Secret clickbait tricks all marketers wish they knew

Some might have referred to sensationalism in the past as "yellow journalism," after the Yellow Kid cartoon whose yellow tunic displayed slogans.

Reliant on exaggeration and scare-mongering, the term "yellow press" referenced news that lacked appropriate and legitimate research to back up the headlines. Today, they have more up-to-date parlance in the form of "clickbait."

Love it or hate it, clickbait is part of the internet, and now the venerable BBC finds itself mired in criticism for daring to experiment with more flashy, attention-grabbing headlines.

Now, media regulator Ofcom is investigating the Corporation’s much-vaunted impartiality in the face of “a changing news environment.” Part of this is what commenters such as The Times suggest is its “increasing reliance on clickbait -- headlines and light show business stories designed to go viral.”

The implication is that because the BBC’s responsibility is to provide news in the public interest, lighthearted headlines that lead to stories with low news value are not within its remit.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that a great deal of attention-grabbing headlines also seem to fall under the qualification of "fake news." And we would be the first to argue that there is no place for blatant lies or obfuscation in any form of communications, from ads to social to content -- and, dare we say it, clickbait.

However, done well, so-called clickbait has as much of a place in a brand’s repertoire as any other device. Alongside banner ads, pre-roll, pop-ups and content, all these formats have a role to play in attracting a share of that precious resource: customer attention.

However the key to success is to ensure the content matches the promise of the headline. Dangle a carrot (the bright, promising clickbait) and serve porridge (disappointing sludge), and people won’t be happy.

Attention is increasingly hard to come by, and content creators need to ensure they are doing everything possible to attract and keep attention, not switch people off through disappointment. Especially since a lack of attention is coming at a cost.

Research suggests that banner blindness and ad-blocking technology are contributing to a declining click-through rate -- with ad blocking alone costing some large publishers £2m a year, averaging out at a loss of GBP500,000 per publisher. These losses will have a knock-on effect with their advertisers, too.

Let’s look at what clickbait can really do. At its heart it is an attention-grabbing headline. But this is just the beginning. What you want to deliver is a piece of striking, useful head-turning content. Directing users to something banal, or old, or plain unoriginal is as big a crime as delivering them to a page full of ads, pop-ups, fake news and bots. The complaint about the BBC is actually a spot-on observation of effective clickbait -- “designed to go viral.”

Clickbait should be the start of a good conversation, not a dark rabbit hole to funnel naïve browsers into.

Clickbait is interruption marketing in its best sense. Dependent on a number of sophisticated behavioural observations, it is the ultimate push marketing that relies almost entirely on pull.

Yes, you want them to stop in their tracks. Yes, you want customers to click through right away. But critically, you want them to do it of their own free will because the promise makes it just too damn hard not to. Just remember to square that circle. It’s a click that’s got to be worth the journey.

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