Michele asks me for a clearer definition of clickbait when writing headlines.

(What follows are the notes I wrote in advance of recording the video. They’re my talking points. Not a regular post or article. Just notes.)

My recent videos have all been related to my course, Conversational Copywriting.

This one comes from a question asked by Michele Reder, who took an earlier course of mine, How to Write Better Headlines.

That said… as you’ll see… her question and my answer do bring us back to the topic of conversational copywriting.


In one of the exercises in my headline course I ask students to rewrite a headline for a page of web content.

Here’s what I give them.

“People who seem to age really well have these 4 things in common.”

Michele came back with…

“4 Traits of Youthful Adults”

Certainly shorter and snappier than my original. Maybe a little too short.

Then she asked about a slightly longer version she was working with…

“4 Traits of Youthful Adults – How Many of These Do You Share?”

I think this longer version is stronger. Because by asking a question it draws the reader into the body of the article.

But her concern was that maybe she had crossed the line and that her headline was now clickbait.

I told her not to worry abut that. Clickbait, I said, is when you write a headline that makes a big promise that the body of the page fails to deliver. Or dramatically misleads the reader in some way.

For example, the title of a YouTube video I saw a while back said something like. “OMG… my wife just walked out on me!”

Not true. As the video revealed, she simply went out for the evening with some girlfriends, leaving him at home with the kids.

That’s clickbait. Totally misleading, just to get me to watch the video.

Then Michele pointed out that in my headline course I actually had a second definition of clickbait… which is the one she was concerned about.

This is where I talked about headline approaches that just go over the top in some way.

Let’s look at Michele’s headline again: “4 Traits of Youthful Adults – How Many of These Do You Share?”

Now let’s change that a bit and say: “4 Traits of Youthful Adults – Number 4 will make your jaw drop!”

I think her one is fine. I think the second one is clickbait.

It’s not lying or deliberately misleading, but those draw-dropping claims are almost always huge exaggerations.

And now… connecting back to conversational copywriting.

Her version is conversational. She’s just asking, “How many of these do you share?”

The jaw-dropping version is not conversational, because real people just don’t talk to each other like that.

And maybe that’s how you make those decisions about your content headlines if you’re concerned about crossing the clickbait line….

Just ask yourself, “Would I say this in conversation?”

Michele, many thanks for the question!

NOTE: I have an entire course devoted to the craft of Conversational Copywriting. Find out more about it here…  And another course all about writing better headlines for web content, email and social media.


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