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| 2 minutes read

How to write a killer headline without using clickbait

What is clickbait?

Even if you don’t recognize the term, you have almost certainly encountered it. Here are some examples of clickbait headlines:

  • 11 Twitter Apps That Could Change the World
  • 6 conspiracy theories that might actually be true
  • Why content marketing should scare you more than sharks
  • You’ll NEVER believe which celebrities own a pet polar bear

Clickbaits tend to use provocative language to make the reader curious enough to click through (‘you’ll never believe what happened next…’). More often than not, they are misleading, over-sensationalizing a small aspect of the piece: the gap between the reader’s expectation and the content is large indeed.

Sounds great!

Except, it’s not really. As Paul Boag writes in this article, while it can initially drive traffic to your site, these will quickly drop once people catch on to what you’re doing: ‘Like the boy who cried wolf, my readers stopped believing my headlines over time’.

Furthermore, Facebook has been cracking down on these Upworthy-style posts, which isn’t good news for your Facebook business page if you’ve been using them.

So, what can I do?

There’s no point tricking your audience into clicking a link, if they’re not going to share it. So it’s to your advantage to be descriptive and precise. Give the reader a glimpse of the content through your title.

Some examples of non-linkbait headlines could be:

If you have statistics in your article, flaunt them in the title!

Numbers in general do well in headlines, there’s a reason why Buzzfeed is thriving. Furthermore odd number lists perform better than even ones by 20%.

Questions and how-to’s are also trusted techniques for headlines. Asking questions is a particularly good way of intriguing a reader without seeming overly spammy.

How to work out what works for your audience

In the end, the title must have a connection to the content, and a similarity of voice. Both of these must be appropriate for your target audience, so research what title-techniques those in your field are employing.

Test out multiple versions of the same title when sharing the article on twitter to see what your audience responds to the most. For instance:

  • 11 ways to write a killer headline
  • How to write a killer headline
  • Is it possible to write a strong headline without clickbait?

Getting the title of your piece right is important. It’s no use writing a masterpiece of insightfulness if no one is going to read it!

The first thing I can confirm is that on my site at least, linkbait headlines did cause a bump in traffic. Posts were shared more, and more people clicked through to view my posts. In short, linkbait worked as advertised, at least initially. Like the boy who cried wolf, my readers stopped believing my headlines over time. However, the more I used linkbait titles the less impact they had. Like the boy who cried wolf, my readers stopped believing my headlines over time. They grew numb to the sensationalist titles.


clickbait, titles, content strategy