How to write a clickbait headline (And why you shouldn’t do it.)
Updated: Jul 7
Blog copywriting tips from a freelance copywriter
“This mum fed this milk to her baby, you wouldn’t believe what happened 2 days later…”
We’ll all fallen for it – the trap of the enticing clickbait headline.
The worst part is, even though we can spot clickbait titles from a mile away… we still end up clicking. Then regretting our decision (along with everyone else in the article’s comments section).
Clickbait headlines are the bane of the internet, but darn it – they work.
What are the elements that make clickbait headlines so effective? Let’s break them down, using the example above:
The “this is everyday life” intro
“This mum fed this milk to her baby”
The first element of the clickbait title is the way it uses ordinary situations to lead you in.
Let’s see what happens if the news was delivered with more specifics in the title, such as,
“A mother in Russia fed goat’s milk to her baby”
Less powerful, isn’t it?
What happened? It’s simple. In the second version, readers are less likely to connect with the title, because it isn’t “them”. Unless you or someone you know is a Russian mum, who feeds goat’s milk to a baby, the news probably won’t affect you. So readers aren’t as likely to be hooked.
In the first example, the title is generic enough for anyone to make the immediate connection of either, “Hey this is me” or “Hey, I know a mum who feeds milk to her baby”. Subconsciously, a reader’s mind thinks, “This is important. I should know more.”
The “OMG” lead in
“You wouldn’t believe what happened 2 days later”
After capturing a reader’s attention, the clickbait headline digs its claws in and drags its reader into the “MUST CLICK NOW” zone by teasing them with a scintillating lead in.
An effective lead in also has just enough detail to make the headline seem believable, while not actually providing any satisfactory information. (So readers are kept on their toes.)
That’s why “You wouldn’t believe what happened 2 days later” is more compelling than a more generic “You wouldn’t believe what happened next”.
Now the reader knows that SOMETHING happened… but what?
The implied drama that’s conspicuously missing from the headline
Effective clickbait headlines always hint at something dramatic – a potentially horrifying situation, a once-in-a-lifetime miracle, a graphic image, something.
But the headline doesn’t deliver any payoff. It simply teases.
The reader is now left with a choice.
Either ignore the headline, and be left with a nagging curiosity that could nip at the reader for the rest of the day… or click on the article and have that burning itch scratched.
Most readers choose the latter.
And end up reading an article that simply doesn’t deliver on the promise of drama. After all, most situations aren’t once-in-a-lifetime horrors or miracles. Most likely, that baby who drank the goat’s milk got sick and threw up, or slurped it up gleefully.
Either way, that clickbait article didn’t deliver on its headline’s implied promise – although the headline did work to get the article more views (which, for most clickbait sites, increases website traffic, advertising, and possible clicks on advertisers’ banners).
While this may sound like a great way to get more visitors to your site, there are many reasons why I’d recommend you stay away from writing anything remotely clickbait-ish.
Here’s why you should not write clickbait headlines (or hire a freelance copywriter to do so):
Social media sites hate clickbait. Platforms such as Facebook have already taken proactive steps to penalise clickbait posts. If you’re running a legitimate business that’s building a fan base on social media, you don’t want to be in Facebook’s naughty list.
You’ll piss off potential fans. People don’t like to be misled. Advertising campaigns that promise more than they deliver, only turn customers into disenchanted ex-customers. Similarly, if your readers are consistently disappointed after clicking on your clickbait headlines, they’ll simply stop believing in you.
It only works a few times. Once readers catch on that your blog isn’t delivering as promised, they will move on to a competitor that (at least) is sincere with them.
Clickbait headlines attract everybody. Why is this a bad thing? Because you don’t need the world to read your blog, you don’t need potential customers to read it. Besides eating up web hosting resources (which may mean a need to upgrade to a more expensive plan to keep up with demand), people who aren’t interested in being your customers, will simply leave your site and not look back. Attract potential customers, then keep coming back – that’s your recipe for a profitable blog and website.
In short, clickbait headlines and articles will work in the short run – but will begin to fail sooner than you think.
If you’re in the business of building a reputable brand and a customer base who will keep coming back to you for more advice, news, or entertainment – it’s always better to give them high quality blog articles, with article titles that truly reflect your blog article’s content.
And if you need help writing quality blog articles that your customers will love, a freelance blog copywriter (who also knows his way with SEO) can be an essential addition to your team.