Here’s a question for you: what’s the difference between clickbait and a good call to action? After all, the entire point of a clickbait headline is to get you to click the title; the entire point of a CTA is to get you to click the button to convert. The only difference is that a CTA needs to be better researched and backed up with more evidence, because a conversion is worth more – and is consequently harder to get – than a title click.
The first thing to learn about clickbait is the reason it’s so effective. Those reasons, in fact, are based firmly in psychology. According to studies that have been performed, it all comes back to curiosity and deprivation.
See, every clickbait title has something in common; the sentence, in and of itself, tells you nothing about the content of the article. Take these two potential titles, for example:
They both would potentially link to the same post about the Boost posts button on Facebook. They both would take the bias of negativity towards the feature. The difference is, the first one tells you that it’s already negative, and tells you that the post is going to be full of evidence. The second title doesn’t give you that; it makes you wonder what happens. That’s the curiosity.
The deprivation comes from if you don’t click the headline. You have the question planted in your head, and in order to find the answer, you have to either do research yourself or click the title to view the post. The deprivation gnaws at you until you give in and click the post, or forget about the topic entirely.
Clickbait, of course, operates by volume, not by widespread appeal. Only one in a thousand people might be compelled to click that title, but the site it’s posted on has 300 more titles just like it, to appeal to every possible visitor.
2. Number Two is My Favorite
So, clickbait works. It’s annoying, but effective; otherwise, Buzzfeed wouldn’t pull in tens of millions of visitors every single day. On the other hand, it’s considered dishonest and detrimental to a positive browsing experience, which is why Facebook has begun to ban it.
So, if you’re going to use a clickbait-style headline, you need to put more thought into it. If you’re using excessive hyperbole, if you’re straight up lying to your users, your post isn’t going to work. This comes from the dissonance between the title and the post. Users expect something compelling, deep and interesting from the title. They get a few pithy remarks and a dozen animated gifs. That’s not good content marketing.
To use clickbait-like titles effectively, you need to live up to the expectations they serve.
No, big companies don’t hate him. Big companies have probably never heard of him.
So, the content of the article needs to live up to the title, which means the title can’t be insane or misleading. Immediately, you’ve eliminated a large part of the possible clickbait titles.
What this title tells us is that the specialist wins. The underdog wins. The idea is that the man in question has something more effective and cheaper than whatever the big companies provide, or evidence that knocks them down a peg. In marketing terms, it’s like being the case study in a field full of anecdotes; something of substance, something deep, something with evidence and support.
Upworthy has a policy for new contributors; each time you submit a post, you need to submit 25 headlines along with it. That’s right; a total of 25. 24 of those, obviously, are discarded. The process towards choosing that one brilliant title has been whittled down to a science.
The advice here is that you need to test. Test everything. One good way you as a marketer can test headlines is through your email list. Segment your mailing list into roughly equal groups and send out a message to all of them. Everything in the message is identical, except the headline of the post. The actual post headline can, later, be edited to match whichever title had the top clickthrough rates.
You can test everything from the full title to the exact numbers of tips you give in your posts. Write 14 tips and find that 12 has a higher conversion rate? Simple; take two, move them to the end and make them “bonus tips.”
This is marketing, this is SEO; everything is carefully crafted to appeal to the right people in the right ways. You can’t forget the basics of SEO in your search for appealing clickbait, either. You need to remember the core that is the keywords and keyword research done beforehand.
Clickbait titles are shallow. They hook you in for a few seconds, give you the equivalent of a piece of candy in terms of content, and send you on your way. Meanwhile, the entire website is devoted to getting you to share that content, that candy, with other people you know. The site is stacked with social sharing and commenting tools.
One thing many people fail to consider is the subtitle, or dek, of a post. In SEO terms, this often becomes the meta description. People are used to thinking of it as a separate entity entirely, something to be made unique from the title. What you should consider doing, and what clickbait tends to do, is make that description continue on where the title leaves off.
You have your title, a short, succinct way of pulling in interest. Then, directly below it in Google’s results, Facebook’s preview and every other non-direct link source, you have your description. Customize it to continue the narrative put forth in the title, and people will want to naturally carry on with the article to find out the rest. It brings you that curiosity and deprivation so necessary to clickbait, but doesn’t try to pack it into one six-word title.
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