Don’t make this mistake when writing titles and headlines

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Hey Writing Etc. subscriber,

You’ve probably seen these headlines, perhaps in your Facebook Newsfeed.

“The truth behind mens’ body wash and womens’ body wash will make you feel dirty.”

“This family has been basing their life on 5 words since 1916.”

And how about this one?

If you’ve never checked your Facebook privacy settings, this couple might persuade you to.”

Sounds interesting, eh?

These headlines so popular that they’ve been given a name: clickbait. In fact, even the satire website, The Onion, has created a sister site devoted to these little gems called, “ClickHole.”

Why the popularity of clickbait? Well, they evidently draw in readers like bees to nectar. They’re examples of great marketing… or not.

Let’s deconstruct a bit, eh?

First, in the strictest definition of marketing, these headlines do, indeed, achieve their proposed goal: They get people to click the link, evidently lots of people. The sites that present this… er… “information” want traffic. And they definitely get traffic.

However, and this is my big beef, most business owners don’t necessarily want hordes of untargeted people tromping through their stores/websites. And I’m sure that you don’t want unfocused visitors heading to your web space, either.

From my experience, what most of business people, and freelancers are definitely business-owners, want not a transient readership, they tend to want faithful readers, customers who spend more than two seconds perusing pages the website owners have (possibly) spend a long time developing.

But let’s go a bit deeper. Suppose you wrote one of these headlines in the hopes of luring people to your website. Your potential reader sees your headline, she clicks, she visits, then… she’s disappointed. Perhaps she’s a mite ticked off.

After viewing your grossly exaggerated “promise,” she’s left thinking, “Seriously? That’s it? Gah. I’ve been duped… again.”

No. You don’t want anyone leaving your web space with a sour taste in their mouth. You also don’t want them viewing subsequent messages from you with suspicion.

If you cannot fulfill the promise of your headline, don’t make that promise.

I’d rather attract people to my client’s websites using real promises, true benefits supported by valuable content. I want my visitors to be delighted with what they find. I want them to read. I want them to find nuggets of great information.

Rather than over hype your headline, you’re better off overdelivering on the content after your headline. Make your writing packed with immediately useful information.

If someone left my site in disgust due to a “clickbait” headline, that would be my fault for luring them there under false pretenses. If potential visitors avoided my website because I garnered a reputation for writing hype, I have no one to blame but myself.

Effective PR involves more than strong copywriting. It’s all about building a readership. It’s about developing trust. It’s about providing a great customer/reader experience.

I’d advise against using this “clickbait” technique when it comes to titling articles, books, headlines, first paragraphs… anything you write. And if you decide to give it a whirl, I strongly advise you proceed with extreme caution and make sure your content over delivers on the promises generated in that headline.

Beth 🙂

P.S.  Does marketing your writing frustrate you? Check this out: “Advice to Freelance Writers: Insider Secrets to Effective Shoestring Marketing, Managing a Winning Mindset, and Thriving in Any Economy, Volumes 1 – 3.” Get the scoop here

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