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Content Strategy

3 Nail-biting (yet alluring) Lessons You Can Learn from Click-bait

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“You had me at ‘hello.’” - Jerry Maguire (1996) 

I was destroying a molten hot blueberry muffin from Dunkin this morning when I found myself inspired by some pretty clickable text that landed in my email machine. I was so entranced that I stopped everything to follow through on the piercing text. 

Sadly, my muffin got colder than my coffee. 

Not so sadly, I was inspired to share some thoughts on clickbait with you. 


You know, those sensational or misleading messages that exaggerate claims or omit certain information with the explicit intention of driving us to click?


We’ve all succumbed to it, maybe because we’re compelled or maybe for other reasons (after failing miserably to be inconspicuous and overtly scanning our surroundings to be sure our screens are tucked far out of sight, of course).


Clickbait is kind of immoral, usually biased, and often a bit… ew. 

Here’s the rub though, clickbait works and there’s a good chance your competitors are using it to some extent. 

Done right should mean done ethically

Just to be crystal clear, we're NOT encouraging anyone to use clickbait as a tactic. We are saying there's an opportunity to learn from clickbait and apply it in a way that is moral, sound, and effective. Your content MUST deliver on the promise. Otherwise, you'll just get high clicks and higher bounce. Done right should mean done ethically. You're making a sensational, click-worthy headline. Once that person lands on your site, you show you're offering more than a witty headline. That's the way this stuff works. 

Understanding the human basics of "stuff we peeps click on"

Everyone shares some basic similarities when it comes to desire and interest. Drew Eric Whitman’s book, Ca$vertising, sheds a little light on this. He calls it the Life-Force 8:

  1. Survival and enjoyment of life
  2. Enjoyment of food and beverages
  3. Freedom from fear, pain and danger
  4. Sexual companionship
  5. Comfortable living conditions
  6. To be superior, winning, and keeping up with the Joneses
  7. Care and protection of loved ones
  8. Social approval

Do you think about any of these before composing an email, coming up with a content topic, or even posting something to the social media?

You should. I should. We all should. 

I mean, let’s not all join hands, sing Kumbaya and be immoral together. No. No. No. 

What I mean is there’s some learnings we can adopt from even the wildest of headlines. 

Example 1: Buzzfeed

These folks are quite possibly the masters of the universe when it comes to clickable headlines. It might surprise you that most of their headlines follow a few basic rules: 

  1. Start with numbers and try to make them unique (e.g. 15 vs. 10) 
  2. Draw readers in with yearning (e.g. “15 Widely Accepted Truths” vs.These 15 Facts”)
  3. Push the envelope by turning a statement on its head (e.g. “15 Widely Accepted Truths Are Actually False”)
  4. Personalize it even if it’s not personal (e.g. “These 15 Widely Accepted Truths Are Actually False, And Now I’m Questioning Everything”) 
  5. Leverage a subhead or preview text with an example (e.g. “I cannot believe that poor posture does not lead to back pain”) 

You’re likely thinking, “Sure, Buzzfeed can do this because they’re literally keeping up with the Kardashians.” True. But let’s look at another headline that follows a similar path.


Example 2: My favorite living writer

“You need to read this 321-word sentence written by the great James Baldwin.”

That killer headline was written by one of my personal favorites, Cole Schafer. He actually has a writing guide (worth every penny) entitled “How to write copy that sells like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year –” 

Rather than calling it clickbait, he opted for the more elegant, “Copywriting is the act of selling something with words.” He continues by adding [and] “Flirt your ass off.”bluthe

He’s right.

In fact, here’s an example of what flirting looks like from his newsletter:

There are writers who write… 

“I flew to New York this past Monday, on business.”

And then there are writers who write…

“I flew into New York this past Monday on a big jet plane that housed just six souls and as my flight approached the city, I looked out my window to see an ocean of black, teeming with yellow and orange lights…”

I mean, come on. That’s the stuff!

Example 3: Harry Dry of Marketing Examples

One final example of someone who does a fine job at recognizing the power of strong opening messages. Speaking of clickbait, the link will take you to “A Free Copywriting Masterclass With Well Over 100 Clickable Examples From Brands You (Secretly) Love To Steal From.”

Ok, that’s it. Phew!

Happy New Year, and happy 2022! 

Happy twenty twenty… too?


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