If you haven’t heard the word “clickbait” before, you’re probably not on the internet very often. Hi, welcome.

Clickbait titles are those titles you just can’t resist clicking on. They beckon you to them with their promise of wisdom and insight–or, at least, their promise of adorable/weird animals. Not to disappoint you, check out this little guy:

small tiny cat person catI’m talking about the leopard cat baby, not Conan O’Brien.

That’s because clickbait titles tend to follow a predictable formula which, one you are aware of, becomes easier to see through. Venngage did a study looking at the top performing articles from 24 high-traffic sites known for their particularly clickbait-y titles (including BuzzFeed, Collegehumor, Mental Floss and Cracked). They looked at both the number of shares each article got and the title rating (using CoSchedule’s headline analyzer).

What they found was that, ultimately, there was no correlation between the number of shares an article received and the headline score they received. Some posts had thousands of shares but a relatively low score, while the scores and shares of other posts were almost the same. What did become apparent, however, what a different pattern: all of these articles combinations of 7 common elements.

The 7 elements found in these successful clickbait titles were:

  1. A list.
  2. “You” or “I.”
  3. An animal.
  4. A trending topic.
  5. A pop culture or food reference.
  6. A new or unknown concept.
  7. An element of excitement or shock.

7 clickbait elements chart

Let’s looks at each one a little more closely.

1. Titles with a list.

A lot of people like easy to follow, step-by-step guides, and a list article (or “listicle”) promises that. Dividing up your article in a number of different points or steps makes it easier for readers to skim through the article and pull the key information in only 30 seconds to a minute, which, let’s face it, is what most people do.

2.  Title with “You” or “I” (or a personal story).

You’re more likely to respond to someone if they address you directly than if they just shout out to everyone in general, right? If you speak from specific personal experience, it’s easier for people to relate to what you’re saying than if you speak in broad, general strokes.

3. Titles mentioning an animal.

Animals are a hit. Who doesn’t like animals? (If you don’t like animals, don’t talk to me.) That’s why although the percentage is small compared to the other elements of clickbait titles, titles mentioning animals still factors in.

4. Titles that mention a trending topic.

This one is a give-in: if you reference a trending topic, you enter your article into a conversation that people are already having. When they search a trending keyword, your article will be thrown into the mix of possible search results.

5. Titles that make a pop culture of food reference.

Just like animals, people like food. And entertainment. And eating for entertainment. Food figures prominently in entertainment now and people will spend hours watching food shows and looking at pics of food. Titles that promise people food and entertainment will entice them to click.

6. Titles that introduce a new or unknown concept.

Suggesting at an element of mystery that will be revealed within the article is enough to get people to click for more.

7. Titles that have an element of surprise or shock.

Shock and surprise will always get attention. Making readers do a double-take is often enough to entice a click, if only for them to clarify what the heck you’re talking about.

Mix ‘em up!

Now here’s the key part. How many of these elements should you aim to use if you want people to take the bait?

If you try to stuff all seven elements into one headline, you’re going to have a disaster on your hands, my friend. Venngage’s study looked at how many of the seven elements could be found in each of the titles they analyzed. They found that the optimal number was three of the seven elements.

clickbait title elements 2

The thing to keep in mind is that while clickbait titles entice readers, writers should take responsibility for delivering what the title offers. Basically, don’t make false promises. You can pull the most sensational aspect from your article but it better appear relevantly in the article, otherwise people will get tired of your writing pretty quickly.

Featured photo credit: Venngage via infograph.venngage.com

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