Jan 18, 2019

300 people just scrolled past your blog post. Let me tell you why

And what you can do to make your own headlines unmissable

mtimofiiv
Mike Timofiiv

Clickbait. You know what it is – the ol’ bait-and-switch. You click a headline, and then are horribly let down in the end by what you just wasted 3 minutes of your life on. You clicked it out of curiousity, or maybe you just wanted to see one weird trick to be able to make $8000 a month from home by doing absolutely nothing.

Most people would agree clickbait is bad and people who make it should feel bad. But, as a blogger, you can’t deny the power of clickbait to draw people in. There are things that a legit blogger can learn from clickbait to replicate some of its success (perhaps not the scorn it causes though 😇).

So, without further ado, let’s get to what we can learn from clickbait as bloggers!

1. Appealing to the “lizard brain”

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin coined the term “lizard brain” to refer to the reactionary, instinctual, unthinking part of our brain, that sadly for us makes a lot of decisions:

The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.

The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe.

The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.

The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.

A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.

The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.

When you watch an ad for tasty food and you’re hungry, you feel a bit more urgency to eat. It is this irrational lizard brain which clickbait is designed to appeal to. Consider this list of questions by Direct marketing consultant Clayton Makepeace you should ask yourself when you proofread read your headline:

  1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading?
  2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable?
  3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand?
  4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head?
  5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction?
  6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy?

Now consider this ad:

Dermatologists HATE her!

This clickbait is a genuine ad and this whole style is now a meme because of how absurd it is. A disclaimer: please don’t actually fall for it, it’s a well-known scam.

But let’s examine how it fares in the 6 questions above.

  1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading? Absolutely, the secret to regaining your youth!
  2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable? By speaking of a single person in 3rd person perspective (referring to her as “she”/”her”), the ad is more powerful, when combined with the small bits of detail about her life. She’s a mom and she’s 51. As a single person who discovered it and being that she is very much a leywoman, this ad also appeals to the reader’s love of the underdog.
  3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand? It absolutely triggers a strong, actionable emotion – vanity.
  4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head? By appealing to a person’s sense of vanity and highly personalising the subject, this ad goes straight to the lizard brain. Besides, there’s nothing to lose by reading a website for a couple minutes, right?
  5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction? It is immediately implied that the solution to aging is only worth $5, money people are more than willing to spend!
  6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy? “Dermatologists hate her”. By learning this new lifehack, you’re sticking it to complacent and greedy dermatologists who want to keep you paying for expensive treatments that don’t really work.

That’s what made this ad so effective. It hits on all 6 points beautifully and appeals to vanity along with sticking it to the dermatological establishment. Whoever created these is a brilliant marketer.

2. Humanise the message

Cow being led to slaughter clickbait

Do you feel that? You felt something, didn’t you? This post could trigger even the most hard-hearted meat eaters. But what you probably feel is not just simple sadness – maybe it’s also a sense of guilt because you also enjoy a steak from time to time. Also there might be some discontent in you already about certain parts of the agriculture industry – perhaps you don’t like how big corporates are pushing out little farmers or how industrial scale farming has impacted the food.

The immediate emotional response you have for Emma instantly makes you care for the cow, but not just the cow. It makes you care about yourself, and reflect on your complex feelings on the subject.

SPOILER: Emma was sent to an animal sanctuary, so no, she was not slaughtered.

This video was used many times, often to, for example, promote being vegan. It is an incredibly powerful opener to promoting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

3. Play on a sense of curiousity

Ultimately a big driving factor in clickbait’s success is its ability to pique your curiousity so you have to know.

The Milky Way is disappearing

WHAT??? The galaxy we reside in is disappearing?

SPOILER: light pollution is causing the stars to be harder to see at night.

This headline works because astronomy and astro-physics are not fields most readers are experts in, and while the claim seems to be an outrageous one, there’s still that small part of you that maybe thinks it’s possible since you can’t know for sure. So you want to know. You even accept willingly that perhaps there’s some bait here, but still want to know how it’s possible for billions of stars to suddenly be disappearing.

It’s the age-old addage “why buy a cow when you can get milk for free?” If the headline gave you the answer up-front such as “Light pollution is making the Milky Way disappear”, you are likely not going to click. You gave away too much up front and left nothing to discover or interest your prospective reader.

4. The common patterns in the headlines

Business coach Michael Masterson identifies four “U”s of writing a headline that gets noticed. A good headline should be most of the following:

  • Urgent
  • Unique
  • Useful
  • Ultra-specific

This is why you commonly tend to see similar clickbait headlines again and again. The difinitive guide to…’s and 10 ways you can…’s (somewhat similar perhaps to the title of this article 🤔) are built from the ground up using this simple framework.

So how does it work?

A headline should make its USEFULNESS clear. There should be a reward for clicking, and by reading your content the reader could be smarter, faster, stronger, etc. When your headline has a clear benefit to the reader, they will want to click.

A headline should have a sense of URGENCY by encouraging the reader to act sooner rather than later. You could do this by calling out an actual timeframe that’s relevant to the subject, or even by highlighting an actual want or need a person might have, offering relief.

A headline should convey the UNIQUENESS of your content, be it in its tone, perspective or fact. The reader should get the idea that your blog post is the best source of the information.

A headline should be ULTRA-SPECIFIC. If your ultimate goal is to attract readers that are cyclists, include terms, common problems or steps that are relevant to them. If your blog post is about how to go faster on a bike, simply saying “go faster” might not be enough – “go faster by optimising gear shifting” speaks directly to the cyclist reader.

5. Avoid clickbait regret in your readers

Clickbait by definition is misleading (think bait). So its not the viral nature of clickbait’s attention grabbing tactics that are the problem, but actually the content that follows it after you click. In a lesson on what NOT to do, it’s to avoid the lies.

Vox Acting Managing Editor Nilay Patel said in an interview with The Poynter Institute’s Andrew Beaujon:

Most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met – the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines.

So to avoid that sense of letdown, it’s important that the catchy headline does not deviate from the content you’re teasing.

Well, that’s a wrap…

I hope you learned something, because I certainly did researching for this post! Crafting the perfect headline is not a last-minute affair. Brian Clark of Copyblogger suggests you spend as much as 50% of your time on your headline! 🤭

And remember, clickbait is despised because it works. Learn from it!

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