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Why Clickbait Headlines Never Win and Content is Always King

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

One of the best things about getting the chop from my job at a Christian charity for micro-sleeping while working a few years ago has been the freedom to try my hand at doing something I love from home. If you had of told me two years go that I would be making money from writing I probably would have had a really good laugh. Yet, here I am now, and I have been doing just that for 15 months.

It has been a learning curve, though, and I wasn’t that confident I had it all worked out during those early times. Having learned invaluable lessons, there are some things I can say to writers who are just starting, and to businesses who are exploring the benefits of content marketing to attract fans and followers, one day hoping to turn them into customers.

Create Genuine Value Rather than Just a Sales Speel

Content marketing has exploded over recent years as business tries to capitalize on the reading public’s hunger for information. Businesses learned from years of advertising in print media that good editorial copy outsells advertising copy every time. This is why when I worked as an advertising sales rep with a leading national newspaper I would always be asked if I could guarantee advertisers would receive an editorial mention.

The newspaper I worked for had very high standards and would refuse editorial mixing with what was really just sales collateral. Justifiably so, for when readers come to believe articles are just advertising, they stop reading the paper and, in turn, lower readership makes it harder for newspapers to sell advertising space. And, although advertisers want editorial mentions, they won’t advertise in a publication that has lost readers because they have reduced the quality of their content.

It’s an intriguing irony; one not lost on media organizations who have seen their old media icons lose their luster in recent times.

There is also an instructive lesson for content marketers, bloggers, article writers, and freelance journalists. The content must win hands-down!

Lessons from My Freelance Journalism & Blogging Journey

I have always had a sense that a good read lures people to a website, magazine, newspaper, or book. People love a good read, and I am no different. They want to be captivated, challenged, intrigued, and taught. They want to feel they highs and lows; take-in the emotion, the excitement, the joys, the fear, and the tears.

Seriously good stories have this knack of drawing us in. It is a real skill as a writer; to be able to craft a story that doesn’t just inform but instead tugs at people’s hearts, or helps them to see the world in a different way. That is what quality content does.

The Tension Between Writing for Readers and Writing for Sales

As a freelancer who makes a living by blogging for business websites, I recognize the conflict that arises. The businesses I work for need outstanding content that is compelling and stands the test of time. It needs to be working for them at time of publication, and far beyond. It is also the lure which helps to link people to the website. One day, it is hoped that these people become customers.

In the short-term, there is a sales-driven agenda that wants people to make purchase decisions today. The pressure becomes: how do we make the content we provide convert into sales. As a result, sometimes the content can be shaped into what ends-up as a sales speel. A kind of long-form sales letter.

Readers, however, find this detestable. It’s a big turn-off and leads to a drop-off in readership. I see the statistics roll in every week: stories that are less about trying to encourage a sales and more about providing high-value content outperform other articles every time. In the long-term, providing highly valuable content attracts and retains website visitors. Engagement is better, organizational trust improves, and business brand equity increases.

Avoid Clickbait Headlines & Provide Genuine Content

Clickbait headlines are those crazy yet compelling headlines that make you want to click to check out what the article has to say. Sometimes they follow-up with clever content. The trend seems to be, however, they are more likely to link to utter rubbish which leads to disappointment.

I remember purchasing an eBook on Amazon which had a terrific title and sexy cover only to find out that it was filled with gibberish; utter nonsense that no one familiar with English could recognize as anything meaningful. To be sure I gave it the review it had earned. I also reported it to Amazon. This eBook was a scam. It was a total fraud.

Clickbait headlines can leave readers feeling like this. And, if you understand marketing, it is also totally unnecessary. There is an art to good headlining — one I am trying to learn and become better at. But, good headlines don’t need to venture into the realm of clickbait to be effective. Importantly, good headlines should lead to an article which readers find content that agrees with the headline. Once people see this they become comfortable enough to stick around and read the article.

Don’t Try and Bend an Article to Sell Something

Beyond clickbait headlines, the other big no-no is writing an article like it is one big sales letter.

Talking to a specialist online marketing company earlier this year, one thing was pointed out to me. Let the writing stand up for itself. Don’t try too hard to sell something or stuff the article with keywords. Google is a wake-up to these tactics and you will be penalized for publishing anything that is less than 100% genuine content.

Regularly publishing high-quality original articles is the best way for content marketing to pay dividends. On almost all marketing analytics a genuine article with great information outperforms all of the rubbish on the internet. It is a long-term game but content development is the best solution for aggregating potential customers.