The Clickbait Phenomenon: How to Use Curiousity in Your Content Marketing Efforts
In 21st century journalism, there’s an adage referred to as Betteridge’s law of headlines. Named after British journalist Ian Betteridge, this ‘law’ was first attributed to him when he posted a response to a 2009 TechCrunch article with the headline “Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data to the RIAA?” Betteridge’s law simply states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no” and that the reason why any journalists adopt this particular style is that because they know the story’s full of typical fluff but they still want to run it.
While this adage was first attributed to Betteridge, this style of headline has long been an open secret in the world of journalism and that no actual respectable publication would ever deign to add a question mark to their headlines unless it’s an open-ended question. And yet, this style of headline is still quite popular around the world because it takes advantage of the one thing we all have in common; curiosity. Curiosity is quite a powerful sentiment and when played correctly, there’s a lot you can take advantage of with your content marketing efforts.
Piquing people’s interest
Using a question mark in your headlines is one of the numerous cheap tricks marketers have used to trap people into clicking some random articles. Last year, a particularly egregious example of clickbait headlines was used by UK’s tabloid Daily Star. In the headlines, Daily Star states that “Lewis Hamilton jailed for driving like a ‘lunatic’ in snowy police chase”. For those unaware, Lewis Hamilton is the name of a British Formula One driver and as of this moment, the reigning world champion so naturally, I was intrigued by that headline since I religiously follow F1.
However, my curiosity immediately turns to confusion and then disappointment and finally amusement as it quickly dawned on me that this particular Lewis Hamilton isn’t that Lewis Hamilton but a 20-year-old kid (the F1 Hamilton is now 34-years-old) that happens to share the same name. By never divulging this detail explicitly (the URL even included the phrase Formula One), The Daily Star took advantage of my curiosity for clicks as I would’ve never read anything from such publications voluntarily. This was a shameful display but it does underscore just how powerful curiosity can be when you’re trying to market your contents.
Of course, there are far better and more ethical ways companies can tap into this well of curiosity without having to resort to cheap tactics described above. If you’ve ever read viral news websites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy, you’ve already seen some of the less egregious examples. Curiosity is something shared by almost all of us and no matter what type of industry you’re working in, you can reliably use any of the following tips to garner more eyeballs for your contents.
Use teasing headlines
Let readers know what they’re about to find in the article without explicitly telling them what’s inside the article. In proper journalism, the headlines outline the story while the actual story fills in the details and what I’m telling you here is the exact opposite of that. This type of headline usually works best for a listicle but it’s generally applicable to every type of article. Trust me when I say achieving this balance is quite delicate as you want to give them just enough information to want to click the link without giving them too much that they feel they don’t have to read the rest of the story.
As I’ve hinted at in the beginning of this piece, the Betteridge’s law of headlines only applies to a simple yes or no question so you can still tap into reader’s curiosity by asking open-ended questions in your headlines. Keep in mind however that you shouldn’t use phrases like “the reason why will surprise you”, “what happens next will shock” or other similar variations as adding them will make your articles seem clickbait-y. The headline or the title of the article alone should be enough to maintain the suspense.
Take advantage of recent events in your industry
Another way you could take advantage of curiosity is by making use of recent events within your industry. The more recent the event, the better, as this means that not everyone have been able to formulate their own thoughts and you can use this to fill in the gasps. For example, recently Instagram has announced that they’re making like counts hidden by default. For the average users, this doesn’t seem like a pressing issue but for marketers and influencers, this is actually a pretty big deal and you can take advantage of this confusion by perhaps writing on what Instagram’s latest experiment could mean to the marketing world as a whole.
Share your own data, research or experience
We’re most curious about the unique and what could be more unique than divulging the results of your own hard work? Initiating your own research and sharing the data you’ve obtained from that research might not be always applicable but everyone must’ve their own unique experience in life and this is something you could always take advantage of. For example, let’s say you just attended a conference or any kind of tradeshow related to your industry and you can tap into this experience with a headline such as “I went to [insert event name here] and this is what I learned”.
For example, I frequently visit a motorsport blog where instead of a racing report; they have a feature referred to as the “Paddock Diary”. In this column, the writer shares the behind-the-scenes look at what occurs over a single racing weekend that gave readers an insight of what it feels like to travel alongside the Formula One circus. It doesn’t actually feature any racing action but it’s what exactly makes it interesting as other than being interesting, the personality of the writer bleeds into the writing, which makes it all the more unique.