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Over the past year or two, sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy have introduced a new type of content marketing to the masses.
Lovingly referred to as clickbait, it has so thoroughly revolutionised the way content is shared that there are rumours Facebook has tried to ban it.
So why do people have such a love/hate relationship with these entertaining articles? And what can marketeers learn from clickbait marketing?
By now, most of us should be familiar with the term 'clickbait', but for the benefit of those who aren't, these are the sort of headlines you'll see on clickbait articles:
This guy went to hug an elephant. What happens next will blow your mind
These facts about childbirth will change the way you look at life FOREVER
What this little kid can do with a bongo drum will make you sob uncontrollably until you burst
Hopefully those made-up examples will have you rolling your eyes and realising just how full of clickbait your Facebook feed has become.
If you've not yet encountered one, consider yourself lucky and make the most of it!
Sites like Buzzfeed have turned clickbaiting into an art form. According to figures by Quantcast, Buzzfeed alone regularly attracts more than 10m unique users in a single day.
So as you can see, it looks like the art of clickbaiting is here to stay and I'm sure a lot of marketeers are now pondering "how can I get in on the action?"
So here is my list of things we can all learn from the success of clickbaiting. I can't promise it will make you sob, or cause your brain to explode, but hopefully it'll give you some tips you can follow in your own marketing, even if you don't have the clout of Buzzfeed!
Your headline is everything
Frankly, the content of most clickbait articles is secondary to the headline, a fact which makes much more sense when you realise the purpose of clickbait.
Unlike more traditional forms of digital marketing, the aim of sites like Buzzfeed isn't to sell you a product or service, to push an opinion or a view. Their purpose is to generate page views, which in turn generates ad revenue.
When you realise this, the way Buzzfeed et al write headlines suddenly makes a lot more sense. Gone are the traditional rules of headline writing. These aren't short, snappy, witty or clever.
They tell you exactly what you're about to see, with just enough of a tease at the end to intrigue you into clicking.
They spread like melted butter
The way most clickbait sites work is designed to maximise on the setup of social networking sites. Namely, the ability to view other users' activity.
If the conditions are right, you don't even need to click 'Like' or 'Share' for everyone in your feed to know that you are reading one of these articles, just the activity of clicking the link will have increased their visibility to your network.
So even without realising it, you're helping them to spread. Either because your click means they appear more prominently in the feed, or because their Facebook setup means your visit to their site is shared in your friends' feeds.
Here for a good time, not a long time
In most forms of digital marketing, we're told that our content has to serve a long-term goal. It's either got to be engaging for the reader (to sell a product or keep people on your site for longer), to attract SEO traffic and rankings (where 'mature' content is often rewarded) or to convey complex information.
Clickbait articles don't have any of these aims. You can see just by looking at them that SEO certainly isn't a priority.
Nobody at Buzzfeed is sat in a meeting room pondering: "How can we get more traffic from people searching for stories about toddlers who can play the bongos?" No, the only aim of a clickbait article is to get you on to their site, at which point they need you to read as many other pieces as possible.
You can see further evidence for this when you read one of these articles. Often the largest part of the non-article space on the page is given up to "If you liked this, you might also like..." links - and judging by the time people are spending on these sites, it's a tactic that works.
People are gullible
It's sad but true. When it comes to clicking links online, most of us (myself included) are very gullible.
I've lost count of the number of times that I've seen a Buzzfeed article headline in my Facebook timeline, known full well that it's likely to be nonsense but STILL find myself clicking the link to find out "what happens next" for myself.
If you're hoping to emulate the success of clickbait sites with your own content, it's worth bearing this in mind!
Size definitely isn't everything
Unlike this post, most clickbait articles are surprisingly brief, often just two or three hundred words or less, and very reliant on images and video.
This 'Buzzfeed minus gifs' tumblr illustrates this point perfectly:
Some of the most successful pieces are barely any longer than their headline, with a short introductory paragraph and a small conclusion once you've finished sobbing/laughing/exploding. We're certainly not talking War and Peace here.
Content attribution isn't important, apparently
As a content creator myself, it drives me demented that these sites get away with what they do, under the guise of 'content aggregation'.
After all, the majority of the most popular clickbait pieces are actually brief descriptions of somebody else's content, followed by the content itself, cut-n-pasted wholesale with a tiny attribution link at the very end.
As unethical as this might seem, a lot of content creators take the view that even a small exposure increase that these pieces can give you is probably more beneficial than they'd like to admit.
I'm certainly not advocating stealing other people's content mind you, but if you attribute it properly (providing a link to the source material, taking care to identify the author) most people probably won't mind the exposure.
Quantity beats quality
Unlike most traditional websites, newspapers or blogs, most clickbait sites get the majority of their traffic from individual stories, as opposed to the homepage or news feed.
Because of this, and the tenuous connection it forms with readers (there's very little brand loyalty when it comes to these aggregators!) they need to spend a lot of time and energy keeping up the churn.
Sites like Buzzfeed can pump out literally hundreds of stories each day, with huge teams of content 'creators' employed to churn out mind-blowing volumes.
A lot of these content creators are measured on the traffic they generate, so it's in their interest to throw as much sh!t at the wall as they can.
As a slightly more traditional marketer, I'm certainly not suggesting we should all start rewriting our onsite content to reflect the traits seen here, after all, unless your aims are exactly the same as these sites (i.e. high traffic, low engagement) they undoubtedly won't work for you.
But there are certainly a few tips most marketers could take away from this list which could improve SOME aspect of their content.
Plus, chances are even if you aren't engaging in any of these tactics, clickbait sites will be affecting you in some way, most often by quashing your own visibility on social sites. So knowing what you are dealing with is half the battle.