Clickbait headlines – a numbers game

Over the past year or two, there has been a shift in the way people read headlines. Back in the day, it used to be that short and cryptic was the way forward as a means to intrigue the reader. They’d understand the headline if they read the story; if not, the standfirst would make it clear.

Maybe this was a hangover from the golden age of print journalism, when there was a lack of space for the headline. But lately, possibly helped by the likes of Twitter, people expect a little more.

This is an issue for us, we’ve talked about the power of clickbait headlines elsewhere.

According to research, 80 per cent of people will read the headline, but only 20 per cent go on to read the article. There is more content to consume these days and people choose differently, scanning through multiple headlines and alighting on words of interest.

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster would undoubtedly still catch the eye. But analytics is now (literally) making headline writing a numbers game, after it has been shown that the inclusion of a numeral increases clicks. Meanwhile the Content Marketing Institute found that adding a colon or hyphen – by which it means a dash – to your headline increased click-through by an average of 9 per cent.

Of course, there is a danger to this. If the numbers are telling us what to write, pretty soon we will all be writing the same thing. And when that happens, it will undoubtedly change again. 

Headlines – a numbers game is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.