I stumbled across a blog post with a title offering to explain how to create ‘irresistible clickbait headlines’ to make sure people click to your site.
I’ll let you in on a secret about me: I don’t like clickbait headlines.
I’ll let you in on another one: I’d rather you never visit this site if the only way I can get you to do so is to use clickbait headlines.
There. I said it.
The blogger whose article I stumbled across is well known and surely meant well. I’m certain he had the best of intentions. But I can’t agree with this use of words.
I’ve talked about clickbait before. A lot of people seem to misunderstand the concept.
I wrote a post a while back that tried to explain what clickbait is and isn’t with respect to posts on social media. In part, I said this:
- Writing a post that gives someone a valid reason to visit your website isn’t clickbait.
- Writing a post that fairly explains what a link is about and what it will provide a reader isn’t clickbait.
- Writing a post that entices people to click through for information you’ve promised that’s actually there isn’t clickbait.
That’s also true of headlines.
A headline that accurately represents what the story is about isn’t clickbait.
A headline that entices people to click a story without misrepresenting what they’ll get from it isn’t clickbait.
Anytime you, the reader, clicks a headline that leads you in one direction but you’re taken to an article that has nothing to do with that headline, you might have just seen clickbait.
I remember a headline sent in an email newsletter from a respected southeastern blogger. The headline was simple: “I quit.”
Very dramatic. Surprising.
Was she quitting her blog? Was this her last newsletter? What happened to make her feel this way?
The post under that headline wasn’t her last post. The newsletter that took me to that post wasn’t her final newsletter. (Although out of disgust, it was the final newsletter I saw as a subscriber.)
The article talked about some frustration she experienced. She talked about what it was and then talked about how she was going to do things differently. She wasn’t really “quitting” anything so much as “changing” what she was already doing.
She went out on a limb with scare tactics to get people to read her blog.
For this particular reader, it backfired. I no longer trust any of her headlines that don’t say specifically what she’s offering. I haven’t visited her site in a while.
And honestly, I can’t be the only reader who loses respect for a blogger who intentionally uses this kind of clickbait to get page views.
It’s cheap. It’s dishonest.
It doesn’t play for me.
Well-crafted, honest headlines aren’t clickbait.
Clickbait is when you lure someone in and fail to deliver.
Writing headlines or social posts that encourage people to click through isn’t, in and of itself, clickbait: it’s simply what every website owner does. We need the clicks, after all.
If a post that encourages you to click is too much for you, you should stay out of restaurants! Restaurants use a similar tactic: a menu. They entice you to — GASP!! — order something!
You should also stay out of grocery stores! They use sales to change what you might otherwise purchase.
As long as the food in that restaurant is pleasant or the products you buy in the grocery store are useful, they’ve done nothing wrong and you haven’t had a bad experience.
Maybe it’s just a battle of semantics.
But in this case, I’m not going to concede.
For me, if you use the term clickbait, you’re referring to a dishonest, unreasonable practice that unfairly misrepresents the content.
There are always enticing ways to write headlines that are honest with the audience. I don’t fault anyone for doing that.
But if I hear someone offering ways to write “clickbait headlines,” then I’ll respectfully pass.
It sounds sensationalistic. It makes me think there’s a push for dishonesty — or at least dishonest tactics just to get the click.
I don’t want to write that way.
And more importantly, I don’t want to treat you, my reader, that way.