Clickbait: Why it works, and how you can use it — for good

Mystery, intrigue, things you won’t believe and just need to know: Clickbait is digital content that lures readers in by reducing concepts to their core emotional draws. Whether it’s envy, wrath, lust, sloth, anger, or greed, clickbait grabs a reader’s attention through both relatability and shock-value. Clickbait headlines also present information gaps that trigger a reader’s FOMO (fear of missing out). After catching a reader’s eye and curiosity, Clickbait offers an easy solution: Click through to read more. How simple!
Clickbait isn’t going away, and it continues to get a bad reputation (for a good reason). But, if we break down the psychology behind the strategy, we can use elements of Clickbait — for good.

Why Clickbait Works

As mentioned, Clickbait appeals to a reader’s emotions. In the post-eat-post world of social media, high intensity emotions are key to driving users to take action. These emotions can either be positive or negative  — studies show that as long as they are polarizing, they will be effective. To avoid potential backlash, we recommend staying positive.
emotions graph

In a busy digital and social world, it’s no wonder this tactic has risen in popularity. How else can you stand out in the crowd and drive traffic? Clickbait simplifies reader’s lives by limiting their choices, and studies show that including fewer choices will increase the likelihood of someone making a decision. If a reader sees a headline that says “The 2 things you NEED to know about whales,” they are more likely to click on that than “Lots of valuable information about whales.”
Finally, Clickbait often includes numbers, statistics, capitalized letters, and powerful words like “need” or “want.” This formatting stands out amongst streams of text in social media feeds, distracting readers from the thousands of similar, but blander, headlines. Clickbait headlines are the glitter of the internet: Exciting, distracting, and they stick with you for longer than you wanted or planned.

How to Use Clickbait for Good

So, how can we use Clickbait to drive impact? Below are some ideas for turning the typical Clickbait headline format into a source for good.

1. NEED to Know!

What are the fundamentals of your organization or your cause? What are your mission and vision? What’s on your “about” page? Combine key terms like “facts about,” “signs and symptoms,” and “history of” with the classic “need to know” line to play into a reader’s FOMO. Add a number to stand out amongst all the text and to show the reader exactly what they are getting into.
Original: Facts About Whales
Clickbait for Good: 5 Facts About Whales You Need to Know

2. [Insert Celebrity Name Here]

Stay on top of current events and have an inventory (whether written or in your head) of the content on your site. Whether it is a holiday, a celebrity, or just an odd social trend, think of ways you can tie your organization to what people are talking about. Just using a celebrity name or trending phrase in your headline will draw the reader’s eye because these people and topics are already top of mind. Below is an example of how we leveraged a trending story to drive traffic to an existing piece of educational content.

clickbait topical content

3. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!

If you have awesome stories of success and impact, this is the format for you. Introduce the individual or story in a mysterious way, revealing just one intriguing thing about them, and then encourage readers to click through to learn more about your awesome work in action.
Original: Turtle’s Story
C4G: A French Bulldog Walked into an Office — You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next

Tools and Resources

Need help generating ideas? We recommend using Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator to get a feel for the structure of the Clickbait-esque headline. Hubspot is definitely not one-size-fits-all, but is good when you are just getting started. Take a look at Buzzfeed and similar websites to get more ideas. And always A/B test to figure out what messaging resonates most with your audience.

What is the one Clickbait headline for good that we NEED to read? Share it with us by tweeting @WholeWhale.


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