How to Combat Clickbait With Headlines That Make Sense

Headlines that make sense and promote a piece honestly won't attract a crowd, right? Wrong.

Aren’t you tired of clickbait headlines on Facebook and Twitter? You know what I mean … exaggerated headlines like, “10 Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Gorgeous — #8 Will Blow You Away!”

They’re designed to make you click, so you do. And what happens? You’re not blown away. Even a little. Ever.

Hype: 1. Living up to it: 0.

These types of misleading headlines are all over social media – to the point you’d think they must work. But actually, they don’t.

False promises are not your friend

So what’s the problem with these headlines? They certainly get attention, but that’s only half their job.

The whole point of content marketing on social is to bring readers into your business’ fold; to engage them so they proceed with additional steps like, commenting and sharing, and ultimately buying whatever you’re selling – be that products or ideas.

But it’s not an easy process. A Chartbeat study found that “most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55 percent spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page.”

Certainly not enough time to get to the meat of your post — much less your call-to-action.

Are people just lazy? (In some cases, sure.) Are they clicking away in disappointed disgust because these clickbait headlines don’t live up to their promise? What about those who don’t click at all? Have social users become too savvy to fall for such come-ons?

That’s a good bet, according to author Jonah Berger:

Click bait is bad because it overpromises and underdelivers. The content doesn’t usually live up to the bluster and in the end we’re left disappointed. So while the article itself got a few extra clicks, it undermines trust in the person or site that generated that content, making readers less likely to return in the future. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Suspicion of clickbait means you may not get clicks even if your post is legit. It’s like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Your post may actually contain a wolf – but if no one ever clicks to find out, it doesn’t matter, does it? You’re ignored on principle.

Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?

What makes a great album title for The Cranberries doesn’t necessarily translate into a worthwhile content marketing strategy.

Besides, there are a lot of “everybodies” out there – with a lot of bad ideas. Take the notion of buying followers, as an example of a short-term solution that ultimately doesn’t help your engagement problem.

And no matter what you’re doing online, engagement is what you want. Getting people’s attention so they’ll read, buy, like, comment or share is crucial.

It’s why people spend so much time researching and optimizing everything from mobile landing pages to email subject lines, as Laura Noll puts it:

The perfect subjects are very much a balance of art and science — involving just enough creativity to entertain while very strategically moving subscribers on to the real deal — your message.

So how do you do that with your social headlines — and make your message, speaking to “the real deal,” shine?

Headline recipes full of secret sauce

There are several considerations for crafting headlines that are enticing to readers, but not suspiciously so:

Numbers don’t lie – That’s the underlying message of the numbered list post, which also tells readers exactly how much of what they want is up for grabs. “8 Headline Strategies Guaranteed to Work” makes you want to know what they are, doesn’t it? A study done by Moz puts “number” headlines at number one.

WIIFM – Actually every headline needs to answer “What’s in it for me?” but most appealing are headlines that address the reader directly: “The Headline Writing Tip You Need Most.” Yeah! I really need that!

Don’t be too mysterious – Headlines need to clearly indicate what’s in store for the reader when they click. Certainly you don’t want to give everything away in your headline, but you also don’t want to be so clever or vague that it’s unclear what the piece is about.

Speak their language – Content aimed at a specific audience needs a headline just as targeted. Pieces coming from Forbes or Inc. will have drastically different headlines than those coming from Buzzfeed or Bustle. Know who you’re talking to and proceed accordingly.

Most importantly, whatever your headline, be sure the content inside lives up to what’s promised. Once you have readers, you want to keep them — all the way through the call-to-action and beyond.

When your headlines make sense, they’ll ignite reader curiosity. Keep the fire burning and they’ll take whatever next steps you ask them to — and share it all with a friend (or 500).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

@MaryCLong Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.