Most people know that using clickbait headlines to get people to visit your page is a pretty bad idea. People don’t like it, and search engines and social media platforms don’t either. But how do you craft an enticing SEO headline without using clickbait? And what even is the line between a catchy title and clickbait? In this post, we will share some tips on how to create great titles without relying on clickbait. Hopefully, these tips can help you craft titles that are still eye-catching, but don’t leave readers feeling ‘baited’.
What is clickbait?
Simply put, the goal of clickbait is to get you to click, at any cost. To achieve that, clickbait headlines use dubious strategies, such as exaggeration, relying on shock value, sensationalizing, and misleading. They also often withhold key information about the content so that you’re compelled to fill the knowledge gap by clicking. Here are some examples of clickbait titles:
“Elon Musk absolutely hated this one thing about Steve Jobs”
“McDonald’s Just Made a Stunning Announcement That Will Completely Change the Future of Fast Food”
“Netflix’s Worst Nightmare Has Come True”
Why you shouldn’t use clickbait headlines
Needless to say, the actual content is usually far less exciting than the clickbait title makes it out to be. This leads to a high bounce rate and diminished trust. A 2022 study also found that people are less likely to share clickbait articles on social media. Not to mention that social media platforms such as Facebook have policies that penalize clickbait.
So, clickbait titles may work to get someone to click, but they’re unlikely to create actual engagement. And even clicks are not guaranteed. These days, people are more aware of clickbait tactics and are getting fed up with them. There are even communities dedicated to exposing clickbait articles, such as the Saved you a Click subreddit.
How to create a great headline without using clickbait
1. Write great content
You can’t have a great title without having great content. Otherwise, you’re guilty of what clickbait does – overpromise and underdeliver. So first and foremost, focus on writing quality content to create engagement beyond that initial click!
2. Make sure your title is descriptive
Since you want to attract people who will stay on your page, your title should give a good idea of what people can expect from the content. Of course, it can be hard to manage all expectations with a single line of text. But at the very least, you should always include your focus keyphrase in the title.
You should also make sure that the value of your content is clear from the title. What question does it answer? What information does it provide? Which problem does it solve? And what is the unique value it provides compared to other similar content?
Example of a non-descriptive title: “Games for cats”
This title doesn’t give you a clear idea of what to expect from the content. Game ideas? An article about why games are important for cats? Something else? And what distinguishes this page from other pages about games for cats?
Example of a descriptive title: “5 games even the laziest cat will love”
On the other hand, this title gives you a good idea of what you’ll walk away with after reading the article: 5 game ideas. It also tells you what’s unique about these game ideas – they are suitable even for lazy cats. This specificity also means that the article is more likely to reach the right audience (such as people with lazy cats), who will be more likely to engage.
Though of course, this title is only a good title if it’s truthful. A small exaggeration is fine (you probably didn’t test your games with the laziest cat in the world, and that’s fine), but you should make sure that the content mostly delivers on the title’s promise.
3. Make sure your title is easy to scan
A super descriptive title is not enough – you want the information to actually reach people’s brains. There’s a lot of information on a search engine result page, and a title that’s not immediately clear will probably not capture people’s attention. That’s why your title should as easy as possible to read for people who are scanning the search engine result page.
To achieve this, make sure that your title is not too long, and that the keyphrase is as close to the beginning of the title as possible. If the key information is at the end of the title, people are more likely to miss it. Also, try to improve readability by avoiding complex words and passive voice.
Example of a difficult to scan title: “Veterinary specialist explains why your cat always seems hungry”
This title is a bit long and contains the complex phrase ‘veterinary specialist’. The key information (why your cat is always hungry) is also at the end of the title.
Example of an easy to scan title: “Why is my cat always hungry? Vet explains.”
This title has two shorter sentences instead of one long one. The complex phrase ‘veterinary specialist’ is replaced with ‘vet’. Also, the key information is at the beginning of the title.
4. Create a curiosity gap, but don’t exploit it
Clickbait often explores the curiosity gap by withholding certain pieces of information from the title, so that you are compelled to click.
This is not necessarily a bad thing: if your article provides some interesting information, you want to convey that through the title and elicit curiosity. However, your content should provide more value than just giving an answer to a question that can be summarized in one word or sentence. This will not create engagement, and will make people bounce right back to the search results.
Example of a title that exploits the curiosity gap: “This one activity can do wonders for your immune system”
This title withholds information that can be summarized in one word (in this case: “yoga”) and that is the main topic of the article.
Example of a title that doesn’t exploit the curiosity gap: “How yoga can do wonders for your immune system”
This title still creates curiosity because you’re not saying how yoga can boost your immunity. But at the same time, you provide a little bit more information about the content. However, this title only works if there is some depth to the answer provided in the article. If the answer is something very obvious or that can be summed up in one sentence, people may leave feeling uninterested at best, and manipulated at worst.
5. Use evocative language
This won’t work for all titles, but if possible, you should consider using evocative language. Evocative language captures particular senses or emotions, which can appeal to people more than plain factual descriptions.
One way to do this is by using adjectives, for example, describing a pasta dish as “creamy”. You can also use a verb, especially one that addresses the reader directly. Even better if the verb can serve as a call to action, or describe the benefit someone might enjoy after reading your article. For example, “Learn sewing with these beginner tips”.
Be careful to not overdo it, though – appealing to strong emotions is a key feature of clickbait. So ask yourself whether your title really needs adjectives such as “mind-blowing” or “heartbreaking”. And try to avoid relying on eliciting negative emotions, such as fear or anger, as that can feel particularly manipulative.
Example of a title without evocative language: “Best books for people who don’t read a lot”
Example of title with evocative language: “Books that will make anyone fall in love with reading”
6. Use the Yoast SEO title generator
Let’s be honest – even if you know the theory of what makes a good title, it’s not always easy in practice. The good news is, you can ask for help. The Yoast SEO AI title and meta description generator, available in Yoast SEO Premium, helps you craft quality SEO titles and meta description. With a click of a button, you get multiple title (or meta description) ideas based on your keyphrase and content. It’s a great option if you want to save time or if you need a bit of inspiration!
Not using clickbait doesn’t mean writing boring titles. It’s all about balance – highlighting what’s great about your content, but without overpromising or deceiving. Often, you can already create a compelling title by focusing on the basics, like making sure your title is descriptive and easy to scan. But you can also use techniques like creating a curiosity gap or using evocative language, as long as your title remains descriptive and truthful. And of course, a great title can’t exist without great content, so you should focus on that first and foremost!
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