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Clickbaiting Tactics Mimic Traditional Media

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Clickbaiting is an online term for a practice that has long been followed in offline traditional media.

The term has something of a negative connotation because the practice has been abused, but it is a legitimate means of attracting an audience if done correctly and ethically.

Clickbait Definition

Clickbaiting is a series of tactics that try to encourage website visitors to click on a link. That link may appear in search results, a social media account, on the website itself or elsewhere. It is a practice of “baiting” people into clicking on a link.

The related “linkbaiting” means a publisher has created compelling content for the sole purpose of attracting links. Search engines respond positively to links as a way of measuring the value of the landing page.

It Began With Traditional Media

Traditional media has used many of the same clickbaiting approaches to attract readers or viewers. How far they take it depends on their standards.

The National Enquirer is more likely to use a provocative and ethically questionable headline than the Washington Post. They use the headlines to get people to pick up and buy the newspaper.

Certain national news cable channels also are more likely to use provacative or questionable headlines than the more traditional network news. Their headlines, often before a commercial, appeal to viewers to stay with the newscast after the commercials are over.

Newspapers publish stories and TV stations air stories that are interesting, controversial, funny or provocative. Their promotional departments give away things for free as part of contests.

History shows that early newspapers often trumpeted large and dramatic headlines to entice readers to buy the paper. But they also found out that pushing the bounds of accuracy hurt their credibility.

Right Way and Wrong Way

Clickbaiting has a negative connotation with the word because it implies using deception to get people to click on the link.

The right way to “clickbait” is with a title or headline that, like newspapers above, is interesting, controversial, funny or provocative. At the same time, it must be accurate and deliver on what it promises.

The wrong way to clickbait is a title or headline that obviously is deceptive or doesn’t deliver what it says. As recently as a few days ago, I fell for a headline at the top of search results that promised to answer X and instead answered Y. The writer probably didn’t know the answer to X but was sure that a lot of people wanted to know that answer.

Clickbaiters who deceive will end up with a loss of trust, credibility and reputation.

Clickbaiting Tactics

Tactics include writing about a controversial topic, giving away something or using a variety of other methods to increase links or clicks to a site.

Even writing a good document title and meta description can be a form of clickbaiting if it attracts a click.

“With link building there are essentially 5 types of ‘hooks’ or pages built to encourage links. They are: News, Contrary, Attack, Resource and Humor,” according to an article at Search Engine Journal.

These same link building tactics apply to clickbaiting.

News is often provocative with even trying. A local newspaper that posts a headline on Facebook saying “Drug addict murders local family of 5” will certainly get many clicks over to the full article on its parent website.

Contrary offers a view completely the opposite of the main article on the page.

Attack is a negative slant that works especially well in politics.

Resource provides more information or some other useful benefit with an emphasis on useful.

Humor is self explanatory, but the link and the surrounding text must be humorous in and of itself.

Using Incentives

A major clickbait tactic not mentioned in the above article is the incentive approach.

In this case, the incentive could be a contest, a prize, a coupon, a sale or even cash.

The incentive tactic has always been popular in traditional media and other businesses, usually in the form of contests.

I’ve seen the incentive tactic used more and more often to attract people to a Facebook page. They are asked to like the page in order to take part in a contest or receive some other incentive for liking it.

The unique twist to clickbaiting is not the tactics but the goal — to increase the number of links to a website, improve search engine results and ultimately grow audience.

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