Can You Really Drive Traffic With Clickbait Articles? A Data-Driven Look

Clickbait. You know it when you see it. Those sensational, often exaggerated headlines practically begging you to click:

"Doctors Hate Her! Local Mom‘s Secret to Looking 20 Years Younger"
"You Won‘t Believe What Happens Next…"
"17 Secrets [Industry] Doesn‘t Want You to Know"

As a marketer looking to drive more website traffic, you‘ve likely wondered about the effectiveness of using clickbait yourself. Will those tantalizing headlines really translate to click-throughs and page views? Or will audiences see right through the hype?

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive into the data behind clickbait to uncover:

  • Just how well clickbait performs at driving traffic
  • The psychological triggers that make clickbait so irresistible
  • Best practices for using clickbait ethically and effectively
  • Potential risks and downsides of relying on clickbait
  • How to measure the true ROI of your clickbait traffic

By the end, you‘ll have a nuanced understanding of clickbait‘s power and pitfalls to make an informed choice about using it in your own content strategy. Let‘s jump in.

The Numbers Don‘t Lie: Clickbait‘s Traffic-Boosting Power

First, let‘s cut to the chase: Yes, clickbait headlines do drive more traffic than traditional ones. The data is clear:

  • Headlines with clarifications like "Who Else Wants," "The Secret of," and "Here‘s a Quick Way" perform 28% better than standard titles. (Source: Hubspot)
  • Provocative headlines drive 30% more pageviews than non-provocative ones. (Source: Conductor)
  • Headlines with negative superlatives like "never" or "worst" perform 59% better than positive ones. (Source: Outbrain)
  • Lists and how-to posts tend to drive the most click-throughs, especially with odd numbers. (Source: Backlinko)

For a real-world example, look no further than Buzzfeed. The master of viral listicles and quizzes generated over 11 billion views in 2020, largely thanks to its knack for irresistible headlines.

So purely from a traffic perspective, clickbait flat out works. But before you start stuffing your blog titles with hyperbole, there‘s more to consider, which we‘ll get into later.

The Psychology Behind Why Clickbait Converts

What is it about clickbait that makes our brains tingle with curiosity? The secret lies in a few key psychological principles:

  1. The Information Gap Theory
    Proposed by George Loewenstein, this theory states that curiosity arises when we perceive a gap between what we currently know and what we want to know. Clickbait headlines prey on this by teasing information:

"The One Surprising Food That Melts Belly Fat Fast"

Instantly, an information gap forms in our minds. What is this magic food? How can I get rid of belly fat quickly? To close the gap and satisfy our curiosity, we click.

  1. Loss Aversion
    As humans, we‘re hardwired to avoid losses more than we‘re motivated to secure gains. Clickbait often frames headlines around what you‘ll miss if you don‘t click, like:

"5 Mistakes You‘re Making With Your Retirement Account"

We think, "oh no, am I making those mistakes? I better find out so I don‘t lose money!" The threat of loss compels the click.

  1. Emotional Arousal
    The most powerful clickbait taps into strong emotions like fear, anger, and excitement. For example:

"12 Signs Your Partner Is Cheating on You"

This headline provokes fear and anxiety about infidelity, emotions we‘re motivated to resolve. Even if we‘re confident in our relationship, the emotional pull can be hard to resist.

With all these subconscious forces at play, it‘s no wonder our fingers itch to click on that juicy headline.

The Dark Side of Clickbait: Risks and Pitfalls to Avoid

Before you unleash a barrage of hyperbolic headlines, consider the very real risks of using clickbait irresponsibly:

  1. Annoyed Visitors and High Bounce Rates
    If your content doesn‘t deliver on the promise of your headline, expect visitors to hit the back button faster than you can say "Doctors Hate This One Weird Trick." High bounce rates signal to search engines that your content isn‘t satisfying user intent, hurting your rankings.

  2. Loss of Trust and Brand Integrity
    Constantly baiting and switching your audience with exaggerated headlines is a surefire way to erode trust in your brand. If every headline screams "Breaking!" or "Shocking!", readers will start to view your content as cheap tabloid fodder rather than a reliable resource.

A 2016 study of 1.67 million Facebook posts found that traditional media outlets lose credibility when readers feel deceived by clickbait headlines, whereas digital-native sites like Buzzfeed can get away with more due to differing audience expectations.

  1. Social Media Penalties
    Platforms like Facebook and Twitter now expressly penalize pages and posts that use exaggerated or sensational clickbait headlines in an attempt to game the algorithm. Overdo it and your reach and engagement could take a hit.

  2. Search Engine Penalties
    While Google hasn‘t explicitly called out clickbait, its Search Quality Rater guidelines state that pages with "exaggerated or shocking titles that do not accurately represent the content" should receive the lowest Page Quality score. Repeatedly using misleading clickbait can tank your organic rankings.

How to Use Clickbait Responsibly to Boost Traffic (Without Selling Your Soul)

Alright, so clickbait is a double-edged sword. Used carefully, it can slash through the noise and get eyeballs on your content. Wielded recklessly, it can cut deep into your credibility and audience trust.

Here‘s how to use clickbait responsibly:

  1. Fulfill the Headline‘s Promise
    The cardinal sin of clickbait is not delivering on the headline‘s promise. If you‘re going to use phrases like "The Secret to," "One Weird Trick," or "What Happens Next Will Shock You," your content better deliver the goods.

Ethical example:
Headline: "The One Productivity Hack That Doubled My Output"
Article: Details the Pomodoro Technique and how implementing it led to a measured increase in productivity for the author.

Unethical example:
Headline: "The One Productivity Hack That Doubled My Output"
Article: Vaguely lists various productivity tips without detailing how any specific one doubled output.

  1. Avoid Gross Exaggerations and Cheap Gimmicks
    There‘s a difference between sparking curiosity and insulting intelligence. Peppering every headline with "Unbelievable!" or "Breaking News!" crosses that line.

Keep your superlatives and hyperbole in check. If you wouldn‘t feel comfortable saying the headline out loud with a straight face, it‘s probably too exaggerated.

  1. Prioritize Relevance Over Shock Value
    Even if your headline is factual without exaggeration, it can still be misleading if it doesn‘t accurately represent the content. Avoid pulling a bait-and-switch just to rack up clicks on an irrelevant article.

Steer clear of gimmicky headlines like:

"You Won‘t Believe What This Child Star Looks Like Today!"
(Links to unrelated listicle)

"New Study Finds Link Between Coffee and Cancer"
(Buries the lead that the link was found to be insignificant)

  1. Maintain a Strong Baseline of High-Value Content
    Clickbait should be used as a spice, not the main course of your content strategy. If every piece of content relies on outlandish headlines, your audience will quickly catch on.

Build a solid foundation of genuinely useful, well-researched content first. Then sprinkle clickbait headlines judiciously on articles that can live up to the hype. Pace yourself – one or two clickbait posts a week, max.

  1. Split Test and Measure Engagement
    As with any tactic, test your clickbait headlines to see how they perform "in the wild." Some key metrics to track:
  • Click-through rate (CTR): How many people are actually clicking your irresistible headline? Aim for 3% or higher.
  • Time on page: Are people sticking around to read or bouncing right away? Shoot for 2+ minutes.
  • Social shares: Are people compelled to share your content? More shares = more free traffic.
  • Scroll depth: Are visitors at least skimming the full article or bailing halfway through?

Clickbait should boost all these metrics compared to your baseline. If not, your headlines may be over-promising and under-delivering.

Measuring the ROI of Your Clickbait Traffic

Driving more traffic is nice, but what really matters is what those visitors do once they land on your site. To measure the true return on your clickbait investment, track:

  • Conversion rates: What percentage of clickbait-driven visitors are taking desired actions like subscribing, downloading a lead magnet, requesting a demo, or making a purchase? Higher conversion rates indicate you‘re attracting a relevant audience.

  • Lifetime value: Are your clickbait-attracted customers spending more over time or just making a one-off impulse buy? Compare retention rates and average order values to your baseline.

  • Organic search impact: Is your clickbait bringing in engaged visitors and boosting dwell time? Or are high bounce rates tanking your organic rankings? Monitor your target keywords‘ positions over time.

Clickbait for the sake of more traffic is just an expensive vanity metric. Clickbait that attracts valuable customers and boosts your bottom line pays for itself.

Key Takeaways: The Dos and Don‘ts of Using Clickbait

We‘ve covered a lot of ground, so let‘s recap the key lessons:


  • Craft headlines that spark curiosity without being overtly misleading
  • Deliver on your headline‘s promise with high-value, relevant content
  • Split test headlines and measure engagement to optimize performance
  • Maintain a solid foundation of non-clickbait content to build trust


  • Exaggerate or sensationalize just to rack up cheap clicks
  • Bait-and-switch readers with irrelevant content
  • Overuse clickbait tactics to the point of eroding credibility
  • Chase vanity traffic at the expense of attracting quality customers

When done right, clickbait can be a powerful tool to cut through the noise and draw eager eyeballs to your content. The key is using it ethically, strategically, and sparingly.

Don‘t think of clickbait as a silver bullet, but rather one weapon in your traffic-driving arsenal, to be deployed at the right time, for the right content. Master this balancing act, and you can harness clickbait‘s power without sacrificing your integrity. Your audience (and bottom line) will thank you.