Fell for it, didn’t you? If you clicked on the link because of the article’s headline, you fell for something called clickbait.
Clickbait is a pejorative term used to describe misleading headlines. It’s used throughout the internet, so you’ve probably seen it before. You see a headline about a favorite celebrity, or television show, or even an issue you care deeply about. The headline promises something emotional – something that makes you curious, intrigued, upset, angry. You can’t help but click on the link. Once you get to the article, however, the content doesn’t pay off the headline. That “shocking” information is nothing more than the usual drivel spit up and served on a silver platter. The “surprising” fact is nothing more than the facts about the issue. And so on….
Why Clickbait Headlines Work
It’s a truisim in journalism and marketing writing that the headline is the most important aspect of any article, blog post or document. Most writing teachers and marketing writers will tell you to spend the majority of your time working on your headlines because that is what gets people to respond, click, and then read the content. In other words, if your headline doesn’t work well, no one will read the terrific content you’ve created.
Clickbait headlines work on the psychological principle of dissonance. Our minds cannot stand to be uncomfortable, and the curiosity inspired by the headline creates a gap between what we know and what we desire. This gap makes us feel uncomfortable. We are compelled to click the link to read the text even when we ‘know’ in our logical minds that the information is just the usual drivel, or that we’re on deadline for a project and shouldn’t be spending time reading Yahoo! News (King of the Clickbait headlines) (and yes, I fall prey to them all the time) (and no, I won’t be late with your project. I promise!)
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These headlines are actually crafty little critters. They’re used because they work. John Caples, one of the most famous advertising writers of the 20th century, offered 35 headline formulas that are still used today by marketing writers and other copywriters to create the best headlines they can for blog posts, articles, website copy and marketing documents. Clickbait stands in its own category, but it’s worth looking at Caples’ headline writing formulas and comparing them to common clickbait techniques. There’s some overlap, although Caples is probably spinning in his grave at the comparison.
What Marketers Can Learn from Clickbait Headlines
There are several lessons we can learn from the purveyors of clickbait headlines. First, we know that they work. They do draw in the clicks. They don’t provide lasting values, and they don’t engender loyalty, two important qualities that any serious business should consider as part of their overall content marketing strategy. But they do follow the AIDA formula – attention, interest, desire, action.
And that’s what we as marketers and marketing writers must remember at all times: AIDA. Without getting attention and generating interest, no one’s going to click on your article. Inspiring desire and motivating customers to take action with an engaging headline complete the split-second decision that occurs in readers’ brains as they scan their newsfeeds. Clickbait headlines get the job done in seconds.
Will I use clickbait headlines? Aside from this blog post, where the headline was actually part of the story, the answer is no. I hate feeling cheated when I click on one of those zippy headlines and they promise me “shocking” photos or news and all I get is an article. Sure, I clicked, and sure, you got the page view. But in the end, you didn’t get ME – you didn’t earn my loyalty. I won’t bookmark your site, and I won’t follow it on social media. Perhaps more importantly, I won’t go there again, because now that you’ve played a trick on me, I’m wise to your trick.
And I hate tricks.
If you want to gain clicks in an ethical way, the secret remains in writing great headlines. That takes enormous skill and practice, something which a good marketing writer has. I’ve been a marketing writer for 20+ years. That’s the kind of writer you need working on your projects, not someone who can catch a reader-fish on the end of a headline-hook.
To write terrific headlines:
- Make it factual and true
- Go for emotion – pique curiosity
- Ask a question
- Make a crazy promise (that you can actually keep)
- Includes facts like numbers, names, specifics
- Keep it not too short, not too long
- Infuse it with keywords too!
It takes time and practice to actually write such headlines. If you’d like help with your marketing writing work, please contact me.
In the meantime…I hope this blog post shocked, inspired, surprised, amazed, and absolutely delighted you.
Marketing writer Jeanne Grunert knows a thing or two about headline writing, marketing copy, and freelance writing. She’s been a full time freelance writer since 2007 when she quit her position as a marketing director for a big global company to return to her roots as a freelance writer. With a background in both marketing and writing, Jeanne brings a unique perspective to all of her writing projects. For more information, please visit her company website, Seven Oaks Consulting | Marketing Writer Jeanne Grunert.