Clickbait: What Is It? Should You Use It Or Avoid It?

Most people in the communications field will have heard the term “clickbait” and for most it conjures up a rather negative view of the online publishing world.

In 2006 a self titled Corporate Systems Advisor and Affiliate Marketer Jay Geiger defined clickbait in a blog post on his website, he’s credited with being the first, or at least one of the first people to coin the phrase.

It took a decade before the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016 finally added it to its pages defining clickbait as: “(on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.”

For years marketers, bloggers and online publishers have used clickbait headlines with big, grandiose promises to hook their readers in. Where the problem lay wasn’t necessarily in the headlines themselves but rather the content.

When clickbait worked it was a clever headline with content that really delivered on what was expected – this was a marketers dream, good quality content (in terms of delivery of what is expected) along with a catchy, hooky headline that evoked curiosity and made people click.

So when the headline told you that you would be “shocked” at what was lurking under the sea you actually were and as a result felt obliged and moved to share it with someone else.

However, there was a point at which clickbait was poisoned, it was polluted by terrible content that not only didn’t deliver but was badly written and so far from the expectation that it left readers with a sense of disappointment and feeling like they had been betrayed.

Those “you’ll never believe what she looks like now” headlines delivered nothing more than someone who had got bigger or older – no surprise there! The headlines that promised unbelievable phenomenons were nothing more than car headlights past a living room window.

Clickbait started off as content that was irresistible, that created a “need” to click because curiosity had got the better of the reader. Now, it conjures up visions of sensational, over-promising headlines that trick the users into clicking on a specific article that is disheartening and considered a complete waste of the reader’s time.

As a result clickbait went from fun, positive content to negative content that internet savvy readers could spot a mile off and avoided at all costs (even if it does deliver inside).

Should I use clickbait?

The answer to this question depends solely on your personal definition of what clickbait is and whether or not your customers, audience or readers are likely to respond to it.

There’s absolutely no question that, if used right, and the content delivers what it says it will deliver clickbait can work in native advertising strategies as well as publishers strategies to increase hits to their website and audience numbers.

Also, sometimes people just want to be entertained and if you can provide that entertainment then you can increase the number of visits to your article, site or social media channel.

While researching this section of this article I decided to go to to get a couple of examples…and I ended up down a rabbit hole with the headline “People Are Weirded Out To Discover That Some People Don’t Have An Internal Monologue” – 10 minutes later after reading the article I’m back. It was fascinating, it click-baited me into the article but it delivered, it fed my curiosity, I learned something new and I was quite surprised and, well actually, a little weirded out by the content.


So, if this experience was positive for me as a reader, it achieved the goal of the magazine based site IFLScience and I clicked and added to their site visit numbers then how can we consider clickbait fully negative?

But what if I was a neurology student or a psychologist and my interest in this topic was deeper than the content delivered – would I consider this a negative experience? Maybe not, I would likely go off and look for much more scientific information which is referred to and linked in the article but I don’t think I would be feeling cheated by the content as it delivered exactly what the headline suggested – it showed me some information about the topic and the people who are “weirded out” by it.

Now, what if I had clicked into the article and I learned nothing new, the content wasn’t fascinating and actually was a bit boring and the people commenting didn’t seem to be weirded out – then I would feel cheated and I’d be a bit miffed that I’d wasted time when I should have been writing this article.

Maybe the question isn’t “should I use clickbait?” but rather “can I create a content strategy without it?” – at the end of the day no matter what industry you’re in content is absolutely crucial – more importantly relevant content that works for your audience.

How can you avoid creating negative clickbait

1. Add Value by Solving Problems

People want solutions and adding words such as ‘how’ and ‘why’ in the headline will show them that you can supply them. If you’re writing about healthy lifestyles, for instance, you could create an article with the headline ‘Why eating vegetables is better for you than eating junk food’. If you’re writing about how to change a car tyre, you might write something like ‘How to change a spare tyre in just 5 minutes’. Headlines like this attract attention, but more importantly, they can see the article will have some value for them.

2. Use Power Words

Power words — don’t confuse these with buzz words, which people eventually get tired of hearing. Power words, such as adjectives, inject extra punch into your headline so that people will click on your post and read it. Use them correctly and you have a highly effective technique.

Examples of power words could be:

  • 5 speedy ways to burn calories
  • 6 easy ways to make exercise a part of your day

Make sure when you use these power words that you follow up on them with the content. If the ways in the article aren’t as easy or as speedy as the headline suggests, you’ll disappoint your reader.

3. Use brackets in headlines

Now, this is a very effective technique when you use it correctly. Traditionally, brackets are a way of adding information that is useful to know but isn’t part of the main sentence. In headlines, they work well as a way of including interesting information to the headline.

Here are a few examples:

  • How I saw the world on just a pound a day (and how you could do the same)
  • My visit to XYZ (including how I almost died)
  • Five ways to save money on food shopping (and one way to make money)

Each one provides a little extra information that could be of use to the reader or which they may find interesting and make them want to read on.

4. Make the content personal

The more honest you can be in your writing, the better. People love hearing and reading stories, so if you can make your content personal in some way, there’s a chance they can identify with it more and engage with it. Don’t overshare, but do provide useful insight so that they feel they’re getting value from the content.

5. Create a listicle piece

Listicles are a simple way to engage your audience and promise what you deliver. They’re easy to read — people can skim-read them and pick up the main points if they’re in a rush — and create value for the reader. Buzzfeed are masters of the listicle article.

Here are a few examples of listicle-type articles:

  • 5 times Hollywood surprised us
  • 6 teams to follow closely in the Premier League this season
  • 3 ways to improve your content


Personally I don’t believe any content marketer can operate a robust strategy without attempting to “bait” the reader into clicking something. The only difference, I feel, is that some people get it right with fantastic content that enriches the reader and does what it says on the tin and some people get it very wrong and leave the reader feeling disappointed and distrustful of the brand.

Speaking to the Content Marketing Institute Andrew Selepak, a professor at the University of Florida said: “Clickbait isn’t necessarily bad. While we often view clickbait negatively because it is associated with fake news and online hucksters, if your company has a solid product that can actually help consumers, getting people to your site by hook or crook isn’t such a bad thing.”

If we reduce “clickbait” to it’s very basic form it’s simply a piece of content that “baits” someone into “clicking” it…is that not all content?
I think this is a debate that will rumble on for a long time, meanwhile websites that get it right will flourish as their audience embrace content that is interesting, thought provoking, entertaining and informative.

If you choose to use a form of clickbait do it responsibly and make sure you deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.


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