What the Clickbait Rebellion Has to Do with Your Copywriting Strategies

There’s a quiet rebellion happening on Facebook right now. Against clickbait.

Clickbait. You know the type of content. It’s the “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” headlines, the “See How This Guy Made $$$ Doing Nothing” teasers, and every shameless article on Upworthy.

It’s content marketing that makes outlandish claims and preposterous promises. And then fails to deliver. Or, as Jon Stewart described it to New York Magazine, it’s like walking through Coney Island: “It’s like carnival barkers, and they all sit out there and go, ‘Come on in here and see a three-legged man!’ So you walk in and it’s a guy with a crutch.”

Although we all despise it, we can’t deny it works. There’s some irresistible urge that draws us to click –even when we know we’re hurtling towards disappointment, and kind of hate ourselves for it.

Clickbait doesn’t happen by accident. Those come-hither headlines use carefully crafted copywriting strategies to manipulate you into clicking by triggering emotions.

The Un-like Revolution

Users tell Facebook they want news feed headlines to clearly communicate the story contained in the content. But the bulk of clickbait doesn’t do this. Instead, they withhold part of the story to send our curiosity into overdrive and compel us to click. And it works.

Adam Mossri, vice president of product management at Facebook, has checked the data. It shows Facebook content that withholds information in headlines gets more clicks. But once people land on articles that don’t live up to the overinflated promise made in the headline, they don’t spend time reading it. This is no longer where the protest ends, however.

Facebook users have had enough of clickbait clogging up their news feed and they’re fighting back, in one of the only ways they can: by taking back their likes.

Mosseri explains: “Another pattern we see is that they’ll like a story, click on it, and come back immediately because they feel deceived and un-like it. We do see that reflected in behavior.”

It may seem like a feeble protest. But considering how Facebook chooses what content to show, in part, based on likes and engagement, this trend could have real impact on how much traffic clickbait peddlers can continue to get from Facebook. And it sends a strong message on the importance of authentic, valuable content.

Resisting the Temptation to Clickbait

As copywriters, we want to get our content read and the headline plays a huge role in reaching that goal. As legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman would stress: the sole purpose of the headline is to get the first sentence read.

So for copywriters eager to impress, it could be tempting to employ shady clickbait tactics in the pursuit of traffic. The tactics work after all.

But traffic is meaningless if it doesn’t convert to paying customers.

Quality Traffic with Quality Copywriting, No Bait Required

Once you get customers to your website, you have to deliver on the promise that enticed them there. In copywriting circles, we call this message matching, but regardless of that it’s just common sense.

If people feel tricked or disappointed by your website copy, they’re not going to read for long, and you can be darn sure they’re not going to buy your products or services.

Unless your sole aim is inflated ad income (but, as MarketSmiths blog readers, we know you’re after more authentic results) you want quality traffic, that sticks around to learn about your business, and transforms into happy customers. Right?

Then resist the urge to clickbait.

Serve your website visitors crummy copy and they may not have a like button to unclick in protest. But they’ll sure be clicking the back button. And fast.

Charlie Claxton

Charlie Claxton

A native Brit, Charlie comes to MarketSmiths by way of Paris, Montreal, and Sydney.

She’s written for both B2B and B2C clients while on the content teams for global brands, digital agencies, and as a freelancer. She loves nothing better than crafting captivating copy for clients. Her experience ranges from blog posts to news articles to landing pages, with a focus on nonprofits, travel, and tech.

When not writing, she’s usually following her own foodie tour round NYC, kickboxing, or planning her next weekend trip out the city.

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