Clickbait Headlines (sorry, I put all of my effort into the content)

12 August, 2014

Flickr Image Courtesy Darron BirgenheierOkay, don’t put All of your effort into the content.

Headines matter.

Title titans Upworthy, Buzzfeed and Viral Nova have built a business by developing an irresistible headline formula.

But an irresistible headline without the content to live up to the promise is cruel and unusual punishment for your audience.

So how do you balance your time between creating headlines that entice and content that delivers?

First, here’s the double edged sword of the clickbait headline

If you’re not up on the ‘Clickbait’ phenomenon, here’s a quick primer. With condescending puppets. The best kind.

If you’re interested by an engaging headline, you’ll click through for more. You might even share it on social media.

Google notices. More clicks means more cred.

For these publishing companies, advertisers notice too.

More clicks means more visitors.

More visitors means more advertising dollars.

More advertising dollars means more money to spend on tricking readers with naughty misleading headlines and researching the important weight fluctuations of celebrities you have to Google to remember who they are.

But the problem starts when your clickbait headline doesn’t blow your visitor’s mind as it might have promised. You start to disappoint your audience. You lose their trust. Then you lose their attention. Then you start losing your dollars.

So should you focus all of your content marketing efforts on creating the best headlines in the business? If it’s a long term audience you’re after, you should not.

Customer first, content second, headline third

Even the most click-enticing, anxiety-inducing, wonder-sparking headline will not help you build an audience without the content to back up the click through.

Your content needs to meet the expectation your headline sets.

If your headline promises magic, you can’t just deliver the old ‘I got your nose trick’. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. People are fed up. You’ll be shot down in a fury of clickbait rage. Your audience starts to take you the wrong way. This is what happens. Figuratively.

So don’t concentrate your content creation efforts on developing a headline.

If you cheat your readers, the internet police will come and shoot you.

Or The Onion will laugh at your expense. They are kind of like the internet police I guess. Here’s some of their best work about a man who adopted a dog. You’ll never believe what happened next:

The headlines are the easy bit.

You’re just explaining what your audience will get out of the hard bit.

We both know the paragraph is the thing that keeps us up at night in a fit of guilty procrastination.

The Sorry For Marketing blog explores the quandary of the paragraph in great detail. Chief apologiser for our humble profession, Jay Azcunco gets it. He tells us all exactly why the paragraph matters more than headlines, Google rankings and SEO:

“You’re up, whether you want to be or not. If you want that thing you create to be great, then it has to resonate in the minds and hearts of those who will consume your paragraphs. And you won’t ever meet those people, for the most part. But you still better create paragraphs that resonate with them.

Oh, and it better be good the next time too, and the next time, and then — well, okay, you can break for the weekend, but the time after that? Yep, it’s gotta be good. No pressure… Writing well is hard. But the hard is what gives us meaning.”

The best way to optimise your headlines for search engines? Write quality paragraphs. Make sure your visitors won’t leave disappointed after the unsuccessful promise of your headline.

If your audience loves your content, Google will notice.

If not, Google will notice.

Eventually you get caught out. Your customers will break up with you. Like this (work your way through the 15 second ad):

For those who didn’t have the time to watch, what happens when you don’t deliver on the expectations your headlines place on your content?

You make your audience weep with a frustration induced rage. You might get a few second chances. Eventually the clicks stop happening. People find a way to get around it (if you haven’t heard of clickbait spoilers, this Digiday article will save you so many hours of disappointment). Or they just stop trusting you and never come back.

Image Courtesy Digiday

It’s not just your audience who is onto it. ‘Clickbait’ has awoken the Google giant and incited its wrath.

James Richter, Editor at Enable Vue partners echoes the suspected belief that Google’s algorithm tracks the amount of times that visitors return to the results page (SERP) after clicking on your link:

“No one knows the inner workings of Google’s secret sauce for sure, but there is strong evidence to suggest that Google factors the SERP return rate of pages into its PageRank algorithm. So when people click on your link and quickly return to the SERP to find a better site, your SEO will suffer.” 

Google is getting smarter and smarter with this type of stuff. User experience signals are high on the Google Panda’s priority list.

Neil Patel outlines some of these new tracking metrics in this Quicksprout video transcript. It’s a little tough going. The most important point to highlight is the fact that Google takes your bounce rate into account when allocating your content a ranking for any give term. If a large number of visitors leave your site quickly after clicking through from a search engine results page, Google starts to think that your content is not so useful.

Your lesson – lots of traffic from a clickbait headline isn’t fooling Google any more.

If your content doesn’t delight your audience and deliver on your expectations, the very reader you’ve enticed will prompt Google to penalise you.

Sure, you can learn something from the headline masterminds. This new found online art form isn’t all concerned frowns from boring old wowsers like me.

Digiwonk does a nice job of stripping away the guff to decipher the winning formula. They contend there are 6 key psychological reasons that clickbait headlines play on to achieve success:

  1. Fear of missing out (Something you don’t know that others do)
  2. Guilt (Something you should or shouldn’t be doing)
  3. Love (Something You Love or Makes You Feel Good)
  4. Pride (Questioning Pride, or Things You Ought to Know)
  5. Greed (Promise of Saving Money or Getting Something for Nothing)
  6. Belonging (The Feeling That We’re Not Alone in the World)

Use the techniques that made these publishers so many clicks. Just make sure you use them responsibly. Appeal to one of these 6 psychological traits that drive your audience’s interest. Show them how your content will help them. Just make sure your content delivers.

Hold your content hostage to your headline…

It’s simple really.

If you’re creating content to build a sustainable community of loyal customers, here’s your priority list:

#1 – work out what your customers are interested in

#2 – put your time and energy into creating the best possible content

#3 – give your love to the paragraph

#4 – create a headline that shows your audience why they should care

#5 – triple-check that your content over-delivers on your headline’s promise

#6 – optimise your content and your headline for search engine results

Sure, there’s a whole lot more that slides in before and after these steps.

Just remember: Customer first, content second, headline third.

By James Dillon
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