – rather than a catch-all solution.

In the post-truth era, we have a responsibility to ensure that customers get the best content possible - and If they don’t, they will simply go elsewhere.

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