Why clickbait works for online businesses
Everything about the type of blog content we love to hate
by Brittany Taylor
published October 31, 2016
updated June 5, 2018
¶ Good clickbait is like a truckload of rainbow sprinkles dumped all over your chocolate-swirl froyo: It is absolutely delightful.
Clickbait is extra—extra good, but still extraneous. It’s fluff. It’s not the meal. It’s not even the dessert—it’s the cherry on top.
We don’t need fluff to survive, but that doesn’t prevent us from seeking it out. We still grab the extra pillow from the housekeepers’ cart in the hall when nobody’s looking. We still stand in a 32-person-long line to buy a cone of spun sugar.
Whole companies stay in business thanks to fluff. Look at Buzzfeed! Ban.do! The majority of Target!
As consumers, we make room for it in our lives because it makes us feel good. As business owners, we’re tempted to produce it because that’s what people like and share.
And guys? That’s fine. That’s totally OK. The internet likes to collectively shame readers for clicking on clickbait and writers for creating them and publishers for distributing them, but the blanket shaming of clickbait is a total sham.
The truth is that there is good clickbait and bad clickbait. You want the good kind on your blog…but how do you tell good from bad? How do you keep the bad from creeping in?
That’s what I’m showing you today. Read on to find out why clickbait works—when it's good, that is.
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What is clickbait?
Clickbait is a non-instructional blog post that’s primary goal is entertainment.
Now, that statement up there, that last one? It doesn’t mean that clickbait can’t teach you something. It doesn’t mean that it can’t inspire you to do something good or to become a better person or lover or boss. It just means that you reading the post and then doing something because of it isn’t the first goal the writer had in mind when they wrote the darn thing.
And that’s OK.
Topics + themes
Just like movies, there are genres of clickbait blog posts: romances that make you feel warm and fuzzy, comedies that make you laugh, dramas that bespeak hard truths, horrors that freak you out, sci-fis that make you consider unusual possibilities, actions that excite you.
You can write clickbait on just about anything.
I do, however, caution you to take care with sensitive and serious subject matter. You don’t want to laugh off a delicate or controversial topic, or turn a tragedy into a post that’s meant to be lighthearted and traffic-driving.
If you’re not sure if you should do it, don’t. Or, at the very least, ask someone you trust to give it to you straight for a second opinion.
Formats + lengths
Clickbait posts come in all shapes and sizes. They can be lists (listicles in media-speak), diary entries, editorials, quizzes, or standard, paragraph-by-paragraph blog posts. They can be hundreds or thousands of words long. They can be stand-alone posts or parts of a series.
When you're writing clickbait, ask yourself these two questions:
Why clickbait has a bad rep
Clickbait has a reputation for being worthless piles of sparkly shit.
You can blame the bad and lazy and superficial writers, editors, and publishers for that, because it’s mostly true: most clickbait is shit. Some of it is so God-awful that it doesn’t even sparkle. Instead, it just sits there. It fulfills a quota, but it doesn’t do much else
Bad clickbait takes up space and time. It earns its bad reputation—one that tarnishes the rep of good clickbait, too—because it disappoints readers.
The majority of clickbait is bad. You go in expecting one awesome thing and click the back button because the website didn’t deliver on the promise of its headline. Insert a big, deep, “the grocery store is out of triple chocolate cookie dough again” sigh.
What good clickbait can do for your business
Let's lay clickbait's cards out on the table: Good clickbait is an audience engagement goldmine. Good clickbait touches readers’ emotions and makes them want to do something with what they read.
That could be commenting, it could be sharing on social media, it could be subscribing to your newsletter or reading more blog posts you’ve written. Your readers could binge watch Firefly because you laid out exactly how it applies to small business and then send you a thank-you card telling you how much you rock. They could tell their friends about your post over lunch. They could link to it in one of their blog posts.
There are scads of things your readers could do to help your blog post along in its little fledgling life.
Here's a highlight reel of the good things clickbait can do for your blog and your business:
These three elements make your content stand out from others in your niche.
“Standing out” is code for becoming memorable. Suddenly, you’re not one of 15 blogs creating how-to-write-blog-posts blog posts. Instead, you’re the chick with a Harry Potter obsession who wrote that hysterical post on how Hermione Granger is basically the bad-ass boss you wish you were in high school.
Or something like that, anyway.
You've got the why. Now, get the how. Learn how to incorporate clickbait into your content strategy and write a clickbait blog post like a pro.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.