What Are Clickbait Links? (+ Do They Work For SEO?)

Adam Steele
Sep 12
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We wrote an article about clickbait links… you’ll never believe what happens next!

Clickbait-style headlines took the internet by storm with the rise of sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy, both of which leveraged a uniquely sensationalist style in an attempt to get more links and traffic.

Clickbait links make use of headlines and anchor text in this style to encourage users to click. Does this technique still have any relevance in getting more traffic and improved rankings, or is best left in the trashbin of history?

What Are Clickbait Links?

While there are plenty of different ways you could go about crafting clickbait links, they tend to be sensationalist, somewhat misleading, and written with the aim of getting as many clicks as possible.

Examples of typical clickbait links are links with titles like:

  • 25 Unbelievable Facts You Won’t Believe
  • 50 Random Things People Do To Get Rich
  • You Won’t Believe This Guy’s Reaction!

They tend to share a similar style, characterized by superfluous words and the promise of revealing something shocking or a big secret.

As much as most of us have been desensitized to this particular type of clickbait after enough years of learning that the content often doesn’t match the promise of the title, you do still see versions of it being used.

So, is there any SEO benefit to be gained from using clickbait links as part of your overall strategy?

Clickbait Links and SEO

The power of a backlink to improve your SEO rankings generally comes down to the domain authority of the linking website on which it appears, the relevance of the website to your industry or niche, whether or not that link appears natural and organic, and whether it improves the user experience.

Google’s algorithm aims to give searchers the best possible results when they enter a query into their search bar, and one of the ways Google determines which content is worth serving at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) is by evaluating the number of high-quality backlinks that content has.

Google strongly favors natural-sounding anchor text and flows in the context in which it appears. Using keywords in the anchor text used to be considered a good standard practice, but nowadays, having the same keywords appear in your backlink profile too many times can actually make those links look artificial.

Clickbait links tend to use a specific set of words and phrases, which can potentially look spammy to Google since they’ve been used so many times before. This means that those links may potentially pass less link juice than they otherwise would, or even hurt your SEO rankings.

Frequently using highly misrepresentative clickbait links can even get your site removed from Google’s search results, so these have the potential to be a major SEO no-no.

It’s worth mentioning that clickbait isn’t always necessarily deceptive. It can also be truthful, but a bit exaggerated or sensationalized. If a few clickbait links are used here and there on appropriate sites as part of a broader link profile, they’re likely not something to be worried about.

Do Clickbait Links Have Any Benefits?

There may be some perks to using clickbait links, but they’re not really SEO perks.

It is, after all, called clickbait, not SEO bait. The reason this style became as ubiquitous as it was in the 2010s was that it succeeded in its primary goal, which was to get clicks rather than to boost organic search rankings.

Boost traffic

Clickbait can drive some results. It can get people curious enough to click on a link. However, if the content that appears after the link is clicked is too different from what the link promised, users will immediately click away.

This approach to headline writing can be used to increase the number of clicks your content gets, provided that it is not misleading. For example, an interior design blog could title a post “ 5 Ways To Transform Your Kitchen On A Budge.”

This title taps into clickbait-style language by introducing a listicle and promising to reveal a big secret, but as long as the content really does contain 5 useful kitchen design tips, it shouldn’t result in a high bounce rate.

In short, clickbait can draw clicks wherever it appears, whether it’s in Google search results, on social medial profiles, or as a link somewhere else on the web, but to actually get benefit from it in the form of meaningful traffic, it shouldn’t be too misleading.

Cons of Clickbait Links

Clickbait often isn’t worth the risk for the following reasons:

  • It’s misleading
  • It can get you booted off Google
  • It isn’t great for SEO

As engaging as clickbait can be, it can also be perceived as dishonest. It’s a style that’s associated with tabloid-style headlines, which might not be the brand you’re trying to develop.

Since clickbait links can come off as gimmicky, they can erode the trust that your audience has in your business.

Search engines are also, understandably, not fans of misleading clickbait. These links can look like another attempt at gaming the system and getting unwarranted attention. Websites that abuse clickbait links don’t tend to survive on Google too long, so the risk of potentially getting de-indexed is a major con of using clickbait links.

Finally, every clickbait word you use in our headings is taking space away from more descriptive keywords that you actually want to rank for. From an SEO perspective, this seems like a counterproductive approach.

Clickbait Links Best Practices

There are ways to incorporate the clickbait style into your links effectively as long as you do so in moderation. By following these best practices you can stay in Google’s good graces, but be very careful about veering into spam territory.

Be truthful

Even if you borrow language from clickbait articles for your links and heading, make sure you’re still accurately and truthfully representing your content. Failing to do this means misleading your audience, which is a great way to abuse their trust and get in trouble with Google.

It’s clickbait, not clickbait-and-switch

You should absolutely never use a redirect link in any of your backlinks. The webpage that people land on when clicking your link should match their intention.

Focus on quality, original content

A clickbait-style title may get you some extra clicks, but it won’t keep visitors around. The only way to do that is with quality content. That’s ultimately what will engage your audience and give you the chance of getting more organic backlinks. However, coupled with awesome content, a playful heading that borrows from the clickbait lexicon can perform well. Sometimes you see people ironically using clickbait headings, which can lead to great engagement as long as it isn’t deceptive.

Don’t expect your SEO to improve

Clickbait links really shouldn’t be created with search optimization in mind. Other kinds of links, such as links in guest posts, are far more effective for this purpose, so it’s better to focus on those.

You might use clickbait-style language to get clicks on your content on social media, for example, but the primary benefit wouldn’t be SEO.

Pay attention to your bounce rate

If your bounce rate is too high on content that has a clickbait title, it’s probably an indication that your heading doesn’t match the content well enough. Reword it so that people get the content they’re expecting when they click.

Leverage popular trends

One effective way to use clickbait without treading into spam territory is to use trendy phrases from pop culture. People will get a chuckle and hopefully pause long enough to click on your content.

For example, during peak Game of Thrones mania, the “winter is coming” meme proliferated all over the internet. For some brands, it made perfect sense to use this phrase in their titles. An autobody shop could create a listicle called “Winter Is Coming: 10 Ways To Winterproof Your Car.”

The pop culture reference and listicle format borrow from the clickbait formula, but it’s also easy to understand what the content will contain, and there doesn’t have to be any misleading o the reader for it to work.

Use lists

Speaking of lists, this online article format used to be strongly associated with Buzzfeed and other infamous clickbait sites has become ubiquitous for good reason. It’s easy to read and lends itself to scanning and short attention spans. This is an example of something borrowed from clickbait that clearly worked well enough for serious websites to use as well.

Tease a big reveal

Again, this should be done without being misleading or dishonest, but one way to create an irresistible clickbait link is by offering to reveal some information that your audience is highly motivated to learn.

For example, a business blogger might create a piece of content called “How I Reached 1M Monthly Visitors.”

This kind of content should be accompanied by proof and actionable advice, but the “big reveal” type of heading can definitely get you more clicks.

Summary

When it comes to executing an SEO plan that delivers real results, clickbait links shouldn’t be high on your list of things to do. Instead, focus on creating optimized content and landing links on high-authority sites.

However, borrowing a few tricks from the clickbait school of content creation can help you craft engaging content that people are enticed to click on.

Ready to take your website to new heights? Let Loganix do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on the parts of your business that you love.

Written by Adam Steele on September 12, 2022

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.

Now it’s your turn.

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Or maybe you just have a question about something you read.

Either way, let us know in the comments below.

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