The modern art of clickbait: how to define the best clickbait titles
Clickbait is everywhere, from social media platforms to news websites. Clickbait headlines even find their way onto search engines. Let’s take a closer look at the modern art of clickbait, what it is and how it works.
Table of contents
What is Clickbait?
We’ve all experienced it, but what is clickbait? Clickbait is typically an article or post with a headline or image that’s written to incite attention to such a degree that people can’t help but to click the link and read it. It’s also one of the most controversial on-page SEO strategies. We see this type of article everywhere, and the headline always promises a mystery or revelation that the reader can’t resist.
With so many different websites vying for a finite amount of traffic, clickbait can be a helpful marketing strategy for businesses. However, that’s only the case when the content follows through on the promise of the headline.
A web page with a clickbait headline can do very well on social media platforms or news websites. However, it will get heavily penalized by search engines for having content that doesn’t match the title.
Join us as we investigate what characteristics define the best clickbait titles.
Writing Clickbait Headlines
Many people looking to market their products or services want to know how to write clickbait articles. It may seem like a simple enough idea, but writing a clickbait headline that will get people to bite can be complex. For one, you need to ensure that the headline matches up to at least a part of the content.
For example, if you use the title ‘Man Makes Millions by Doing Nothing!’ and the article is about saving manatees, you’ll lose domain authority. In this case, attempting to use clickbait as a marketing strategy can have an adverse effect.
You don’t want your clickbait titles to get you into trouble, so you’re going to need to know the ins and outs of writing clickbait headlines.
Appeal to an Emotion
One of the most powerful incentives to get a potential audience to succumb to clickbait is to employ an emotional appeal. Most people can’t help but read an article that appeals to some part of their emotional being.
This rule is especially applicable in the case of headlines that you’ll use on social media. People are more likely to click on and share a page that appeals to one of the six main social emotions.
Many different websites and companies have done studies about how emotions affect virality. The research concludes that viral posts are surprising, and that they offer a complex variety of emotions.
The emotion that spurs people to share the fastest is rage. Anyone fancy writing some angry clickbait headlines?
Whatever the case may be, the following six emotions are generally considered the most likely to attract attention:
If you can appeal to at least one of these in your clickbait headlines, you’re well on the way to success.
Appeal to Curiosity
Whenever you’re trying to get people to engage with your post, there’s one aspect of human nature you can use to your advantage. People want to know things. If your headline appeals to a reader’s curiosity, then you’re golden.
When done correctly, the curiosity gap can even attract readers to an article full of knowledge that they already have. The trick lies in making people think that you have additional information to which they’re not yet privy.
We’ll look at some examples in detail later, but let’s incorporate a simple one here for clarity’s sake. Most of the population is probably aware of the fact that you can use liquid dish soap to blow bubbles. However, what if you repackage that information into a title like, ‘This Substance Can Improve Your Child’s Bubbles by 100%’? Many parents will want to know about this mysterious substance.
That’s essentially the soul of clickbait. Writing headlines for common content in a way that makes people browsing the internet wonder what they don’t know.
Create an Information Gap
The information gap is essentially an extension of the previous segment, but it’s a vital part of clickbait titles. More often than not, you’re creating an absence of information that doesn’t exist.
Most people are familiar with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. However, if you repackage it as ‘The human-made disaster that changed the world forever’, people will be flocking to find out what you’re on about. You’re going to reach a lot of people who want to know what they’re missing. .
Attention is the currency of the Internet’s economy, and you tap into it by piquing curiosity and making it seem like you’re presenting new facts about widely known circumstances.
Employ Artful Wording
If you haven’t derived this from the above, you can’t just write straightforward headlines for clickbait stories. In most cases you’ll be repackaging old information and dressing it up like something new. Once you have the topic in mind, begin thinking about how you can present it like this.
Don’t try to sell your client’s new hand cream as a brand new product. Instead, offer it as something that’s too decadent to resist. Few things attract people as much as mystery and the forbidden.
Consider giving the article a title like ‘The miraculous skincare product they don’t want you to know about’. No-one knows who ‘they’ are, but everyone will want to know about the product that ‘they’ are trying to keep a secret.
After all, if you’re not supposed to know about it, it must be something worth having. The art of the clickbait headline doesn’t revolve around deception, exactly. Instead, it uses wordplay to appeal to the lizard brain of consumers around the world.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of the lizard brain, it refers to a primordial aspect of our subconscious. The theory is that, beneath all our reasoning and emotions, we have a basic brain that acts and reacts.
Psychologists and conmen alike use this theory of base reactions to read people. Clickbait appeals to the same concept, relying on reactivity to grow an audience.
Images are Your Friend
Chances are you’ve been sucked in by a clickbait headline like, ‘She didn’t know why people were staring at her’ beneath a photo of an attractive woman. Conversely, perhaps a title like ‘Could he be the one?’ that has a picture of a dreamy guy.
If that’s the case, you know the power of bait images. More than likely, when you opened the article, it was about a drab-looking woman with a genetic abnormality. And the other story was probably about some average-looking European doctor trying to cure cancer.
As with headlines, most clickbait images aren’t meant to give you the most direct information about the topic. Instead, the purpose of the picture is to attract more traffic to the website.
If you post an article about ‘Middle Eastern Man conducts cancer research’ you’ll attract a niche market. Your readers will be people who have been touched by cancer or have an interest in medicine.
However, if you put forth a question in the title like ‘Will he be the one?’ and add a picture of Mr Perfect, you’ll avoid falling into that niche and attract a multitude of unsuspecting readers.
Let’s have a look at some ways to rewrite your advertisement and attract more traffic.
Let’s say you’re writing an article about a man who moved onto a litter-encrusted beach and built a beautiful home. How many hits do you think the title ‘Man cleans up environment and builds beautiful home’ would get?
Not very many, right? You get traffic by appealing to readers with a specific word or phrase. If your text reflects cleaning up the environment and living green, you’ll target environmentalists and few others.
However, what if you take an entirely different approach? What if you use an image like this?
Use a title like ‘Man Uncovers Unexpected Paradise’. Now, you’re not attracting only earth-lovers and green living advocates. Instead, you’re drawing in a whole host of curious people. Millions dream of getting away to an island paradise, and by using the right image and title, you can attract all of them.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the advertisement of products. Perhaps you own a skincare firm and your products target acne. How many readers can you ensnare? How many likes and shares?
Well, that depends on how well you catch the attention of your readers. How many clicks can you glean from a title like ‘Brand New Skincare Solution for Acne and Blemishes’? Let’s add a photo for good measure.
How much attention is this likely to attract? Probably only the truly desperate sufferers of acne. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, let’s aim for a clickbait makeover.
What about the title, ‘This Surprising Product Will Solve ALL Your Acne Problems’? How many clicks will that draw to your content? Probably considerably more.
Let’s take a look at one final headline before we bring our clickbait examples to a close. Earlier on, we discussed the use of clickbait in repackaging old information.
Let’s assume that you are writing content about Nazi Germany.
If you use the title ‘Learn More About the Holocaust,’ you might attract a smattering of history buffs. You might even get a few curious parkers, and people to whom the subject is personally important.
How could you possibly present this piece to make it appealing to more readers? As you’ve seen from the other headlines and clickbait examples, you need to thrill or arouse curiosity. So what about this?
How about the title ’18 Things You Didn’t Know About Nazi Germany’. While it may not be the most exciting, it will attract anyone curious enough to find out something they might not know. You can take further advantage of curiosity if you’re audacious enough. Try this image:
The headline can read ’13 UNEXPECTED Reasons Why the Nazi Regime Failed’. Remember that clickbait headlines should appeal to curiosity without being entirely misleading. The headline should still relate to the content, even though it’s artfully phrased.
The Pros and Cons of Clickbait
While your business sense may be telling you that clickbait presents several advantages, it also isn’t without its faults. Spammers are rife in our modern climes, and search engines are taking a firm stance.
If your clickbait headline doesn’t match the text of your content, you’re unlikely ever to see the link on Google. People on Facebook are probably okay with stories not matching the headline (as long as it gives them a thrill). However, you’ll get at least one or two negative responses for a misleading headline.
For this reason, you have to mull over the pros and cons carefully. Let’s have a look at some of them.
- An increase in pageviews. It’s the number one advantage of clickbait and the primary reason for employing it. There are a limited number of users on the Internet and you want as many of them to view your content as possible.
- Viral potential. If you look at an example we’ve given, the sole aim was to increase the potential that people will share it along. Most clickbait targets platforms like Facebook and Instagram for sharing purposes. This is why you incorporate clickbait titles into your ads: to attract more shares.
- A more diverse audience. Many different sites rely on Facebook clickbait to attract an audience to their articles. Why? You can reach a greater number of people and groups by using clickbait ads. As we discussed in our examples, an overly specific headline targets a niche group. On the other hand, a mysterious headline attracts multitudes.
- Clickbait can negatively affect your overall ratings. Many websites have relied on clickbait to bring traffic to their doors for years. However, engines like Google object to the way it interacts with SEO. As a result, we sometimes see penalties applied to websites that use clickbait. If you want to see your link listed at the top of the search results page, then make sure you’re using your head.
- Much of society is tiring of sensationalism and deception. Over the years, we’ve seen a steady decline in the attraction that hyperbole holds. While some people are undeniably attracted to scandal, and always will be, many others wish to be left in peace. With so much trauma in the world already, who needs any extra? If you’re going to use clickbait, beware of coming off as deceptive or overly scandalous.
- It can generate the wrong type of traffic. Funnily enough, clickbait’s ability to bring in a wider audience is also a disadvantage. When you’re trying to sell your products, more traffic is fantastic. However, you want traffic that converts to sales. Using clickbait might bring in many nosy parkers, but not necessarily any added profit.
How to Use Clickbait Successfully
As complicated as it may seem to the uninitiated, using clickbait is relatively easy. However, there’s a difference between using it and having it work as intended. We’ll give you a few basic pointers to keep you on the right track.
- Intrigue, but don’t deceive. While you can attract many customers by appealing to wide public interest, never be openly deceptive. If you phrase headlines artfully, and still match the content, you can maintain your site ranking.
- Write list articles. One of the best ways to maintain a reader’s attention after they open a link is by using lists. In our examples, we used several list articles as options. Today’s readership has a very short attention span. Short, snappy bits of information suit their reading style.
- Incorporate many images. Thanks to social media and the growth of video and photo media, most people are now lookers rather than readers. Irrespective of which kind of article you write, incorporate many relevant images to help maintain interest.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Getting people to click on a link is only about a quarter of the battle. Once you get them to your page, you need to maintain their attention. Make sure that your article is relevant to your desired audience.
- Don’t neglect SEO. While clickbait is a good way of getting people to your site, you should keep up your domain authority. Accordingly, add keywords in appropriate places and try to optimize your SEO. When all is said and done, you want your website to be considered reputable, and SEO is vital to achieving that end.
Many people consider clickbait a handy tool. It certainly can be, in the right hands.
However, many individuals and search engines alike frown on the use of clickbait. Only you can decide whether you’re willing to take the risk of using it as a marketing strategy.
In this article, we’ve given you examples of potential strategies to bait potential readers. If you employ these strategies with integrity, and don’t neglect your SEO, then clickbait can be a useful weapon in your marketing arsenal.
Any well-written article headline will incorporate some clickbait flavour. After all, every website on the market is vying for clicks. The only question you need to ask yourself is how far you’re willing to go to get ahead.
Once you’ve come to a conclusion, you can push on with your clickbait efforts. We wish you all the best in your marketing endeavours.