You've heard the term clickbait (or its cousins likebait, linkbait, or sharebait). You've probably clicked on it, maybe without even knowing it.
What's worse, legitimate medical practices may have even practiced clickbait-styled tactics in their efforts to increase their web traffic to their healthcare blogs.
We're here to tell you: Don't.
What is clickbait?
The roots of clickbait are familiar: a blend of conspiracy theory, fear-based propaganda, sensational journalism, and snake oil sales.
Clickbaiting is a strategic effort on the web to attract widespread attention to an idea or a product by using provocative images and words in ways that are intentionally deceptive or misrepresentative of the subject.
The goal of the "clickbait artist" is to drive viral traffic responses to specific landing pages, while also collecting digital data on those who click on the "bait"; they then translate this data into page view statistics to use to sell advertising.
Today's clickbait is a pure money-making venture based on page view domination, and is almost never used for any other purpose.
Clickbait artists do so because they are either compensated for every click they generate, or they have a product or service they want to sell; the odds are good that their deceptive tactics will still result in a worthwhile amount of sales even if they market these products or services deceptively.
How do you identify clickbait?
Clickbait uses emotion, fear, guilt, and hopelessness to prey on web users by appealing to their basest motivations.
Sometimes clickbait also employs "positive" tactics to get people to click on links, usually touting promises they can't fulfill.
Friendly, seemingly harmless polls about "your favorite dessert" of "what kind of zoo animal you are" can also be considered clickbait.
And then there's prurient interest. Readers are seduced by pictures of half-dressed people or language using double entendre. Take a look at Clickhole sometime.
(And no, we're not going to link to that clickbait hotspot.)
There are traffic-generating widgets that use clickbait to lure in readers from otherwise legitimate websites. We talked about them briefly in our post on amplification.
Other forms of clickbait generate traffic mostly through distorted or over-the-top headlines that lead with phrases like "You won't believe..." or end with "...see what happens next."
When you go to visit this provocative story, you find it's nothing at all like it promises. It's just a thinly veiled attempt at selling a product or service or idea to a reader who is now caught off guard.
You are probably also familiar with the eyebrow-raising and taste-defying images, especially in health and medical media, showing horrendous rashes or plastic surgery mistakes or freakish rare diseases... all planted there for you to see because human beings are, by nature, terribly curious creatures.
Other kinds of stealthy baiting include:
Promises that can make (or save) you large sums normally spent on drugs or therapies: "You'll love how we can save you $500 a year by using this new treatment!"
The quickest and easiest cures to major chronic health dilemmas: "Our diet will reverse multiple sclerosis!"
Fear-mongering suggestions: "If you don't use our new service, you are guaranteed to gain weight!"
The use of guilt to motivate you: "If you don't read this article, your elderly mother might get cancer!"
The gratuitous use of pop culture icons to bait readers into clicking: "[Famous quarterback] uses this therapy to improve his game!"
Why is clickbait a bad business practice?
It should seem obvious to any business that using deceptive practices to draw attention to its services is a "worst practice."
This runs doubly true for the medical practice, which should operate in concert with the very ethics that constitute medical professionalism.
Trust, integrity, honesty, reliability, and compassion are the building blocks that define excellence both in medicine and in professional practice. A doctor's reputation stands on his or her ability to help others achieve wellness. It stands to reason that a medical practice website should reflect that reputation. In that vein, it makes sense that clickbait never be considered a marketing strategy.
From an article in TechCrunch: "Clickbait is ...one of the easiest ways for a publisher to lose their audience’s trust over time. You might click at first, but if you’re a smart reader, you’re going to become more hesitant and suspicious—and you’re probably going to share a story that disappoints you."
They also point out that "overusing a clickbait social strategy implies that you don’t understand your audience. One size fits all is stupid."
As with medical inbound marketing, it's far more critical to understand your patient base and respect the intelligence of your readers. These are tried-and-true ways to build patient trust. No self-respecting physician should be willing to trade their hard-earned reputation for the promises of clickbait: cheap page views that lead to zero engagement and conversion.
Remember, your potential blog readers aren't just browsing when they're on the web, they're looking for a solution to a problem, which might include building a relationship with a medical practice to solve that problem... the ultimate win-win.
Is clickbait on its way out?
No. Yes. Maybe. (It depends.)
Using deception to lure attention on the web is always going to be a part of the larger web surfing experience. However, as readers become more cognizant of the presence of clickbait, they may begin to click less, subverting its primary purpose.
But media analysts seem to think clickbait is going to become less and less appealing to legitimate websites. Many initially used more sophisticated forms of clickbait as a way to compete for attention. These content publishers now realize how much the practice threatens to lay ruin to their legitimacy.
Just last week, The New York Times reported a new trend among certain legitimate websites which are "quietly doing away with" clickbait ad bars. These are advertisements that take form as strips of images with captions using attention-grabbing qualifiers like "promoted" or "around the web" to highlight what they insist is editorial content related to the article you just read. But click on them... nothing could be farther from the truth.
Readers have become wise to clickbait, and money-scraping utilities that leverage it are becoming less reliable sources of income for publishers—especially if using them ends up damaging their reputations.
Facebook, as of last summer, has gone into the business of penalizing clickbait artists, which bodes well for so many who are tired of see fake "news" sources boosting "information" that's more closely aligned with propaganda than journalism.
The social network uses its new algorithms to identify those keywords and phrases that typically accompany clickbait content. These articles now rank lower in the newsfeed. The lower they rank, the less they are seen and shared. The less engagement, the less attention.
Finally, a Marketing Week (MW) article just last Friday posits "Why advertisers should avoid clickbait in the post-truth era" in its headline, asking: "Do truth and authenticity still appeal to consumers who have grown accustomed to clickbait and false promises?"
In the article, editor-in-chief Julian Linley of Digital Spy doubts the future of clickbait as a marketing strategy. "Page views are valued more than the depth of engagement," he said in the article in MW. "That’s the opposite of the way that it should be because you can easily engage millions of people with clickbait content, but it’s really hard to then make people stay there for any length of time.”
Linley still holds firm in his belief that it's "authentic and engaging content" that offers the best rewards for advertisers, not clickbait.
So why are publishers still using these advertorial tools on their sites, if their content is so gratuitous and poorly targeted? NeimanLab of Harvard suggested in September that “publishers hate these companies but make too much money from them to stop working with them" in their article, "Recommended content widgets still have major disclosure and clickbait problems."
How to avoid creating clickbait
It can be easy to shape content that resembles clickbait without meaning to. Here are some Do's and Don't's to ensure you don't fall into that trap.
Focus on quality content. You won't need to rely on clickbait cheats to drive traffic to your medical practice website if you have the most useful, engaging content out there. Quality content is favored by all the search engines because that's what their users demand.
Stay on-brand. That means you should always cleave to your brand identity in your language and visuals so readers who return will recognize and better understand who you are as a medical practice. That familiarity builds trust.
Be social. Always amplify your content via a social media strategy. Social media can do as much good for your traffic numbers as smart search engine optimization (SEO).
Bolster your SEO. If you want to "get found," practice smart SEO by optimizing your site using relevant keywords.
Keep it simple. Make sure your site is designed for quick loading, ease of use, and mobile optimization.
Enhance text with visuals. Use engaging photos, illustrations, graphics, videos, animations, and illustrations that enhance your storytelling and edify and empower the reader.
Write truthful headlines. Stay away from provocation and sensationalism. Just the facts, ma'am.
Don't post fluff. People with medical problems looking for healthcare solutions want to find content they can understand, apply, and practice. If your content is inaccessible, without purpose, and lacking any instructive value, it's not worth publishing on your blog.
Don't repel readers with cheap attention grabbers. Your efforts at medical inbound marketing should always focus on "being there" for patient prospects when they are ready to call on you, rather than aggressive tactics meant to force them to call you, which comes off a bit like bullying. When readers and patient prospects voluntarily choose your practice, rather than be pressured to call you, the outcome is more likely to evolve into a lasting relationship.
Don't overdo social. Amplifying your posts to social networks does not mean carpetbombing them with links to your content. If you crosspost or repurpose your content to a wide variety of social media destinations, you will draw plenty of attention from mostly unique groups of readers without coming off like a spammer.
Don't overstuff your posts with keywords. Google and other search engines are hip to keyword stuffing and will penalize those websites who try to artificially elevate the rank of their content using this strategy.
Don't use pop-ups. Nobody likes them, they look cheap, they come off as aggressive, and they can crash devices and make your site very slow to load.
Don't use alluring pictures just to get attention. Your brand identity relies on you to practice integrity, and that means not stooping to use a shocking, seductive, or jaw-dropping lead image to illustrate otherwise tasteful content.
Don't write misleading headlines. There's nothing that more quickly foils any attempt to build trust with readers than by writing headlines that you know will lure readers but do not match the editorial through-line of your content.
Ultimately, there's no real need to use clickbait strategies if you have something of value to share. It may not always be something of value that you can "sell," but inbound marketing, remember, is not about selling or acquiring, but about providing care and support when the patient prospect is ready.
Information may be a commodity, but for people turning to the Internet for answers to their health concerns, it's also a means to compel them toward informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones.
If they decide to partner with you to solve their healthcare problems, it will be because you were "there" for them by way of the high-quality, trustworthy, and resourceful content you posted on the Internet, and not because of a sexy headline phrase or lurid image.
And anyway, what medical practice of high reputation would sink to that level?
The New York Times