Should you be using a click bait headline or just a good one?


In light of the recent news about a ‘void’ being discovered inside the Giza pyramid, we’ve just got out of an article that said: “New theory proves that aliens built the pyramids”. We delved right into the rabbit hole of ‘theories’ that fed our imagination about the extraterrestrial and almost convinced us that this could be possible.

Would you call the headline a ‘Click bait’?

This one border on a thin line. As marketers (and reasonably sane human beings) we know that the alien theory may not be the best representation of facts about the discovery. But we click to read it anyway. In some ways, the article delivered compelling theories on why the pyramids couldn’t be built by humans. So the headline did deliver on its promise. So won’t then call it a click bait.


What is a click-bait headline?

A clickbait headline is an interesting one promising to deliver content to the reader, which it finally doesn’t. It misleads the user into believing what it can offer and leaves the reader dissatisfied.

Persuasive headlines are often viewed as click bait. But the truth is that, if your content delivers what it promises then what you have is a damn good headline and not a click bait.


The science behind crafting good headlines

When it comes to crafting outstanding headlines, you can’t even begin the conversation without mentioning BuzzFeed. You have to agree that they have absolutely irresistible headlines that make you want to click and read whether it is a story in your Facebook feed or search result. So what makes their headlines so good?

TrackMaven conducted an in-depth study in 2014 on what makes Buzzfeed headlines one of the major sources of distraction. Here’s what they found


1. A ‘question’ headline





Out of the 1.2 million blog posts we analyzed for the report, 94.89% of blog post titles did not include a question mark, but the 5.01% that did yielded 46.30% of social shares for the data set.
The other part that came to light about these question headlines is that they were directly addressing the reader.

“Which mythical creature are you?”

“Which car should you drive?”

“Who should you marry?”

“Design a bedroom and we’ll tell you how basic you really are”

The inevitable ‘you’ factor in the headlines coupled with the question is a big factor in getting ‘you’ crazy until you find the answer.


2. Listicles





There is a way Buzzfeed writes its listicle headlines and it works so well in pumping up our curiosity. Here’s the general format

Headline = “number + adjective + noun + descriptive clause

For example: “28 shocking pictures that prove The Illuminati is all around us”

“33 amazingly useful DIY hacks that you never knew existed”

Buzzfeed took out the top 5 and top 10 and introduced odd numbers like 26, 33. 41 and more to satisfy our craving to keep scrolling and keep reading. Besides the taxonomy in the list makes it easier for us to compartmentalize the big read into small chunks.


3. Creating emotionally endearing headlines




When it is not listicles or questions, Buzzfeed headlines work hard to create an emotional connect.

“This Kid’s Pure AF Apology To Her Best Friend Is What You Need When The World Is Garbage”

“This dad has the most adorable reaction to discovering he is going to be a grandpa”

You see, it isn’t just an apology, its pure AF. And you need it when ‘the world is garbage’. It isn’t just dad or just reaction but ‘the most adorable reaction’.

The connect pulls you in to see what the fuss is all about.

All of these headlines are super viral. Yet, none of these are click baits. Because in the end, the content manages to deliver what the headline promises. While its wholly tempting to write these headlines, here’s what to do if you want to stop it from being called a click bait.


How to avoid a click bait


a. Don’t use questionable sources



Sources form an important part of backing the ‘truth’ behind your content. If the source itself is questionable then people won’t be able to trust your content either. It doesn’t extend to just one part of your content or even to the article but to your entire brand. One mistake these days leads to an online reputation crisis. So pick out sources that you know are well-reputed and well known. If you don’t find a source with such credibility, be sure to mention in your article that you’ll need more sources to verify the fact of the matter.


b. Don’t use questionable statistics



Having a big and interesting number of your content spins the whole content around, so much so that you make the statistic a hero and your entire content the reason behind an action to be taken. Let’s take a stat that says”18% people who view your business online are likely to become your buying customers”

The statistic is interesting for any retailer, in fact, compelling enough to make the re-look on how they are ranking locally. But without mentioning the source, it can’t give credibility to the stat.


c. Don’t present fallacies



Presenting a fallacy means you misconstrue and present the data with a bias.  Consider a headline that reads “Huge spike in moral decline of the country”
The first question that comes to mind is how can you measure morality. By whose standard is good morality and bad morality defined?

With the basic premise itself being questionable, what can you do with such a statistic?

Let’s say the ‘huge spike’ mentioned in the headline is actually going from 20% to 22%. In a graph that plots 0-100%, this spike may not look too high. But if you plot the same from 20-25% the spike will look huge. This misrepresentation of facts amounts to click bait in a true sense.


d. Avoid the indirect lie



In other ways, you comfortably choose to omit an important bit of information that can change the perception of the story.

Some quick things that new marketers do fall in this category. Take customer testimonials for example. You make up some customer testimonials with sketchy references as to who it is from and put it on the site. They aren’t real customers or real testimonials. It isn’t telling the truth and it does constitute as lying.


e. Don’t go out of your way to create a lie



There is a pandemic of sorts on the internet when it comes to reviews about a product or service. From open bribes to trials to outright fake reviews, we’ve seen it all. Some people manage to get away with it. Others land in huge problems when customers call out to their lie on social platforms. In any case, this isn’t a reputation nightmare you should be dealing when you can spend the time planning your next campaign.


f. You do a mix of genuine and bias without clear distinction



Many listing websites are guilty of this one. If you search for local services like ‘Beauty Parlour in Bandra’ you’ll tend to see ‘sponsored’ results on top and actual listings down below. Clickbait is when it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between the sponsored and organic listing. This tricks users into clicking on to a sponsored listing which may have lesser good reviews than an organic listing

Is it unethical?

Debatable. The way the listings are shown is up to the company. You’ll see how much Google has experimented with this very factor to ensure that while customers know the difference, they are still tempted to click on the sponsored content.



It’s a big internet universe out there with millions of pieces of content being created every day. It is quite tempting to create something that with a little shady technique can drive eyeballs. But it’s best to avoid it as you never know when things will come to bite you back.

And oh, by the way, here’s the link in case you were planning to search

This dad has the most adorable reaction to discovering he is going to be a grandpa

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