The Bait and Click

Six Ways to Get Clicks Without Losing Cred

By: Marc Acton, Associate Creative Director

According to David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

“You won’t believe these 6 secrets that made this CMO generate 3x more leads with the same budget! (Number 4 is unthinkable!)” We’ve all seen and laughed at absurd headlines like this, but those “clickbaity” (or is it clickbaitish?) headlines exist for one simple reason: They work. You know you’ve clicked them. Not all the time, but you have. And you’re not alone. BuzzFeed alone has built a multi-million dollar empire out of perfecting them.

But when you’re publishing content that’s going to represent your business, writing headlines that work might be the most important thing, but it’s not the only thing. The headline also has to be right for you. The trick, the science, the art, is to take what works about those clickbaity copy lines and apply it in a way that maintains your brand integrity. Here are six ways you can do that.

Start by giving your headlines more attention—the reason why is so simple.

According to David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” So, whether you’re trying to boost your content’s engagement or build out a substantial email list, a perfect headline is that vital first block to check off. Whether your marketing efforts are outbound or inbound, titles for your content should always highlight your value proposition and state what each will do for your reader.

Make headlines specific—intimate, even—but four out of four award-winning copywriters say to do one thing first. 

Personal, specific lines grab attention. See how a vanilla headline like, “Top Ways to Maintain Traffic—Click Here” becomes enchanting when rephrased as, “You’re Losing Precious Website Traffic—Here’s How to Retain It.” Notice how the second headline speaks to a specific audience. Who wouldn’t want help retaining their traffic?

Here’s the trick: Be wary of objective claims like “This #1 Solution Will Fix Your Bounce Rate Problem in Just 1 Day!” This last headline offers a promise that, if not delivered, could destroy credibility with a future client or lead. In today’s world, people value reputation, reviews and referrals nearly above all else. Here, the reward is just not worth the risk.

In fact, this may be the most important thing to take out of this article: Deliver on the promise your headline makes. If you do this, your readers won’t just accept your content—they’ll thank you for it.

Speak your audience’s language to bolster your cred—but do this one thing first.

If a salesman dressed in a three-piece velvet suit walked up to you and said, in a crisp British accent, “Fine sir, you’ll find my trusted secret to garnering more leads quite fascinating. Let me explain further.” You would be put off. Likewise, consider how every single world in your headline increases or decreases the likelihood that a person will click on your content, and if you use words your audience doesn’t know or like, you’ve wasted every one of those 80 cents that Ogilvy mentioned. This is why writing strategically is crucial. Younger audience? Be more colloquial. College professors? Use those grown-up words.

But there’s something you absolutely must do first: research. You can’t speak to an audience if you don’t know them. It’s as simple as that, with one shortcut: Hire someone who already knows your audience.

Stick to the formula, like a timeless mixed drink—but without the second half of this tip, you’re missing something major!

Like a classic cocktail, when it comes to a compelling, non-clickbait headline, there are tried and true formulas that lead to higher conversion rates. Plain language, with plenty of specifics, is best, like in this headline: “Do You Know Why Thousands of Cancer Survivors Gather in Central Park Every October?”

Here’s the other side to the coin: You have to experiment, tailoring your content to your audience. Like that mixed drink, you’ll never stand out in a crowd if you’re only following the same old formula. See, we prefer our old-fashioneds with bacon. Why? Because experimentation gave us a better version of an old classic, with a new twist to match our specific tastes. Use your headlines to speak to the specific tastes of your audience.

Maximize ROI by tracking data—but skip Step 2 and all your data will be wasted.

Engagement. Views. Click-throughs. Time spent on page. What do all of these have in common? They’re statistics that can be tracked to best maximize results. Just take a look at how we boosted conversions by tracking visitors during our successful campaign for our Army National Guard client.

Here’s the step most people miss: Cut headlines that aren’t getting enough clicks. Optimize the wording, tone and intent of your headline until you see better results. Unless you’re actively making decisions based on it, data is an entire waste of your time.

Save valuable time—and headaches! Hire a specialist within your industry niche.

Companies like Business Insider and Huffington Post are known to require copywriters to draft 30–50 headlines per piece of content before they narrow their selection. Sounds like fun, right? Here’s why: Striking the balance between anecdotally compelling and annoying clickbait is no easy task, even for practiced pros. That’s why, more often than not, it’s better to hire a seasoned team than to suffer through the inevitable and tedious task of mixing and matching words. Bad copywriting can kill your credibility and cost you leads.

Lucky for you, you’re already in the right place to find a killer team of content pros.
Start here.


 Marc Acton

Marc Acton was born at a very young age in a moderately old town in Florida. Some other stuff happened, and then he became iostudio’s Associate Creative Director. For us, he proudly pokes and prods projects for the Army National Guard including social media and web, writing and strategizing content that converts. He is a fan of the Oxford comma, saying more with less, and helping write bios for extremely talented iostudians. He also flies helicopters for the Army National Guard. Which reminds us, how can you tell if a helicopter pilot is at your party? (He’ll tell you.)