Headline Clickbait: PR Science or PR Fail?

A scan of current events this morning brought me to a news story angering me enough that I didn’t need my morning coffee.

Couple Killed After Posting Sunset Picture to Instagram

To be clear, it’s not the (tragic, local news) story that aggravated me. It’s the misleading, headline clickbait that pulled me into the article. I’m interested in Instagram, and the odd nature of the headline lead me to believe it was being served up by The Onion. It’s not a parody story. So I’ve re-written it below for accuracy.

Couple Killed THREE HOURS After
Posting Sunset Picture to Instagram.

My re-write wouldn’t draw in readers. But it may make you wonder why someone would point out this ironic, but completely unrelated, fact in the headline.

The Headline That Cried Click (see what I did there?)

Sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Viral Nova are pretty polarizing. They’ve even inspired spoof headline generators and entire parody sites trying to tap into the craze simply by mocking it.

Love them or hate these traffic-magnet, sharing-fueled sites, Google analytics proves that headline clickbait works. But even Upworthy is acknowledging its an issue. The site announced it’s “on a mission to cleanse the web of content that exists primarily to be clicked on or shared.”

No, I’m not suggesting you avoid proven best practices around headline generation. I followed three myself for this post’s headline.

I am pleading with you to consider the bigger picture behind any tactic. I’m willing to bet that whatever the goal is behind content you’re publishing, you’d prefer to establish an ongoing connection with the audience your content attracts.

Tricks for Clicks

Or ignore me and follow Time’s lead. This once iconic, news magazine’s Twitter bio reads: “Breaking news and current events from around the globe.” And they’re publishing headlines like “Watch a Baby’s Face Sour While Eating A Lemon” and “Here’s a Half-Naked Man Wearing 100 Pounds of Bees like a Coat.” It’s embarrassing to see them chase someone else’s success. And it’s costing them their hard-earned credibility in the process.

Tricks for clicks may get you a short-term increase in traffic. But it won’t build audience in the long-term. If you’re worried you won’t attract readers without headline clickbait? Either spend money on headline syndication or come to grips with the fact that your content might suck.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Image via xkcd

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