Clickbait drives traffic to your website and generates all that lovely ad revenue. But at what cost?
In this copywriting primer, Sue Keogh, copywriter and founder of Cambridge digital agency Sookio, talks through the pitfalls and explains how can you write copy that will drive the right people to your website and encourage their loyalty long term.
So you know the sort of thing.
There’s such a trend at the moment to create this type of clickbait content, stuff which is so enticing you just can’t resist clicking on it. Big bold statements. Whole stories contained in a 15-word title. Overly familiar references to him, her, he, she. Questions that you can’t ignore.
As a content creator, it’s easy to get caught up in all this and try to mimic an approach that has worked so well for BuzzFeed, Upworthy and elsewhere. This type of content is very effective at driving traffic to your site, and if the page views and ad revenues are going up and up, what’s the problem?
Clickbait can damage SEO in the long run
In the long term, poor quality clickbait can be bad for SEO. The Google algorithm takes into consideration a lot more factors than keywords when it comes to ranking your site. It looks at things like bounce rate and how long you spend browsing the website. So yes, you might be attracting a lot of users to the site, but if they disappear sharpish then this is not good for your rankings.
So there’s a downward spiral. Colleagues take a look at the impressions and click-through rates in Google Analytics and put pressure on copywriters to create highly shareable content at whatever cost. This reduces the quality…which in turn sees the stats take a tumble over time.
And it’s not just Google. Facebook recently went on a clickbait purge and took steps to reduce the amount of poor quality content on the platform. So when you click on something like ‘She looked beneath her burger bun. What she saw next was unbelievable’ it takes into consideration how quickly a user returns to the site after clicking on the content. If you click away and come back after just a few seconds that indicates that it’s poor quality, and the provider’s content will be shown less frequently in your newsfeed. So if the quality of your content goes down, so will your Facebook reach.
You can lose the trust of your audience
And it’s not just algorithms you have to think about. Humans care about this stuff too!
So if you’re putting words like ‘awesome’, ‘shocking’ and ‘this will freak you out’ into your titles and teaser content, but when people click through they come to something mundane, your readers will feel disappointed. Your content is not living up to the promise and people simply won’t trust you to deliver a good experience. So you might get the clicks the first time, but they won’t come back.
This post for example: Digital Asset Ownership: Are You Making This Single Catastrophic Mistake? Catastrophic seems a bit much, but you think, oh go on then, I’d better click on this – just in case I am making this awful mistake! But then you get led to a stub post which is really promoting an 18-minute podcast. So you feel ever so slightly cheated because you have to go all round the houses to find out what the mistake is (and you suspect that it won’t be that catastrophic either…)
You’re not attracting the right people
Although you might be attracting lots of visitors to your site, you have to ask yourself: are they the right people? Are they likely to buy from you? Will they be a valuable part of your community? Will they sign up to a mailing list? Sometimes it’s a better return on investment to focus less on page views and more on getting the right people to your site.
You’re also the one setting the tone of the discussion. So if you talk in hyperbole, you’ll get emotive and possibly sweary comments in return on social media and in the comments section. If you offer a serious, grown-up service you won’t want to lower the tone like this! So think about whether the clickbait style of content is really for you.
How to turn clickbait into quality content
However, I’m not arguing here that you shouldn’t bother making shareable content. It’s about creating quality content that is consistent with the other brand messaging you’re putting out there.
1. Think about your audience and the language they respond to
Are you using phrases that strike a chord with their needs and are relevant to your industry? There might be niche terms that the right people will pick up on, or a particular need they have that you can address. So try to use specifics rather than abstract phrases or broad terms.
Here’s a post from WIRED magazine: This Sensor Will Help You Avoid Coffee Shop Seat-Hoggers. For their tech-savvy audience who might often be found in a café with their MacBook, this will strike a chord. Buffer just posted this: We Stopped Publishing New Blog Posts for One Month. Here’s What Happened, which has a lot more resonance when you know that they have a very widely read and well-respected blog on digital marketing. Otherwise you might not think it interesting at all!
2. Deliver on what you promise
It’s all about not over-egging the delicious, startling and utterly groundbreaking pudding.
Wow. That sounds like an amazing pudding. Emotion is good, hyperbole can be a lot to live up to. You run the risk of disappointing your audience.
So the ‘disturbing secret’ in your title has to be pretty unsettling. Your definitive infographic needs to be fully referenced and fact checked. The hilarious video better produce more than just a chuckle.
Brainpicker, who has nailed the art of using compelling but realistic adjectives in her tweets, recently posted: Fascinating read on what math reveals about the key to lasting relationships
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) August 8, 2015
When you click through, it’s a really well thought out blog post: lengthy, with plenty of quotes from the source and strong images to make a visual impact. So without putting much thought to it, here is a blog that you are likely to come back to again.
3. Create a user-friendly content from beginning to end.
Getting people to your page is not enough; it has to be an intuitive experience when they get there.
I’m talking about intros that relate to the title that someone might have clicked on in social media.
Pages that are well laid out with plenty of white space around the words to make them easy to read. Sub-headings and bullet points to help people see the information at a glance.
Images that aren’t massive files causing your website to load slowly. Placed in galleries that are easy to flick through rather than requiring you to click through to a new page with every picture (again, great for the page views…the first time. Then people don’t come back).
This post from Upworthy not only has an eye-catching title but the content itself is relatively well laid out and easy to read: Unable to tie shoes, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy wrote to Nike. They came through big time.
Sue Keogh runs Sookio, a Cambridge-based agency specialising in digital content creation, strategy and training. She’s also running a workshop at Copywriting Conference 2015 on making your content shareable – come along!