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Does clickbait work in search?


I’m sure you know what I mean when I say the word ‘clickbait’.



Over the last few years, we’ve heard more and more about it. Especially since 2019, there’s been a huge increase in the number of times people have googled this word.



And we all kind of know instinctively what it is.



So just to be super clear, how about we start off by agreeing what 'clickbait' even is?



According to Merriam Webster, clickbait is this:



': something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest'



OK, so there’s a clear distinction between ‘good marketing’ with a compelling headline and something that makes you want to click on that headline and actually read about a story that the headline hints at, and a headline that makes you THINK there’s a good story behind it, but when you click on it, it’s either not the story you thought you were going to be reading, or it was wildly exaggerated in some way.



Here's an example:



Very famous person shoots very famous person  you expect there to be a horrific story about someone shooting someone.



The actual article: A person took a photo of another person.



i.e. not the story we were expecting. We were wildly oversold.



We all know how super annoying this is!



(And, to be fair to most of us, we are getting quite wise to it at this point and it’s becoming less effective as a marketing tool. But there’s still plenty of clickbait around.)



So what happens when you apply this to SEO, for blog post titles or article titles?


To better understand the impact clickbait has on SEO, we have to go back to Google’s foundational principles.



Google’s goal, as stated on their website, is to:



‘Deliver the most relevant and reliable information available’.



If you relate this back to clickbait, there’s very clearly a disconnect between the relevance and reliability of the information that is being clicked on.



This means that if the title of your article or post does not match the content of the article itself, this is less likely to do well in search.



And it isn’t just Google policing this: one of the metrics that Google evaluates around search is ‘time spent on site’ and time on a particular page or article. If Google sees people leaving a page after a very short time, after they have followed a hyperlink, this can often mean that the content on that page isn’t relevant to the search query, or the headline in the first place.



In this way, this is Google responding to us humans being mildly pissed off at having followed another clickbaitey title when yes, we knew it was clickbait really but we just couldn’t help ourselves from clicking (I’m sure I’m not alone in doing that).



So taking all of that into account, if your title and your content of your article don’t match in terms of content and intent, and if the content isn’t genuinely relevant and useful to your user, it’s also bad for search optimization.



So do with that information what you will.



There’s certainly an art to writing good headlines, subject lines, and getting people to click. But if you can’t back it up with substance, you end up alienating your users in the long run.



So this week’s tip of the week: take a long, critical look at your blog post titles and ask yourself whether they truly represent the content included in them.



If they do: you’re grand! No homework for you this week!



If they don’t: I challenge you to rewrite 5 of your titles with something that is both intriguing AND an accurate description of your content.



If you need a second opinion, you’re welcome to share your rewrites with me and I’ll give you my two cents.


 

My name's Claire and I’m an SEO and content strategy expert. I help startups and ambitious businesses improve their content, so that customers can find your website in search, and so that when they do, they convert.

 

I’m a former startup CEO, and I’ve worked for some of the world’s biggest publishers (Penguin Random House, Oxford University Press), as well as training with Google's in-house SEO team. I even built a website to attract 45k in organic search visitors/month. Drop me a line if you need help of any kind with SEO and content.


 

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