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The Delicate Art of Clickbait

We writers all want readers. We need them; they are the fuel to our fires, the bitters to our bubbles. We all pine for attention, we want the world to look our way, amazed and amused. As tiny fish swimming in the big wide web, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of content. We lack marketing departments, free gifts, and effective life hacks.

We, small voices, need tricks to lure the eyeballs; bait for the big fish.

In a shameful attempt to garner more attention on Medium, I once waded into the befouled waters of clickbait.

With that now terribly dated essay, I tried to humorously address the ridiculous phenomenon of sports-hate. We all engage in sports-hate — it’s silly, comical, and bizarre. Worth writing about, I thought. And I was excited about what I imagined to be a witty, tongue-in-cheek, clickbait title.

People will click, I thought, then they will read, I imagined, and then I will be duly rewarded for my brilliance.

The click part worked like gold, but the rest — not so much.

Turns out people only read the clickbait title. Either that or they completely misunderstood the body of the piece, which is impossible if you read it.

I, for the first and hopefully last time, was on the receiving end of some creatively ugly web hatred. Wow! The things that sporty men will say to a lady who disparages their sporty hero! The people who love Novak Djokovic (and they are legion) hate me now, even though that’s not really what the essay was about. Even though I don’t really hate Novak. Even though my title is misleading — whatever.

It’s supposed to be funny! Ironic! Self-deprecating! The essay makes that clear, I think. You laugh at the title, read the essay, laugh again knowingly, all is clear — capisce?


So, I’m sort of done with clickbait. Sorry (not sorry) to those of you who were offended (read the essay, use your head for something other than a hatrack and a hair grower).

But I’ve learned stuff and am here to help you.

If you aim for clickbait, it must have one of the following —

1. Vehemence or extreme positions.

You either love or hate something, something is the best or the worst. Ecstasy, agony — the highest highs and the lowest lows. But you have to really go for it, it can’t be boring. In my case, it was my supposed hatred for a specific beloved person that bunched everyone’s panties.

2. Profanity.

Be foul, people love it. Use words like fuck, shit or dick in your title. Now that I’m writing this, I’m remembering another example of my own pathetic stab at clickbait.

Sucks works — I got some clicks on this one.

3. Juxtaposition of random, ridiculous elements.

Just take two or more unrelated words or concepts, mash them together and go. For example, off the top of my head —

Titillation — A Comedy
Of Peacocks, Porridge and Perverts
(bonus for alliteration)
A Carnival of Rabies

Those might get clicks. Or not.

You could put, say, penis and ambulance in the same title, though I’m not sure where you’re going with that and not sure that I want to.

You get the idea.

4. A blueprint for success. And numbers.

Actually, the word blueprint is almost clickbait by itself. (So is habits, for some reason.) Everyone wants the easy path to everything, so —

How to … 
Why I … 
Ten ways … 
Twenty things …

These are all very clickable regardless of your subject.

Enlightenment, business, sandwiches, sex — tell them how, how much, how many, why, when. Always a hook.

5. Aggression.

Launch an attack, of sorts, with your title — piss people off immediately. Poke them, they’ll click. For instance, how about —

I Hate Your Stupid Hipster Hair
Your Generation Has Ruined Everything for the Rest of Us
Take That Flag and Shove it Up Your Ass
(which also achieves #2 — bonus!)

Just thinking out loud here.

You can’t make them read but you can make them mad and defensive.

6. Sex.

No explanation required, I think. Just mention it, describe it, suggest it — totally clickable, every time.

7. Confusing, possibly alarming, tidbits of personal concern.

Hook your gullible audience with suggestive information that may directly affect them. For instance —

How That Third Glass of Wine is Saving Your Life
The Truth about Your Phone and Your Reproductive System
What Your Cat Isn’t Telling You
(cats are clickbait gold)

Now the warning —

Clickers will very likely not read whatever follows your title. You can (and you should, I think) back up your screaming, look-at-me title with a quality piece of writing, but many — oh a great milling and muttering mass of humanity — will react swiftly and often caustically to your title.

The small string of words at the beginning — the title that you pasted up there after all your wordsmithing— that is where everyone will sit and argue and yell and opine. They may scan the body, but if the title has tickled the reptilian corners of their brains, it’s over.

So you have a choice. You can offer up a quality piece of writing following your attention-getting title and risk being misunderstood or even reviled, or you can give them a raspberry, wag your buttocks and cry,

“Made you look!”