Clickbait headlines: why they hurt your content marketing

You’re pretty sure your new content is a killer. When people read it they’ll be instantly won over and start buying in droves. Problem is how do you get people to your content in the first place? What pithy sentence can you use to capture people’s attention and bring them to your site?

Enter the clickbait headline.

You know the headline: it usually involves a number, a promise to improve your life in some way and, for bonus points, a celebrity. They encourage you to click the link because they speak to some primal part of us that’s curious to see the “6 ways Kim Kardashian uses this product”, how “You’ll boost your productivity with these 3 tips” or uncover the “4 secret productivity hacks that made Steve Jobs’ fortune.”

I’ve done it. I’ve created these headlines and they’ve worked quite well. I’ve had visitors and shares and likes galore and it’s encouraged me to do more.

The problem is clickbait often promises what it can’t deliver. It’ll speak to a certain type of casual browser who might click link after link without ever really engaging. It’s as if we’ve become hard-wired to expect casual entertainment rather than deeper insight and understanding.

Clickbait isn’t the problem: headline writing is

Writing a strong headline is hard work. It has to be compelling to draw the reader in and succinct enough to be read with little more than a scan. It makes a promise the article has to deliver on. It’s such a fine art there are professionals who dedicate their careers to it.

In the Content Marketing world the challenge is even more complex as not only do we have to think about our human reader but also the machines that read and index it too. Driven by countless A/B tests and the echo chamber of growth hacking case studies is it any wonder that we’ve settled on “5 ways to write a great clickbait headline”?

Write a strong headline for the article, clickbait for the feed

My take on this is fairly simple: save the clickbait for social media. By all means use “Content Marketer says these 3 hacks will bring in readers” for your Twitter post or as the headline on your LinkedIn status share, but your article should have a strong, well written headline that stands the test of time.


At some point someone’s going to work out there’s something better than clickbait. When that happens you’re either going to have to rework your existing content or just accept it’ll look a bit tired. On top of that, carefully written headlines can support your brand by using the right tone of voice and focus on strategic brand values and SEO rather than short-term fashions.

If you’re careful with your site design you can still feed in the clickbait for social sharing. A little extra work on your meta tags and how your social share buttons work can still push the snappy “number/promise” tagline into a timeline and preserve the integrity of your branded headlines.

The bottom line?

Clickbait headlines do give a short-term lift to the number of people who click to view content. I question whether they’re effective at creating a strategic brand given their overuse and the constraints they place on SEO and readability. Better, in my view, to craft a strong headline that supports content and brand alike, then use technical solutions with social share buttons and meta tags to have the clickbait ready to draw readers in.

About Ross A Hall

I'm a freelance writer and editorial designer, working with small and growing businesses. For a chat about how I could help you drop me a line.

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Clickbait headlines: why they hurt your content marketing