What can phishing scams teach us about content marketing?

Phishing scammers get some of the highest click rates in the business, but what can they teach us about content marketing?

Picture of Alison Irlam Alison Irlam

Published: 21 Apr 2021

5 minutes read

What can phishing scams teach us about content marketing?

Let’s face it - we’ve all clicked on a suspicious link. 

Whether it’s in a text message, a legitimate-looking email, or phoning a number we’ve received in the post, sometimes curiosity gets the better of us. Sometimes even our inbox can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake.

I think it’s safe to say that email scammers are some of the best content marketers in the world.

Data shows that 30% of phishing emails are opened, with a staggering 12% of these users clicking on the malicious link or attachment. Let’s be honest, we all wish our emails got that level of click rate.

But what can we learn from email scammers? And what can they teach us about content marketing? Let’s find out.


Now and then an email will fall into your inbox and you’re not quite sure if it’s real or not. Sure, you know you haven’t used PayPal in a while, and they don’t usually start their messages with your email address, but you really think about clicking that link …

And why are you convinced? Because the branding looks real.

The truth is, you’re not alone, as statistics show that a staggering 97% of us are unable to recognise a sophisticated phishing email.

Just see for yourself. Here’s a real BBC news article. 

Screenshot of a real BBC News article

[Source: BBC News]

And here’s a fake page created by scammers that was emailed to their victims.

Screenshot of a fake BBC News article.

[Source: myonlinesecurity]

As you can see, it looks pretty real.

While there are one or two discrepancies, they’ve taken the time to make their website look as authentic as possible. In trying to find the right font, mimic the side banners, and even link out to the real website in the navigation bar, the scammer has taken the time to make this webpage look and feel legitimate.

‘But what can we learn from this?’ Well, if your website or branding isn’t consistent or creates a negative customer experience, it’s unlikely that users will engage with your content or take it seriously. 

Qualified leads

While there’s a lot of fear around online scams, not everyone becomes a victim. 

According to the FBI, while phishing scams were the most common type of cybercrime in 2020, there were only 241,000 reports in America that year alone. While this figure had doubled from the previous year, this is still only approximately 0.06% of the population.

A business person, scrolling on their laptop.

But how were the 0.06% chosen? Well, ultimately, it’s unlikely that the scammers will have done any fact-checking on whom they are targeting beforehand. Although their posts may include personalised sections making them seem real, their content will likely be generic or slightly vague.

Therefore, phishing scams are the marketing equivalent of a top-of-the-funnel email.

While there is a high click rate on their email, there are not many qualified leads or people who go through and click the malicious link. Most people will read it, delete it, and move on with their day.

Scammers, much like content marketers, are aware that not everyone’s going to click on their link. But, when starting a new scam campaign, they hope that if their email is broad enough, someone will be convinced enough to click.


Let’s face it - a lot of these emails aren’t exactly written very well. But, with the right, terrifying subject line, the main body text doesn’t matter as much.

The Tech Republic found that some of the most commonly used phishing subjects titles are:

  • Password Check Required Immediately.
  • Vacation Policy Update.
  • Your meeting attendees are waiting!
  • Confidential Information on (a topic).

Ultimately, by using engaging adverbs and adjectives in their titles, a scammer is making their user take action. Then, once the email is opened, it’s clear what the user needs to do.

Take this example from an HMRC scam. A clear subject telling the reader that their grant is ‘on the way’ and all they have to do is click ‘claim now’.

A screenshot of a scam email, pretending to be HMRC.

[Source: Gov.uk]

Their writing isn’t the most complex, but it is easy for the reader to understand what action they need to take and what their reward will be.

While in inbound marketing this bottom link is referred to as a Call-to-Action, the rest of our content can sometimes be less engaging or more confusing to understand. Although your offer might help people, email scammers make it easy for potential victims to see what action they need to take through the use of clear language.

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As previously mentioned, data shows that of the 30% of phishing emails that are opened, only 12% of these users follow the Call-to-Action.

So, if their email wasn’t engaged with or didn’t have a high click rate, would an email scammer do? Re-strategise.

Whether it’s thinking of a different spin on their previous email or thinking of a new, out-of-the-box idea that could make people click, scammers want to try and find a way to make people engage with their content.


A person reading an message on their phone.


As content marketers, we might have a vague idea about what a persona would click on, but ultimately there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. So, we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. Try to send new, different campaigns to our clients or potential customers to see what creates qualified leads.

What to learn from scam emails

While we shouldn’t become scammers, there is a lot to learn from their content marketing strategies.

After sending a pool of emails on what they think people will open, scammers aren’t afraid to try different techniques to grab a reader's attention. Whether it’s a new company, comment, or claim, email scammers aren’t as rigid when it comes to their content marketing strategies as we can be.

While gripping content is more important for us to qualify leads than it is for email scammers, the way they present their ‘real’ emails is what transforms them from looking like spam into a professional business.

Ultimately, in order to make your content marketing strategy successful, you need to draw potential clients in. While it might not be with a threatening subject title, you do need to pique your reader’s interest to make them click on your content.

Want to discover the best way to market your content?

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