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7 sure-fire ways to irritate your customers with click-bait

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

There's a formula to the catchy headline of the moment, but that's exactly what it is - of the moment. Here's what to stop or avoid doing in your social media posts and marketing material before your customers cease to return.

Things sure are weird in the publishing industry these days. Lot of people complain that media has devolved into endless covering of celebrity diets and meaningless infotainment, leaving important issues unexplored.

The complaints are odd to me because digital publishing gives writers more feedback than ever about what audiences want. It turns out that readers often want to be teased. One tease that works beautifully is to ask a rhetorical question. A typical headline would go a little something like this “Is this the single most important marketing lesson you'll ever read?”

Another tease that works is a story too good to be true. Headlines for these go like “This business owner quadruples sales every month and has done for three years.” There are also a lot of lists around, often with a premise like “Eleven ways managers of stagnating businesses turn it around”.

Teasing clearly works. Some of the hottest online media properties run them every day.

computer mouse

Such a tease

But there's now an undercurrent of rebellion about teasing. The Twitter account Mamamia Spoilers illustrates the idea beautifully: it tweets a short explanation for what's being teased by the headlines on popular women's site Mamamia. It's also becoming a bit fashionable to slag off tease stories: posh magazine Vanity Fair recently offered a piece titled  “40 Signs You Are a BuzzFeed Writer Running Out of List Ideas”. Ouch!

I think the existence of that account is worth noting, because it's tempting to look at the success of sites that rely on the tease and adopt it in your own content marketing.

If you're not up to speed with the term content marketing, it describes marketing tactics in which you create or curate content to attract customers. Your social media presences are content marketing. If you operate a furniture store, a company blog that discusses interior design trends is content marketing.

Content marketing is often contrasted with advertising. The former sees you create media. The latter sees you rent space in someone else's media outlet.

Content tactics

I mention content marketing because if you're thinking about doing some, it seems natural to also adopt the tease tactics outlined above. They're clearly a thing at the moment and they're clearly doing the business.

I'm not a marketing expert, but my day job now is working for an IT website that uses a lot of teasing in its headlines. We pun, alliterate, and often allude to movies or music we know our audience likes. We're also always completely sincere. Even our most outrageous headlines have an element of truth in them.

I've distilled that experience into the following “7 sure-fire ways to irritate your customers with click-bait":

Be narrow and self-interested

Imagine you run an outdoor furniture shop. “The best ten outdoor chairs of all time” could be a nice blog post. But if you include only your own stock and leave out design classics, you'll look like a self-centred shill, not an authority on the subject. Find clever ways to mention your own stock to show readers you get their passions, not just your own desire for a better bottom line.

Aggregate without adding value

Imagine you want to make a point about online security. Every security software company under the sun releases research about the field on their websites, so you base a piece on those efforts. So far, so easy. But other than the act of aggregation, have you added any value to readers? If you want to position your content as worthy of attention, you need to do more than show you can use Google and pick the eyes out of someone else's material.

Be judgemental

Do you really want to be the source of “Five retailers that got it badly wrong” when the whole industry is confronting change?

Polarise, or don't polarise enough

If you decide “5 ways the Rudd/Gillard government failed Australia” is a good article, you are either sure your audience is going to lap it up, confident you can cop a backlash or ready with a very snappy sub-headline (“But failed less than Howard or Keating”). The flipside of polarising your audience is that there are few worse crimes for writers than being boring. Taking a stand is important. Just try to make it a stand that doesn't isolate you.


“The 7 habits of highly effective people” is a classic of the genre. Does the world really need “The 7 habits of highly effective buyers of [insert the stuff you sell]”? I'd argue not, because any riff on the classics is bound to be a let-down. Get your own schtick instead.

Be insincere

If you're a DVD shop and blog “10 Westerns that teach you how to be a REAL cowboy” each item in your list needs to deliver.

Use tease formats once they go out of date

Teasing may be the big thing in 2013. Who knows what readers will find appealing in 2014. Whatever it is, if you keep going with teases forever, you'll eventually look a bit lame.

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