As a content marketer you want people to click on your headlines.

So they’ll read your posts.

And buy your stuff.

I get it. Wouldn’t want it any other way.

That’s what I, you, and your boss expect.

But resorting to clickbait to get those clicks? Not an option.

Why? I’ll explain shortly, but first…

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What are clickbait headlines?

Clickbait headlines consist of words and symbols to provoke curiosity. In whatever way it takes for those headlines to stand out in any feed. So that readers will click your headlines, versus the other competition’s.

Exclamation marks to excite. Strong words to incite. Anything is (un)fair game when it comes to baiting the reader to click.

Here’s a few:


Here’s 33 more.

Scan some. Click on some. But don’t resort to using them.

Why avoid clickbait headlines?

Here’s the three main reasons I can think of.

Your bounce rates will increase

“Simply unbelievable”, “you’ll be blown away”, “the most amazing story ever.” Rarely do such sensational phrases deliver on those promises.

When you write to shock, you fall short of meeting the reader’s expectations. Then they’ll leave your page and bounce back to Google search results—increasing your bounce rate.

Your rankings will decrease

When people return to their search results, search engines count that first click as a mismatch between searching and finding. In other words, when your bounce rate increases, your search rankings decrease.

And then less people overall will visit your content.

Facebook posted phrases commonly used for clickbait headlines. If you use those phrases, you’ll rank lower in their news feed too.

You’ll lose trust

You’re working hard to build credibility for your brand. Don’t blow it now by trying to lure readers with the fantastical and sensational.

Clickbait might work in the short run, but certainly not for long.

For sure, derive a catchy title—so long as your content delivers on what the headline implies.

5 ways to write headlines without resorting to clickbait

There are dozens (and dozens) of approaches to writing captivating headlines. But I don’t want to crowd your brain. This piece focuses on a precious few, ones I often use myself.

1. State the benefits

Stating the benefits in a headline or caption is a) considerate and b) useful.

Considerate, because you are thinking and writing from the reader’s perspective. Too many brands write from their perspective. “We”, “we”, “we”, “we”.

As I’ve said before in several posts, people care more about themselves than about you.

Useful, because you’re setting an expectation for what’s to come in the post or article. This helps readers decide if they want to click and read on. And, when you write it right, it will cause the reader to want more.

A few examples:

  • 5 easy ways to move your readers to ‘yes’
  • How to clearly explain your business when writing your new home page
  • Identify the top 6 technologies to run and grow your freelance business

Stating benefits helps readers answer the internal question: “Why should I read this?”

2. Be clear over clever

While catchy is cool, and clever is too, nothing beats clarity.

When you’re clear with your headline (or any copy), you make it easy for the reader. Anything else forces the reader to do brain translation—which requires brain calories.

Don’t make the reader do the heavy lifting to figure out what you really mean. They won’t. They’ll just stop and leave, instead of click and read.

And please… do not use tired, overused, vague, phrases. Like these…

Attempting to be clever

  • “Harness the power of digital innovation”
  • “Disrupt your industry”
  • “Transform your business”

Rewritten to be clear

  • “Apply the right technology to solve your most important business problems”
  • “Try new ways of doing things”
  • Who knows what this means? Too many ways to interpret this.

I repeat. Do not use jargon phrases that eyeballs glaze at and gloss over.

I’ve heard it before. “Our audience understands what this means.” Bull-pucky. Write any of these terms on a post it note, give it to a room of so-called like-minded people, then ask them to write down their interpretations. You’ll get varying responses.

If you want your readers to click your headlines, state the obvious. Write several versions, fine. Maybe you can rewrite one of them to be clear and clever. But don’t exclude clear.

I mean it.

Here’s more tips for writing clearly on social media.

3. Ask a question

Just seeing a question mark in a headline nudges the reader to lean in with interest. It’s a powerful way to start a conversation, with your content continuing the conversation.

Questions, especially weird ones, grab the reader’s attention—and leaves them wanting more.

The best questions show empathy for your readers.

Here’s one from the late, great copywriter, Bill Jayme.

  • “Do you close the bathroom door even when you’re the only one home?”

Did your brain kick into gear to answer that question? Wondering if your answer is normal compared to others? Nice, huh?

A few more examples:

  • “Do you go to the movies alone?”
  • “Do you feel awkward talking on the phone while sitting on the pot?”
  • “Do you know how to write a one-liner to clearly explain your business”?

Like with all these approaches, back up your headline with clear, honest, and related content.

Here’s some tips for writing great captions on Instagram, that will work here, too.

4. Include numbers

This may seem obvious, but it’s just not possible to leave out for writing effective headlines. People are attracted to numbers. Period. They’re easy for the brain to process. It lets the reader know the content will probably be easy on their brains, too.

Numbers work well because humans like predictability and dislike uncertainty.

Which would you rather have happen?

Walk into a waiting room at the doctor’s office… and just wait?

Or walk in, and be told the doctor will see you in about 15 minutes?

Any predictability allows your brain to relax, by having some (vs none) expectations. Same for your headlines.

Here’s what a Conductor study showed about using numbers:

Overall headline preferences chart, showing "Numbers" as 36% preferred

A few examples:

  • 45 Productivity Tips for Extremely Busy People – via The Muse
  • 9 Things You Should Never Say When Asking for a Raise – via
  • 40 Essential Social Media Marketing Statistics for 2017 – via this blog right here

Help your readers by setting an expectation. They’ll more likely reward you with a click -vs- hitting the back button.

5. Express a problem

My favorite technique for winning the attention of the reader is to show empathy. How? By stating an important problem they’re experiencing.

Do this and the reader will feel you understand them.

They’ll want to read more to see how you can help them solve their pain.

Of course, this requires you’ve done your research and homework (which should always be the case).

Here’s some questions worth answering when starting up any post:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Who’s experiencing it?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • How does it make them feel?
  • When do they feel it?

This forces you to think and learn about your target audience.

Sometimes, I write the headline first, before writing the outline and content. This keeps me focused for everything that goes into the post.

Other times, I’ll create an outline and write the content first. Then write some headlines based on the post. I’ll pick a headline that works best.

Either works well, depends on how you want to engage your brain.

Here’s some examples of simply expressing a problem (combining the ‘question’ technique):

  • “Do you stumble when people ask what you do?”
  • “Are the words on your web pages more about you then about your readers?”
  • “Do you sit, stare and weep when writing your social media headlines?”

Framing opening lines around a problem excites the brain—which generates curiosity.

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