And the psychology behind our addiction to the curiosity gap
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Ever clicked on something like this?
You must have noticed how eye-catching titles and name-dropping of random celebrities are flooding your social media feed and literally every other surface on the internet. Even if it?s a reputable news outlet, you will find titles that shock you and make you want to click, even if you know that eventually you will be disappointed.
Yet you still click. Yet it still works.
What Is Clickbait?
Since 2015 clickbait is a term in Merriam-Webster Dictionary: ?something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.?
Clickbait is nothing more than a headline that overpromises and leads to an article that underdelivers. It sparks curiosity and drives traffic, but it leads to sub-par content that the reader spends less than 15 seconds with.
Since the beginning of journalism, the headlines serve the objective to increase sales more than to deliver objective facts. Even in the earliest days, going back to as early as the late 19th century, using overpromising headlines was the way how newspapers battled for their readers ? as sensational titles will attract more readers and thus lead to more profit.
The first modern-day clickbait title was one of a story in the New York Post that read: Headless Body in Topless Bar, followed by the subtitle: Gunman forces woman to decapitate tavern owner. It was 1983 and it covered the story of a bar owner who was shot dead by a customer.
source New York Post
Clickbait As A Profit Generator
It is easy to understand why online surfaces would go for clickbait titles ? it is exclusively financially motivated. Pay-per-click advertising means that companies earn a fixed amount of money for the clicks or views the article gets ? therefore getting people clicked on articles that have a lot of embedded advertising is a must to keep the business running. It requires intriguing titles but it doesn?t call for engaging content ? as the click or view already happened, and who cares if the reader is disappointed when the surface owner is happy?
Our Curiosity Is To Blame
Humans are curious by nature and our curiosity is the very reason that our species evolved this much ? both on a cognitive and societal level. Our curiosity is not a weakness, it is a driver and it is hard-wired in us. And even if you think that nonsensical headlines have no substance, it has a promise of knowledge that we crave. Knowledge is not only power, it is a fuel for our survival ? as it has been for thousands of years. Starting from what is edible and what is poisonous, who to trust and who to avoid, where to hunt and what territories to avoid were crucial for our survival. We are carrying our curiosity as a structural pattern in our brains ? and just because rationally we know that clicking on the 71 Animated Gifs Only Short Women Will Remember won?t save you from any harm, it doesn?t mean that the age-old reflexes don?t have an influence on you.
Pushing Emotional Boundaries
Strong emotions will lead to greater engagement ? regardless of the nature of the emotion, whether it is pleasure or anger. In order that your curiosity can be piqued, it is almost indifferent whether it is so outrageous that you would want to shout ? you?d be still intrigued to click. Anything that grabs our attention ? especially if it evokes a strong emotion ? will elicit an emotional response and we immediately want more of the chemical cocktail that hits us.
Odd-numbered Lists Work
If you think that listicles are dead, think again. They work because they offer an easy read, a structured outline and it is easy to satisfy our curiosity with.
Which one would you click?
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Funnily enough, the odd-numbered lists work more than the even-numbered ? statistics suggest. Odd numbers work the same way as the so-called power words, like unusual or obscure. They upset the balance in our brains because we are naturally drawn to structure and order. They won?t make you angry, but they pique your interest just enough to make you click.
Clickbait has a bad rap because it underdelivers and leaves you disappointed. You were after your fix after your first emotional response, and you were let down.
But the psychology behind it, the explanation of our natural curiosity can work for you, even if you intend to deliver on the promise of your headline.
Well-written, valuable pieces can and will work with eye-catching, curiosity piquing headlines just as much ? with the difference of not letting your readers down.
So don?t be afraid of being a little clickbaity and audacious with your headlines. Pique your readers’ curiosity, elicit an emotional response ? instead of a bland and boring title. And yes, whether you like it or not, numbered lists still work, and the odd numbers work even better.
And if you really came for the headline generator, let me give you a few, you know, not to underdeliver?
Try Sumo headline generator or Phrase Generator or Title Generator.
Write amazing articles and give them a bigger chance by catchy headlines. And have fun!