Clickbait as a Case Study – Content Marketing & Clickbait: Part 1


Made you look.

To many users on social media, this is what clickbait has become. A cheap trick that leaves you feeling like you’ve wasted your time.

As digital marketers and people who take content seriously, we shouldn’t disregard clickbait. Instead, we should look at why it exists, what it does well and what we can take from it to improve our own content.

In this mini-series we’ll look at what clickbait tells us about the kind of content our audiences are consuming, as well as how we can use what learn from clickbait to both create better content and avoid the kind of errors that has lead to clickbait’s terrible reputation.

Clickbait - do you fall for it?

Why can’t we just disregard clickbait?

With its need to attract clicks no matter what, clickbait is, by its nature, something that has to optimise – it always needs to be doing the right things to get the attention it needs.

As a result, any other content that wants to be seen (like the content we as marketers create) has to equal or out-perform all the other content around it, clickbait included.

Once you acknowledge that clickbait is doing everything it can to get the attention of your audience, you can look to learn from its tactics.

The power of the headline

Ultimately, clicks are delivered by headlines. In his article, 9 Viral Marketing Rules All Digital Marketers Need to Know, Tom talks about what drives engagement and all the good
social media stuff that comes afterwards.

To get someone to click a headline, doing one or more of the following is recommended:

  • Annoy your reader
  • Play on nostalgia
  • Make your reader laugh
  • Engage with recent events or hot topics
  • Use cute animals

Clickbait only strives to get your attention, to get that click – whether that’s to serve you ads on the landing page or cookie you. To do that it has to stand out from genuine, quality content.

How does clickbait achieve this? Through the most magnetic and sometimes frustrating headlines imaginable.

20th Century Headlines rewritten to get more clicks
Image source: xkcd

As much as we’d like to say we don’t, the truth is we all still get caught out by well crafted clickbait headlines from time to time.


“Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a compelling promise that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist.”
– Copyblogger

The danger of failing to meet user expectations

Clickbait is seen by many as the bane of content on the internet – particularly on social media.

The important question is: why do we feel this way about clickbait?

It comes down to a failure to meet our expectations. Clickbait has become an ongoing example of what happens when you fail to meet expectations time and time again.

In an interview with Poynter, Nilay Patel, Managing Editor of Vox, said that “most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met — the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines”.

Meeting user expectations with clickbait
The reaction we now have to clickbait, whether it’s just in our Facebook feed or if it’s something we find ourselves actually clicking on, is one of frustration – it’s seen as a nuisance, rather than something of worth.

Apply this to your content marketing. If all you’re doing is driving clicks, grabbing attention and taking up space then you’re essentially doing exactly what clickbait is doing. If you’re not adding value, people will eventually regard your output with the same disdain.


“Different people use the term “clickbait” differently, and it’s sometimes thrown our direction to characterize entertaining web culture content that the author doesn’t like. That is something different, a matter of taste. But whatever your taste, nobody likes being tricked. And whatever your goals as a publisher, there’s no longer any argument for breaking promises to your readers.”
– Why Buzzfeed doesn’t do clickbait

In the next part…

In part 2 we’ll look at specifics around what kinds of clickbait performs well, how this has influenced content creation and how clickbait is evolving to stay successful in the ever changing sphere of social media.

Need your content to stand out from the crowd?

Content marketing isn’t just about creating great content, it’s also about getting that content in front of the right audience at the right time to capture their attention.

We’re passionate about tackling the challenges of content marketing head on – that’s why we’ve created The Essential Guide To Content Marketing. Download your free copy today.


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