These Four Clickbait Principles Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity


Clickbait – aka “what pageviews are made of” – has become less a trend and more business-as-usual for headline writing both on and off of social media. But what is the cost to your content or the authenticity of your words? In the second part of our series, The Debate on Clickbait, Scott Kolbe takes on the effect of clickbait on marketing. (Click here for the first part of the series featuring former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor,  David Sheets, who covered the effect of clickbait on journalism.)

scott kolbe

Scott Kolbe may (or may not) have caught a fish from that river with clickbait.

It happened again, didn’t it? You’re scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed and an outrageous or suggestive headline catches your eye. I know my Facebook feed is full of videos that say something like “Rock Climber Loses His Footing on a Narrow Ledge – You Won’t Believe What Happens Next.” Or how about the recent Riverfront Times post “Man Jumps Out Window to Escape Throat-Slashing Ex-Girlfriend and her Armed Posse.” Sometimes you just can’t help but be curious. And that’s what marketers and media outlets get excited about these days.

As marketing has shifted into the realm of content creation and brand journalism, we’re after great click-through rates on content. A few years ago, everyone was focused on “likes” and mesmerized by the idea of creating the next “viral” video. (Whether or not you can set out to create a viral video is debatable, but we’ll leave that for another time.) Today, it’s all about “click bait” headlines, like the ones I mention above, to entice people to click and view the content we’ve produced. Some marketers and journalists do this very well. But as consumers, we get frustrated, often finding ourselves falling sucker to a headline, which, when we get there, isn’t the story we thought it was going to be.

Here are the four clickbait principles as promised (whether or not they restore your faith in humanity remains to be seen):

Honor your audience and your brand.

There is an art to creating a great, clickable headline that will represent your brand well and leave the audience feeling that their time was well spent clicking on your link.  So, before you start getting creative with your headline, ask yourself: is what I have to say really unique or something new? Or are you trying to trick readers like supermarket tabloids have been doing for years?

Be compelling but be honest.

From a marketing perspective, be sure to answer the age-old question that marketers face: Why do I care? That’s the first step to creating value with your audience. Next, make sure that your content clearly matches what the click-bait headline promises. Don’t get so creative with your headline that it ends up having nothing to do with your content.

There are no points for style – because it is bound to change soon.

While the Upworthy-like style seems to be effective today, styles will evolve as people quit clicking on links that fail to deliver what they promise. For example, think about magazines in the supermarket checkout lane. Cover stories were often titled things like “The Top Five Things You Should Always Ask on a First Date.” Readers wanted to know what those things were so they could be sure to ask these essential questions on a first date. But now, especially in the online world, top five doesn’t cut it anymore. Now it’s lists like “The Top 100 Ways Your Office Is Like a John Hughes Movie.”

The reality is the harder we push a technique or style the less effective it will become. So focus first on your content and second on the style.

Think of ‘clickbait’ as a new term for ‘compelling headline’

For most marketers writing a compelling headline is like creating content for outdoor advertising. You have to create a headline that catches your attention and is memorable enough and must be relevant to the audience.

Clickbait has just become a new buzzword for creating a compelling headline. There will be a new approach as people begin to mock the current approach. Is there anything wrong with it? No. The best favor you can give a reader is engage them in content they’re interested in, drawing them in to read what you wrote.

Want more? Remember to check out part one of the series here. What happens next will blow your mind.

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