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Why Clickbait Headlines Do You More Harm Than Good

The idea of a clickbait headline can be seen throughout most types of media—magazines, the evening news, radio, and the internet. Their goal: to make you feel like you’ll die if you don’t hear more. They insist that this will surprise you and you’ll never believe what happened after this happened. Magazines will have these types of misleading headlines all over the cover to get you to pick it up and read through it. The radio and news channels use them to keep you watching/listening  after the next commercial break and to the end of the program. On the internet, clickbait headlines are used just to get high traffic. The problem with these headlines is that they are manipulative, don’t deliver the message they promise, and end up causing the article to rank poorly. But your focus shouldn’t be on getting high traffic but rather on getting quality traffic. 

Why Clickbait Headlines Get the Wrong Kind of Traffic 

Clickbait headlines draw on 5 psychological emotions to entice people to read the article: 

  • Fear (of missing out on something others know)
  • Guilt (from something you should or shouldn’t be doing)
  • Love (something you love or makes you feel good)
  • Pride (things “everyone” ought to know)
  • Greed (wanting to save money or get something without a cost)

While these emotions can be played on honestly in a headline, clickbait headlines are manipulative about it. They hide information and purposefully overplay the article. The hidden information makes people click on the article because they are curious; and the overplayed subject makes people click off quickly because they realize the article isn’t as interesting as the headline implied. 

Clickbait headlines are such a frustration that people have gathered on social media to combat the issue with their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts dedicated to “Clickbait Spoilers.” Basically, they click on all the clickbait headlines on popular sites (like Upworthy, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, etc.) and find that one answer the headline makes you “need” to know, so you can save yourself the energy and not click on them.

A few examples of clickbait headline spoilers:

example 1:

answer: beef, though not entirely; just offering other options as well

example 2:

answer: willing

example 3:

answer: Marvin 

Clickbait headlines are bringing in the wrong kind of traffic because the people who click on the article aren’t there to stay. They probably won’t even ever come back. They just wanted to know the answer to the headline and learned their lesson to resist clicking on them in the future. 

Clickbait Headlines Will Get You Nowhere 

Teasing people’s minds isn’t the way to get attention. You’ll be doing yourself more harm than good, even if you can get hundreds of views a day with your misleading headline. Your article will end up having high bounce rates, going unread, and blocked by the places that matter like Facebook and Google. 

Have High Bounce Rates 

Clickbait articles have the highest bounce rate out there. They get all the clicks but no attention, because they usually either don’t deliver the content that the headline implies or don’t satisfy the hype it created. 

Are Shared But Not Read

The types of articles with these manipulative headlines are written with the intent to be shared and read by everyone. But just because someone shares something doesn’t mean they will read it. They may just like the image that goes with it or think their friends might be interested. You may get some clicks, but they’ll leave just as quickly as they came. And if you’re hoping to be found in search engines, you can forget it. 

Don’t Fool Facebook or Google

Facebook has updated its policies again to keep clickbait headlines out of people’s newsfeed. Why? Because they know people don’t like them and want to keep them happy with their experience on Facebook. According to Facebook staff members, an article will be blocked “if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is” and “if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.” Any links that don’t hold a user’s attention and have a high bounce rate will be penalized. The same goes for Google who pays attention to the amount of time people spend looking at content online. It will notice if people seem to love you as well as if they don’t and will rank you according to how useful it thinks you are. 

Of course, keep in mind that it’s not clickbait if the article delivers.

The Right Way to Get Attention

An article’s headline is crucial to how well it performs. An amazing article can end up going unnoticed simply because the headline wasn’t enticing enough to bring readers in. You can still have some mystery in your headline as the clickbait ones do, but you have to make sure you meet the same expectations as your headline hints. 

Create an Honest Headline

The best way to draw people in honestly without manipulating them is to create a headline that is interesting enough to make someone want to read the article as well as share it. To get the best results, the key is to focus on your audience first, then your content, and your title last. Consider why your audience should care about reading what you have to say and focus on the benefits. What might their goals be in reading about your article’s subject? It’s possible to leave out the answer like the clickbait headlines do and still tell them what they will get out of reading your article. 

The most preferred headline types include:

  • numbers (4 reasons why…)
  • 2nd person address (How you can benefit from…)
  • a “how to…”
  • a question

With an honest headline idea and type in place, you can now perfect your article’s title by optimizing it for search engines, combining all your ideas, and testing it out amongst your mailing list.  

Optimize Your Headline for Search Engines

Implementing keywords doesn’t apply for just your article. It applies to your title as well. You can try using a tool to research your keywords such as Google’s Keyword Planner and discover the most searched term that will make your article more likely to be found. Once you have your keyword, come up with a clever title with your headline type and try to keep your keyword toward the beginning. And remember to keep your audience’s benefits in mind.

Don’t Erase Your Options

When you start coming up with headline ideas, don’t erase them. Usually, the best headlines are a combination of multiple ideas, so don’t be afraid to leave a few bad ideas on the board. Take the good aspects of each one and combine them to create a couple top headlines and let them battle each other out. 

Test Your Headline Via Your Newsletter

The easiest way to determine which of your headline ideas is better is to let your audience decide. Test them out with an A/B of your email list—just a small percentage of all your people. Choose to send one title to maybe 10% of your audience and the other title to another 10%. Then send out the headline that gets the most clicks to the remainder of your mailing list.

If your only goal is to get ad money from a bunch of clicks, clickbait headlines are your way to go. But if you want to have an article get the right kind of attention from both search engines and your audience, you’ll want to write an honest article that doesn’t mislead from the message. So don’t give into the draw for more clicks by baiting people to read your articles. Instead, tell them how they can benefit from reading your article, use your keywords, and test your headline until you find which one works best to get you the most quality clicks. 



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