It’s now easier than ever to create your own website. Domain names and hosting are cheap, and software like WordPress makes getting started extremely easy. While this is generally good news, one downside of a low barrier to entry is that it’s also easier for low-quality websites to start up. If you’ve spent much time at all on the internet, you’ve probably noticed clickbait isn’t going away soon. With that in mind, we want to help you make sure your content isn’t classified as such, so here’s a guide to writing valuable content and staying away from clickbait.
Types of clickbait
Most people are familiar with the stereotypical clickbait headline: “What happened next will shock you!!” But clickbait can be more than outlandish or shock-generating headlines. In general, clickbait is anything that baits you into clicking on it. Generally, these articles feature ads that pay by the click, but the same principles can apply to sites without ads. This article’s title is a tongue-in-cheek example — we don’t use ads on our site, but this headline (used non-ironically, of course) would still qualify.
While different definitions exist — Buzzfeed, for example, defines clickbait very narrowly — here are a few general types of clickbait you’ll see around the internet.
Vague article titles or headlines
Perhaps the most common clickbait article doesn’t fit the stereotype. Vague headlines that require a click to learn the rest of the story are classified as clickbait. Here are a few examples:
- A sports article: “Key player injured for Saturday’s game” (Which one?)
- A news article: “Stock market could soon see shakeup” (How so? Is it going up or down?)
- A political article: “President Trump makes big announcement” (What is it?)
- A more stereotypical vague headline: “This heartwarming story will give you all the feels” (You can’t tell us even a little bit about it?)
Sometimes headlines or article titles can also be misleading. Typically this comes in the form of an exaggerated headline, but it can also be an instance when the title doesn’t adequately represent what the article is really about. For these, real examples are even more fun than made up ones. Check out The ClickBait Project for some fun examples.
Trending topic manipulation
On social media, trending topics get heavy traction for a short period of time. Some clickbait sites try to hijack these trending topics and post hashtags on social media in tweets with irrelevant links. Oftentimes, these are automatically generated with social media bots. These generally link to spam posts.
Perhaps the least-known form of clickbait, clickthrough sites are becoming common, especially on Pinterest. Clickthrough sites simply post a link to another site with a small amount of commentary. This is especially common with recipe websites. You’ll see a website that posts the ingredients for a meal, a sentence or two about how much the “author” loved the recipe, and a link to a different site where you can view the cooking instructions — the actual content.
While sharing links in your content is a great idea, another site’s content shouldn’t be the whole point of yours. Why is a clickthrough article necessary when you can go straight to the real one? (It’s not.)
How to avoid creating clickbait
With these categories in mind, do the opposite to ensure your content isn’t clickbait.
Create specific, accurate titles
Maybe you’re wondering, “If I give away what the article is about in my title, will people still read the article?”
The answer is simply yes — if the content is interesting. Let’s look at the examples above. If you have a sports news site and tell which player got injured in your headline, there’s still plenty of reason to read. How did the injury happen? How long will the player miss time?
Likewise, an article about the stock market still gives plenty of reason for interested readers to follow the link if you give more information in the headline. Why did the market rise or fall? Will it level out soon? Should I buy or sell stocks? The same goes for an announcement from the President — there’s more to read in the article. Heartwarming stories will still also be read if you tip your hand in the headline, assuming the title grabs attention.
It’s all about content
Remember, if a headline is the only element of your post providing value, you need to go deeper with your content. Don’t try to turn something that can be summarized in a tweet into a story. Don’t try to artificially create content only for the sake of generating traffic or force a story that simply isn’t there.
This concept applies to clickthrough sites as well. If the only purpose of a website is to point readers elsewhere, there’s no point in having a website at all. Create a Pinterest or Twitter account and share away — that’s what social media is for. Better yet, create original content and contribute to the wealth of knowledge on the Internet with the expertise you can bring to the table.
Instead of creating clickbait, write interesting, worthwhile content and your readers will want to read more even with a more revealing headline. Don’t bait readers into visiting your site with a catchy, misleading, or vague headline, but instead draw readers in with a general idea of what to expect when they read further.