We’re becoming immune to clickbait: here’s how you can write better headlines

Descriptive headlines, that accurately describe the content are now out-performing curiosity gap headlines online.

The web is littered with curiosity gap headlines that withhold information about the articles they're linking to. This has been a highly effective strategy for driving clicks, especially on Facebook where people are looking for non-specific but relevant entertainment and information.  

But this approach is becoming less effective now as savvy web users become more wary of it. Adam Mordecai, a curator at Upworthy, says descriptive headlines—ones that tell you exactly what the content is—are starting to win out over Upworthy’s signature “curiosity gap” headlines, which tease you by withholding details.

Click-Bait headlines: specific enough to arouse interest but that leave out a crucial piece of information, so you need to click through to find out what it is. 

Click-Bait headlines: specific enough to arouse interest but that leave out a crucial piece of information, so you need to click through to find out what it is. 

The basic principle behind why these headlines worked are timeless: they appeal to people's sense of curiosity and novelty-seeking. However, the more these types of headlines are used, the less novel they seem, and thus the less curiosity they provoke. 

There is another problem with the UpWorthy style "Curiosity Gap" headlines though...

Facebook has updated their algorithm to reduce the amount of clickbait in the news feed. 

In an post entitled "Further Reducing Clickbait in Feed", Facebook announced that they're using an algorithm to filter out these tabloid style headlines. Specifically, they give two tips to ensure your article isn't punished. 

Be specific and don't withhold information that will establish relevanceIf the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is: For example, the headline “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…” withholds information required to understand the article (What happened? Who Tripped?) 

Don't make misleading claims in the headline: If the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader. The headline “Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!” misleads the reader (apples are only bad for you if you eat too many every day). A team at Facebook reviewed thousands of headlines using these criteria, validating each other’s work to identify a large set of clickbait headlines.

The simple solution, then, is to write headlines that are different, while still appealing to people's sense of curiosity and novelty-seeking. 


The Four U's of Good headlines: 

  • Unique
  • Useful
  • Ultra Specific 
  • Urgent

- Michael Masterson