Ah, the clickbait title. An audience… favourite?
I have a love/hate relationship with clickbait headlines. On one hand, they promise explicit value. They’re clickbait for a reason. We want to click through because if they deliver what they promise, you’ll see or learn something awesome, and your life will be measurably enhanced. On the other hand, how often do they really deliver?
Despite the fact that titles like this feel, for lack of a better word, smarmy, people continue to use them for one simple reason. They work.
So, how can we write titles that people want to click through, without being perceived as clickbait?
- Make your customer the hero
Why is the information in your post relevant to your audience? Will your post add something to their life? Don’t just put your customer first, make them the hero of their story. Use your titles to demonstrate how you can help them slay their dragon.
- Walk the line between curiosity and predictability
You don’t want to give away too much information in your headlines, or your readers won’t see any reason to click.
“She went fishing for trout. You’ll never guess what she caught instead!”
Ok, that’s obviously clickbait – don’t write that! Especially not if she caught a garbage bag and the article is about littering on beaches. (Yes, that caught me on Facebook the other day, but I really wanted a story about a shark to play into my childhood insecurities.) That title worked is because my brain filled in what it wanted to, and needed confirmation. Playing on curiosity is a great thing. The problem with that headline is that it didn’t deliver. Our brains need to satisfy curiosity, but they also crave predictability. Numbers, tips, secrets, and rules all walk that line perfectly.
- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Refinery 29 did a comprehensive review of all their content and its effectiveness. They found that: “the optimal length of a headline for social engagement is 25 to 55 characters and has 4 to 10 parts of speech. Articles within this range average about 20% more shares.”
Additionally, “verbs in base form (e.g. “give”), adverbs (e.g. “always”), and pronouns (e.g. “she”) were found to have a positive correlation with social sharing. Coordinating conjunctions (e.g. “and”) demonstrate a statistically significant negative correlation with shares.”
Basically, keep it short and sweet! Get to the point quickly with emotional language. Filler words like “and” just distract from your message.
- Customize your strategies
Blog post headlines optimized for Google should look profoundly different than headlines on Facebook or Twitter.
- And finally… test everything
I like to call Peter Koechley, Upworthy’s co-founder, the “Godfather of Clickbait”. Their teams famously come up with 25 headlines for every single post. According to Koechley, “the team narrows the list down to a few finalists, and finally we conduct a bunch of geeky experiments to determine the winner.“
A/B test headlines for different mediums, times of day, audiences, etc. Test strategies like the use of numbers, and positive vs negative emotions.
Writing titles can be a science, but if you don’t have a writing or content marketing team like Upworthy does, you’re likely tight on time. If you make your customer the hero and give them a reason to click, chances are good that you’ll see your engagement rates increase.
What strategies do you use to keep your audience clicking?
John is the Founder & CEO of Wriber. He’s passionate about entrepreneurship, high-tech startups, thought leadership, content marketing, and artificial intelligence. John frequently volunteers his time at the University of Waterloo to help young entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. He’s also a faithful Toronto Maple Leafs fan, frequent Redditor, and lifelong learner.