Facebook recently made changes to its News Feed to reduce the amount of clickbait clogging everyone’s stream.
“We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles,” the Facebook announcement says. “These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.”
- “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”
- “He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”
- “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”
Although Facebook’s move has not sounded a death knell for clickbait (especially given all the fake news stories during election season), their decline began a long time ago, with Upworthy publicly ditching its approach to writing shocking headlines last year.
The bottom line is that readers have tired of being tricked into reading stories that don’t hold up to the promise. That raises the question: What types of headlines will they click on?
A study by Hubspot and Outbrain offers data about what’s working now. They include:
- An explanation of what’s to follow; this could mean adding an explainer in brackets, such as [interview], [photos], [infographic] or . The most popular brackets offer a template, quick tip or free download, with interview being the least popular
- The word photo offers a big boost
- Using the word who rather than why, which decreases clicks
- Keeping it short—the optimal length is 81 to 100 characters
Meanwhile, how-to, tips, simple or why are among the words that turn off readers, according to the Hubspot/Outbrain research.
Even with guidelines such as these, headline writing is still as much of an art as a science. Try testing various headlines in real time to see which perform best, and then make adjustments.
Also, you might have crafted a winning headline, but the content must live up to the promise or else you’ll lose your audience.
You can still intrigue potential readers, as Editor Marty Baron has been doing at The Washington Post, surpassing The New York Times for online readership in October 2015 with headlines such as: “As a Trans Muslim, I Used to Feel Vulnerable All the Time;” “Low Testosterone Makes You a Better Dad;” and “This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps.”
Who wouldn’t want to read those stories?
A version of this article originally appeared on the Inklings blog.