Clickbait and most common techniques

Anastasia Kurmakaeva

Written by Anastasia Kurmakaeva

Clickbait is a marketing technique that consists of getting a user to click on a link by means of a headline or anchor text that is eye-catching, provocative and difficult to resist. It is frequently used for misleading purposes, as it is often associated with low-quality content, which sometimes does not even correspond to what is promised in the title. The clickbait generates rejection and disappointment in the Internet user, who was carried away by his curiosity, to end up being a victim of sensationalist clickbait in its purest essence.

You too have probably fallen into the clickbait trap. more than once or you have come across this type of content, with headlines such as “Thought she met a cat, you won’t believe what it actually turned out to be” or “Fell through a hole in the ground, what happens next will surprise you”. Disclaimer: these are not real headlines 😁 but you get the idea of what I mean.

Although clickbait has been part of our lives for many years now, its golden age came with portals such as BuzzFeed, an American news and entertainment media, where they are very assiduous in the use of this practice, which allows them to generate a very high volume of traffic and revenue.

Nowadays we can find clickbait in all kinds of online media, which use it to attract more visits to their articles and, thus, higher advertising revenues. The difference lies in the way they use it: some have the sole objective of getting traffic, without paying attention to offering interesting and trustworthy information; while others, although they want to drive traffic to their content with attractive headlines, make an effort to ensure that the pieces offered are reliable, of high quality and provide value to the user.

On the other hand, the clickbait technique can be seen used in various types of content, not only in the written press: videos, images… and, of course, advertisements. In YouTube videos without going any further, many of the so-called “youtubers” or “vloggers” bet on the use of this type of headlines in their videos, as well as very striking thumbnail images, to try to stimulate the user’s curiosity and get more visits or followers in their channels.

During the first few months after the launch of Google Discover, it became a breeding ground for clickbaiting and some media outlets aggressively exploited it to gain large audiences and visits. Fortunately, Google has largely corrected this behavior and the information suggested by this functionality usually corresponds to more reliable information.

Is it possible to do “benign” clickbait?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to use clickbait in an ethical way, even if it is not exactly what the Internet is used to.

It is possible to generate useful content that provides value to the user while using a very attractive headline or presentation that arouses curiosity and incites the user to click. After all, that’s what marketing is all about, and clickbait is just one of the many ways to do it (although it is certainly one of the most aggressive). The key is not to deceive the user, who, when clicking, should find what was promised in the first place. The information provided must be truthful, rigorous and trustworthy. In short, it must meet the qualities of a good content, whether we bet on using the clickbait technique or not.

However, we must be careful not to squeeze our headlines too much, or all at the same time. It is important to bear in mind that the use of clickbait has been widespread for some years, so we could scare away more experienced users in the online environment, who upon seeing a seemingly treacherous headline could associate it with low quality content. Balance should be our maxim, since the oversaturation of information nowadays forces us to constantly have to navigate between shifting sands. This is especially relevant for those websites or media that do not have a strong online reputation or recognition, which should be even more careful about how they choose to present their content and what techniques they use to attract more users to them.

What is the secret ingredient of clickbait?

In reality, it’s not so secret, nor does it have much of a history. It is only a matter of analyzing a little how this technique is used in today’s headlines and we will immediately detect several very common patterns, basic in psychological terms. Here are some clues:

Mystery and suspense

One of the most common types of clickbait headlines are those that create mystery and suspense around the content they address. When you see it, it’s hard to resist clicking and finding out what they’re up to, even though you know you’ll probably be disappointed. Maybe we even give a damn about the issue at hand but somehow the headline sows unease and urgency within us and We👏Can’t👏Help👏But👏Click👏👏!!!!!

For example, this headline makes us curious because it questions the commonly accepted idea that we should not eat the rind of Manchego cheese:

Headline with clickbait

From the headline, we would assume that the article would explain why this is a misconception and that it is actually healthy to eat it. And although we found some suggestion in that sense, the article confirms our initial idea, which contradicts the spirit of the headline:


Article contentNumbered lists

Another very common technique is the use of numbered lists composed of a series of specific elements. Sometimes, they combine the previous technique of mystery with the one that concerns us here. For example:

  • 8 healthy properties of 🥑 that you didn’t know.
  • 10 original and affordable dresses for this summer.
  • 5 cat behaviors that you will identify with if you live with a cat 🐱

Or combined with something we do incorrectly without knowing it:

  • 5 things we do wrong (without realizing it) and expose us to the coronavirus 😱.

The emoji should not be missing (although it is not mandatory).

Imperative verbs that call for action

Starting headlines with an imperative verb calling for action is another common clickbait technique. For example:

  • Read these 10 tips before deciding on a new cell phone.
  • Watch this video to learn how to put on a mask correctly.
  • Find out about the places you can’t miss on your trip to New York.

Simple, but effective. We directly urge the user to perform a specific action that we want them to carry out.

Appealing to emotions

It consists of trying to touch the heartstrings of our target audience through headlines that will not make them feel indifferent.

  • A man saves a puppy swept away by the current.
  • An elderly woman is reunited with her children for the first time in 40 years.
  • 12 objects from your childhood that you will remember with tenderness if you were a child in the 90s.

Normally, this type of content has a favorable outcome, or is entirely positive because, logically, no one wants to add negative emotions to their day.

These are just a few examples of fictitious headlines, but they capture the typical characteristics of what we know as clickbait to perfection.

Obviously, if we were to use this practice in our own strategy, we would have to generate headlines and content adapted to the context of our business, striving to make them irresistible to our target audience.

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Anastasia Kurmakaeva
Anastasia Kurmakaeva
Former SEO consultant and translator at Human Level. She is a specialist in translation and SEO, with a special focus on the Yandex search engine. She is fluent in Russian, Spanish and English, being fully bilingual in the first two.

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