This is a really good question, expressed in a detailed and reasonable way, and I’m super glad you’ve posted it. Let me jump right in here!
So, when it comes down to it, making people click on articles is a bit of a science. There has been enough analysis done on it to ensure that we have the data to know what makes people click.
- Headlines that are emotional
- Headlines that suggest a lesson
- Headlines that hook into public interest
- Headlines that use active words
The right formula that makes people read is expressed by Neil Patel in this way:
- Headline. Grab their attention.
- Subheadline. Draw them in deeper.
That’s something I often try to follow. My headline is the hook that makes people want to find out more. It’s about 50% marketing/advertising, meets 50% understanding what my readership wants to see.
Here’s some other points from Patel:
#1: Use specific numbers & data in your headline
#2: Utilize a unique rationale
#3: Call for attention
#4: Use headline formulas
#5: Measure your headline success
All of these are explained here: http://neilpatel.com/2015/06/02/the-step-by-step-guide-to-writing-powerful-headlines/
There’s other mitigating factors, too. I’ve grown an audience who want to read my work by being on Medium since 2013, I communicate with my readers constantly, I work in a specific niche that I’m lucky is popular right now — similarly to the way the punk bands I love achieved success when punk rock was trending in the early 90’s and again in the early 2000s.
So I know this really suggests that marketing and business are equally important in the popularity equation, and I think that’s true.
There’s a lot of marketing and advertising know-how that goes into it. But that really speaks to the clash of business and media that writers, journalists and ethicists have been struggling with since the emergence of the earliest media properties as businesses. And you can see properties such as The New York Times, Washington Post, TIME and others facing the same problem.
To what extent do we give people what they want? To what extent do we give people what they need? To what extent do we publish for the sake of the art in and of itself? Who is the purveyor of quality, artistic value and responsibility when it comes to publishing?
These are questions that I think are inherently difficult to answer, and they’re questions that we have to grapple with more and more as creators and consumers of online media. At the end of the day, publishing in itself is an objective good, and it’s unsustainable without business and financial support. It has to contribute to that business or it cannot stay afloat, but it must from time to time emerge and rise above business or it has no real worth.
SO overall, this is a long answer — but I think I’ve tried to express the following facts:
- getting people to click relies on marketing and advertising data and research
- getting people to click is not predicated purely on quality work
- an audience must be built before consistent click rates are achieved
- there are always mitigating factors
- publishing purity is an eternal problem, to which I do not have the answers.