Ah, click bait. It’s always there for you: waiting above, below and beside whatever internet story you’re trying to read. Those “articles” that literally beg you to open them by offering the promise of stories, secrets or tips that will be so shocking or mind-blowing that they will leave you in tears or change your life.
In the past few years, certain sites have turned click bait headline writing into an art form (we’re looking at you, BuzzFeed and Upworthy). The style has become so ubiquitous that it’s earning the most time-honored form of flattery: parody. If you haven’t been hooked by The Onion’s new click bait parody site, Clickhole, you soon will be. And Mike Lacher’s ingenious Upworthy Generator is so adept at creating fake articles with click bait-style headlines you will have trouble distinguishing them from the real ones.
The reason this style of headline writing is so prevalent is that it works. While content may be king, no one will ever see it without the initial click. And writing techniques that may have worked for a headline on a print newspaper page are not necessarily the same ones that work when you need readers to take an action to read the story.
So in full understanding of the irony involved, here are five click bait techniques that PR pros can use to improve their headlines.
1. Nothing is more important than the headline. Everyone learns this in school, but it’s amazing how easy it is to spend hours writing something and then throw up a lazy headline in 30 seconds. Whether it’s the email subject line for a media pitch or a corporate blog post, if it doesn’t have a good headline, no one is reading the rest of it.
2. People love numbers and lists. All magazine editors know this well (if you’re in a long line at the grocery store, count the number of numbers you see on a magazine cover). Numbers and lists make content more easily digestible, and when there is so much competition for eyeballs, you need every advantage you can get. It’s the reason why this: “21 Life-Changing Lessons From The Dalai Lama’s Twitter Account,” is much more enticing than this: “The Wisdom of the Dalai Lama.”
3. Relate the message to your audience. If you look at click bait headlines, they inevitably tell you how the story will make you feel or how it made the author feel. This recent BuzzFeed story, “13 Thoughts Everyone Has On A Blind Date,” makes readers feel included in a group. It hits BuzzFeed’s young audience in the perfect spot. In the same way, PR pros should always look for ways to make our content relatable to a reporter’s beat or audience. The less generic, the better.
4. Everything is in second person. Again, to make content as relatable as possible, click bait headlines love to address you directly, just like this blog post. News writing over the last decade has gotten progressively more casual, and in many cases, whether it’s a blog post or a byline, it is more preferable to talk to “you” in second person than to stubbornly stick to stuffy third person.
5. Pique their curiosity. Probably the most important aspect of click bait is the ability to leave out a crucial piece of information and to pique your interest. Phrases like, “what happened next,” appear all the time because if you can get everything you need from the headline, there’s no reason to give it a click. This may be the biggest difference from old-school journalism headlines, where the inverted pyramid emphasized delivering all the info you could as quickly as possible. For PR pros, a classic news headline is often still the way to go, especially on things like press releases. Still, it’s important to consider trying something different and tickling your audience’s curiosity. If you can make it work and something goes viral, the results may indeed blow your mind.
Photo Credit: Derek Comach