02 Mar

What Is Clickbait And How To Avoid Writing Titles That Misinform Your Readers

Suspicious about clickbait in what she's reading in a headline.

It’s a given that every article you publish is intended to be read by a wide audience. By covering appealing material in an appealing way, you stand the greatest chance of attracting a large audience. But, as a writer, you have to be careful to not go too far in your attempts to convince readers your article is one they must-read. Some article trends can actually be damaging to your image and to the reputation of your writing. The biggest of which is clickbait.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of clickbait is “articles, photographs, etc. on the internet that are intended to attract attention and encourage people to click on links to particular websites”.  

More than that, clickbait has gained the notoriety as a hack to convince readers to click an article without actually providing any valuable information to that reader. Readers now condemn as clickbait any story they find unsatisfactory in headline, concept, subject, or execution. As people become more internet savvy, clickbait becomes easier to pin down. And readers do not like being tricked into reading something that doesn’t answer their question or is a waste of their time. It’s annoying, to say the least.  

Still not sure what qualifies as clickbait? You can usually tell from the headline alone.

Clickbait headlines tend to appeal to a person’s emotions, rather than just tell the reader what the article is about. The title alone for this cheeky Wired article relating to clickbait is the perfect example, “You’ll Be Outraged at How Easy It Was to Get You to Click on This Headline”.

The title alone is the key. There is always an emotional hook + consequence in the title.  Both parts are required for the plan to work. The emotional hook is to connect to the reader and plant the idea of negativity into their minds if/when the promise in the title comes true. The purpose of the consequence is to alert the reader to the pain they will surely suffer if they fail to click and read this article.

The first way to discover if what you’re reading is clickbait is by examining the feelings reading the headline seeds within you. Are you left feeling positively motivated to click? Or worried that you may miss out on something if you skip reading it? Nagging feelings of worry given to you by merely reading the headline are a good sign that something about the integrity of the article is amiss.

What are the real consequences of publishing clickbait?

For starters, clickbait is a big search engine optimization (SEO) no-no. If you want your article to show up in the earlier results pages of Google, then you need to publish material that’s actually relevant and helpful. In fact, Google actually cracks down on disinformation in attempts to, “improve the quality of [their] results for contexts and topics that [their] users expect [them] to handle with particular care.”

As readers become more familiar with your name attached to articles, you’ll garner an online reputation. Having a reputation for posting clickbait is not conducive to being taken seriously as a professional.

So, how do you avoid publishing clickbait?

Let’s start with headlines. There’s one major rule with headlines that seems obvious, but is often overlooked: the topic of the headline must be addressed within the article. If your headline is in the form of a question, then you must answer that question, or provide more context on it. If you do not make your article sufficiently applicable to your headline, then that is false advertisement. You can easily avoid this issue.  Just plan out or write the article before you make up your headline.

Another issue with clickbait is the forms in which those kinds of articles take. Now, certainly, not every listicle you see is clickbait. However, the lists that you publish under your name should have some kind of journalistic value. If you are just reposting someone else’s Tweets or Instagram photos in a certain order, then your article is really just an index of things other people have said. Your article wouldn’t be able to stand on its own two feet. 

What should you ask yourself before publishing?

Even if you don’t feel like your article would qualify as clickbait, there are a few questions you definitely want to ask yourself before posting.

  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. This is a helpful way to ensure that what you’re writing will actually get through to them.
  • Ask yourself if what you’re writing is helpful, or offers a new way of examining a specific topic.
  • Am I appropriately delivering on promises I made with the headline of this piece?
  • Would a casual reader feel they’ve wasted their time reading this article?
  • Is my voice prevalent in this piece?
  • Who is my target audience, and will this article meet their interests?

In the end, not everything you publish will be the most valuable perspective or a bit of information on a subject. However, everything you write should produce some information or insight that you feel is worth the time it takes to read.

Remember that it takes longer to write an article than it does to read. Conversational tone rules online and you have a unique opportunity to connect with your readers in a meaningful way. Don’t waste your own energy putting something out into the world that’s forgettable at best.

Not sure how to write a great article? Let us help you. Enroll in our 2021 writing classes. Contact our team for a calendar of upcoming sessions and fees.