What is clickbait - and is it a bad thing?

What is clickbait – and is it a bad thing?

As business owners, we often try to develop cost-effective strategies to market our tax and accounting firms. There are many marketing tools at your disposal, including social media marketing with two methods: pay-per-click advertising and clickbait. Pay-per-click advertising on Google, Yahoo! and other search engines can get expensive very quickly, which is one of the reasons some business owners turn to clickbait.

Clickbait captures prospects and others to your website – and in the worst-use cases, include sensationalist or even misleading headlines, such as “We Saved a Taxpayer $450,000” or “Legally Pay Zero Taxes.” So, in essence, clickbait is trying to “bait” users to your website using content that may over-promise or misrepresent, and could have long-lasting negative impact on your firm.

That’s not to say every clickbait headline is bad – quite the contrary. You can have a very interesting and informative headline to draw in your audience. For example, with only one year of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under our belts, there’s nothing wrong with a headline such as “New! Standard vs. Itemized Deduction Calculator.” Sure, this may be considered clickbait because it’s interesting and a bit mysterious, but it’s also an actual article with a deduction calculator you can use and pass on to your clients. How about an article titled “How to Keep Your Inbox Organized” about email organization? Would you click on this to read it? I would, and by the way, both of these are on the Intuit® Tax Pro Center.

As professionals, we all want new clients to grow our practice, but using marketing tactics that are intentionally misleading can be considered unethical, and ultimately have you and your firm treading hot water, not only with prospects, but also with the IRS. It’s easy and cost effective to use clickbait to drive traffic to your website, but what good is it when users quickly realize the headline is misleading and bounce off your website? Do you really want prospective clients to feel that you are using a bait and switch to dupe them or waste their time?

I prefer clients hire me because they feel comfortable and view my firm as being honest, ethical, and one that can assist them with their tax and financial needs. When you overpromise and under deliver, it usually doesn’t end well because the client will be dissatisfied and may leave a negative review on social media that can have a negative impact far exceeding any easy and free marketing.

Another factor to be considered before using clickbait is the impact it will have with your search engine rankings. While clickbait is an easy way to drive traffic to your website and help rank it higher on Google, it can have the opposite effect. Search engines factor a lot of criteria into their algorithms besides the amount of traffic to your website. Periodically, Google rolls out updates designed to weed through clickbait, duplicate content, and misleading or fake news. If the pages on your website are associated with clickbait and have a high bounce rate, Google can punish your website by ranking it lower instead of higher. As a result, while most of us might associate lots of traffic to a website with a higher Google ranking, it actually can have the opposite effect.

Clickbait is a fast and easy way to drive traffic to your website, but converting those baited users into clients isn’t as easy. Relying heavily on clickbait is great way to lose social media followers, hurt your search engine optimization and, most importantly, damage your brand.

A better option that is easy and cost effective may be to use real and original content that adds value to prospects’ professional and personal lives. For example, include photos of events that your firm participates in, such as volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity project, speaking at a local school in your community or making media appearances as a subject matter expert. Content that is real, interesting and informative to users will have a more effective impact on your firm’s reputation.

Sometimes it’s best to steer the ship in the right direction, even if that results in slower growth. Personally, I am a believer in using honest headlines and avoiding marketing tools that may harm my brand and reputation. Slower organic growth is often better than the alternative.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Intuit® Tax Pro Center.

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