Hey, I’m going to let you in on a secret. So be cool, okay? I’m going to tell you the secret formula for clickbait titles.
You know what clickbait titles are. They’re those titles so sensational, so irresistible that you can’t help but click on them. One look and you’ve taken the bait. With so many people using Twitter, Facebook, news apps, and content feeds, people are inundated with hundreds of headlines. That’s why arguably the hardest part of blogging is getting people to click on your article in the first place.
The Secret Formula to Clickbait Titles
The marketing team at Venngage recently did a study to get to the bottom of what makes for a successful clickbait title. We took a sample of the top performing articles from 24 high-traffic sites known for their clickbait titles, including Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and Cracked. We then analyzed them using CoSchedule’s headline analyzer to come up with a headline “score” based on the number of common, uncommon, emotional and powerful words that appeared in each headline.
We were surprised to see that some of the headlines articles with the most shares had the lowest headline score. There was no correlation between headline score and number of shares. What?!
After looking over the headlines again, we discovered something interesting: the top performing titles all contained a combination of seven common elements:
- A list.
- A reference to “You” or “I.”
- An animal.
- A reference to a trending or breaking news topic.
- A pop culture or food reference.
- A new or unknown concept.
- An element of shock or excitement.
Mix and match.
When I say a combination of these elements, I don’t mean all seven at once. That’s a perfect storm (and will likely make people roll their eyes and carry on). Basically, don’t be too bait with your clickbait titles. Our study found that the majority of the most successful clickbait titles contained a combination of either three (42% of titles) or four (46% of titles) clickbait elements. So enough to entice readers without making them think you’re trying to pull a fast one on them.
I’m going to go over the seven clickbait elements found in the most successful titles.
1. A list.
The study showed that 17% of titles were lists (list articles are also known as “listicles”). For example, “18 Photos That Won’t Make Sense to Sisterless Families.” This kind of title also crops up frequently on business blogs because it indicates that the article will be informative.
2. A reference to “You” or “I.”
The study found that 29% of titles referenced “You” or “I” or a personal story. Personal stories seem more genuine—people appreciate it when you speak from personal experience. It’s easier for readers to put themselves in your position.
For example, can’t you see yourself in “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’”?
3. An animal.
Lots of people love animals. While only 8% of titles mentioned an animal, that’s still a significant number over all.
Take this title, for example: “A Dying Street Dog’s Life Was Completely Transformed After This Couple Found Her.” That sounds like a heck of a story that will probably make me shed some lowkey tears at my desk while my coworkers aren’t looking.
4. A reference to a trending or breaking news topic.
You should always try to have at least some timely content on your blog. It shows you’re in the loop. Not surprisingly, 63% of titles either referenced a trending topic or breaking news. After all, why not tap into something that’s already on people’s minds?
Take this political example: “Bernie Sanders Will Win the Democratic Nomination and Presidency in a Landslide.”
5. A pop culture or food reference.
While on the topic of things on people’s minds, when isn’t food on your mind? OK, maybe I’m projecting, since it’s definitely always on mine. Maybe you just read anything and everything that has to do with Marvel movies. That would be why 63% of titles made a pop culture or food reference.
6. A new or unknown concept.
Let’s face it, a lot of content on the web is the same thing over and over again. You will get readers’ attention by presenting something new, interesting, and different. A big 67% of titles introduced a new or unknown concept–something intriguing that tells readers they will learn something from your article.
Take this enlightening example: “A Short Comic Gives The Simplest, Most Perfect Explanation of Privilege I’ve Ever Seen.”
7. An element of shock or excitement.
The most notorious of all clickbait elements–shock value. When you think of a classic clickbait title, you probably think of something so ridiculous and sensational that you just have to click on it, if only to find out what the heck the writer is talking about. A whopping 79% of titles had an element of shock or excitement.
The secret recipe.
Okay, so you’ve got the ingredients. Now what’s the recipe? There are two headline formulas (discovered by Jeff Goins and Neil Patel) that are very similar, and both work.
Jeff Goin’s formula:
[Number or Trigger Word] + [Adjective] + [Keyword] + [Promise]
Neil Patel’s formula:
[Number] + [Adjective] + [Keyword] + [Promise]
Of course, if you have a good idea for a really exciting title that doesn’t follow the exact formula, go off-book! But if you’re stumped about what to title your article, then let these formula be your guideline. They’re tried and true.
Finding the right balance.
Like I said before, you generally don’t want to overwhelm readers with too many clickbait elements. It’s disingenuous and you can easily end up making false promises about what will actually be in the content of the article. It’s probably happened to you many times: you’ve clicked on an article with a particularly outrageous title only to find the actual article lackluster by comparison.
That being said, don’t be afraid to pull the most absurd and unusual aspect of your article and highlight it in the title. This is what will set your article apart from the others–people will just have to see what you’re talking about.
What are some of the zaniest, most enticing headlines you’ve come across?