Actually, you probably will.
In 2016 A.D./C.E./Hebrew calendar year 5776, we as media consumers are on the Internet a lot. That means a lot of different things, but primarily, that means there are a lot of eyeballs looking at a lot of stuff. Your web browser, your social media newsfeeds, your email inboxes—there’s so much stuff bombarding our senses online, that big social networks create algorithms to tailor and deliver what they think is the most relevant stuff to you.
In the wake of all of this, media outlets, brands and other content publishers need to cut through the noise and grab our attention. Article headlines remain one of the primary tools for this, as they have since the earliest days of newspaper publishing.
Look at this bad boy.
A piece of text’s short summary, displayed loudly as a hook for potential readers. In the ever-evolving landscape of digital media, however, headlines have morphed into “clickbait”—obscenely hyperbolic and oftentimes misleading display copy with the sole purpose of generating page views and, ultimately, ad revenue.
Clickbait in its lowest form is disingenuous, but there’s a way to craft impactful digital headlines without sounding like a cheap scumbag. Let’s talk about the differences.
Bad Clickbait looks like this.
- Immense emotional promises. Chances are, none of us will truly, actually, literally be heartbroken, shocked, or have our minds blown by most pieces of digital content that we find in our Facebook feeds that promise such inside their headlines. This may have been an effective strategy a number of years ago, but only feels overtly manipulative and phony now. You don’t want to be a phony.
- Clinging to a template. “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next,” “Her Answer Will Shock You,” etc. Again, deploying a strategy that includes so overtly and shamelessly curiosity-piquing templated phrasing in headlines is showing its age. Readers are beginning to pick up on this and it looks lazy. Stop it.
- Misdirecting your reader. The above points both feed into the larger problem that bad headlines face: essentially lying about the nature of your content. Sensationalism sells, but ultimately sacrifices large-scale credibility.
So, don’t write headlines like that. Instead, try this.
This is literally me when I write headlines.
- Utilize emotion in a grounded and human way. All headlines require a reader to react in order to reach click-throughs and, ultimately, keep a pair of eyes on your page. While I’m not suggesting outlandish claims of heartbreak or catharsis in a headline, these ideas can still be conveyed through a simple “show, don’t tell” approach. What is the most visual or emotional piece of the content you are publishing, and what reactions should they stir or mental images should they create? This is what your headline should home in on.
- Experiment with structure. Especially on social media, voices that lean more toward a conversational and informal tone will often be more successful, particularly in a headline. And in conversation, we construct sentences in a number of different ways. If a headline is speaking to us the way that we speak to one another, it’s only natural to have a stronger connection to it.
- Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. This ultimately will circle back around to the content that’s being published. If it’s safe to say that I’m literally not going to believe which state in the U.S. is closest to Africa, for instance (it’s Maine), then, yes, go right ahead and tell me I won’t believe it. But at the end of the day, you need be able to back up whatever your headline is promising.
Headlines, regardless of how well they are executed, all serve the same purpose: to grab your attention. But when a little more thought and elbow grease gets put into the headline-creation process, you’ll find that content publishers are still able to get their messages across without falling into the traps of clickbait.