Let’s Kill Clickbait In 2017

You would think this stuff was the absolute worst thing in the world. I spend a little free time on Reddit, and honestly, it is a wretched hive of cynicism and bitterness. There is nothing that Reddit users hate more than the idea that someone, somewhere will ask them to pay cash money for something. Whether it’s an idea or thousands of hours of hard work like you’d find a movie or a television show, whether it’s a large corporation or just some poor artist struggling to get by…

They unconditionally want it for 100% free and they want it at the tip of their fingertips. And if they have to read a five second advertisement in the process of getting it, hold on to your ass cheeks because it is going to get SPICY in that comment section.

This is one of the many reasons that I think Reddit posters are kind of lame. However, I know people aren’t a hive mind, and I try to treat them with empathy. And that’s my approach to all people. Instead of pitching a fit and throwing my hands in the air and cursing you out for being the way you are, I try to ask why it’s that way, how it got there, and what we can do to make it better. That’s going to save your sanity and a lot of discussions of business, politics, your interpersonal relationships, whatever.

And it’s not hard to understand why people hate the “clickbait style” of online sales. Article writers have all fallen into a few formulas to drape a layer of suspense over some barren, unremarkable content.  Generally when you click one of these articles, you are going to get something that is overhyped and underwhelming. This is something that exists almost everywhere. And it propagates itself with online articles and digital products that help to make the process of making overhyped, underwhelming bullshit easier to sell.

You couldn’t even believe my reaction when I ran into a WSO that offered templates for “emotional writing” –

So, my girlfriend is big on polite and inoffensive speech… but personally, I’m big on the accurate use of the depth and power of the English language, sooo…

Weeeep, wooop, slightly insensitive language alert for everybody that needs that.

Real talk: unless you have a serious and severe developmental disability, you should be able to grasp the very basic idea I am about to put in front of you.

Emotions. Do not come from a template. They come from sharing what you feel, and having that feeling in common with the reader. It’s a joining between an author and her reader. It’s your reader finding something in themselves that they recognize in you. It’s like a magic formula for getting people to open their wallets, and good content does it like magic.

So let’s talk about pain. Like authentic pain instead of the bait and switch stuff that burns prospects out and turns them into bitter Reddit-type people. Let’s talk about turning DOWN the people’s “BS meters” and getting them to engage honestly with what we’re making, thinking, and doing.

Luckily, pain is one of the first steps in real storytelling. If you look at any good movie they usually start with the protagonist that is in a painful situation.

  • He is wandering from town to town without anyone that he truly connects to.
  • He’s abused by his wife or his family, having awful runins with the same bullies he had to deal with in high school.
  • He’s getting older, has lived his entire life for others and is wracked with a deadly disease. He’s about to die without ever having lived!

You name it. You see something like that and your heart is just going to go out to the person involved. Once you have that sympathy, you can take the reader anywhere.  It doesn’t come from just having a sad story, it comes from the structure of storytelling.

How can we do this for ourselves, our business, our brand, our WHATEVER?

Timing Is Important

That is, you can’t just tell your autobiography when you’re talking about yourself and your business. You need to follow the basic dramatic structure – wanting something, feeling the pain, stress, and humiliation of not having it, taking some drastic change (sometimes after waking up with your face in the gutter), getting what you’ve always wanted, and coming back to share your results with others.

If it doesn’t fit with that order, the odds are decent that you’re sharing filler, or you’re sharing basic stuff that anybody can find on Google – that’s not enough to get people interested in you or interested in working with you.

We share our experiences in bits and pieces – just the most important parts. Our pain, our determination, our action, and our success.

Emotion Is A Tool

It gets your foot in the door. Even if you’ve been through a breakup or a painful divorce, ranting about it for paragraphs on end is only going to have you coming off as an unhinged crazy maniac. People care, but they don’t care to THAT level.

Your personal life is a way to get your foot in the door and get people to think about your sales message, NOT a way to lead people through every step of your sales process with a sob story.

Maybe you can get away with it if you’re as good looking as I am…

Because that’s a really big set of shoes to fill, you know?

Live in your truth by all means, but DON’T lose sight that your ultimate goal is to actually HELP people with what you’re teaching. Ask yourself:

  • Who is this going to help?
  • What is it going to help them do?
  • What will their live be like after they’ve read this, thought carefully about it, and acted on it?
  • Am I translating my personal pain and my personal anecdotes into an expression that the universe can understand, something EVERYONE in my target audience can take something from?

If you’re writing something that doesn’t fly through those four barricades, you’re probably wasting your time, and if you write something that DOES, you’re helping yourself and your readers.

The Cure For Clickbait?

Here’s the deal.

As copywriters and creative professionals, we are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. our writer half may be trained to despise clichés, but the half of us that is a working marketer knows that we have to follow the data.

And because of that we know that the clichés, the things that turn off a great deal of our audience, actually work a good percentage of the time. I would never recommend that you go and operate in defiance of the data in your business.

If you’ve got something that’s a bit cliché or hacky, but has a higher click-through rate, you owe it to yourself to ride that cliché like an obsessive cowboy. Cash money is worth WAY more than pride. What I recommend is that you be invented in your split testing scenarios. Try and find something out of the norm to test against your control, that is your “championship copy” that has the highest conversion rate so far. Try being more blunt, more controversial, weirder. Remember that click through rate isn’t the ultimate arbiter of success, sales are.

One of my best performing pieces of copy was for an SEO service – I threw away everything related to “formula copy” with something like “You’ve been a very naughty boy” – you laugh, but it did gangbusters. And going a bit more aggressive and unique in your style might make for a smaller tribe, but they’ll be more passionate and more dedicated.

It’s also important to remember that, outside of the very saltiest internet nodes, very few people complain about the idea of clickbait before they actually click it. That is to say, if the work that you presented powerful, emotional, and actually useful in the real life, they won’t complain about how they got there. When somebody complains about clickbait they are talking about getting hooked for an underwhelming experience.

The Easiest Cure Is To Create Epic Shit

Ha. Easy, he says.

But if I know you, you’re capable of doing that. We get there by sharing MORE of what you know about a topic instead of dripping it out in bits and pieces. We get there by making sure that our work is personal to us and emotionally honest. We get there by sharing our actual experiences in our business, and not leaving all the answers to the generalities that have been rehashed by 12 different people.

You’ve gotta have faith that our potential clients and students are here to learn from us and our life experiences. If space aliens were to come and read the archive of the entire internet, we want our work to have real value to those little green men. Maybe not because we are the very best at a given subject, but because we are really giving all authentic and unique perspective. If you can do that, the Martians will only feel slightly cheated when they read your article featuring six reasons why dog training is just like Harry Potter.


  1. You hit the nail on the head with the fact that people won’t care about what got them to click if the click paid off. It’s the click-regret they remember.

    I think the point about being emotionally honest is key too. There’s so much farmed writing out there that it’s really easy to stand out by being a human being. People crave authenticity badly and this is only going to increase.

    So the only point I could add to the mission to kill clickbait is that people should invest in making their lives more interesting and valuable so they can be valuable to others. They’ll not only have a treasure trove of compelling headlines to create, but oodles of value to share that will help them reach their goals. You almost can’t lose. 🙂

    1. Author

      Anthony, thanks for your comment.

      I was actually going to add something about having an “interesting life”, but the article was getting a bit long, and I touched on this in some depth here:


      It’s a lot easier to follow through on that emotional promise if you’re a creative mind. And that doesn’t come from laying around at home watching TV all day. You’ll start to suffer kind of an emotional “rot” if you let yourself get stuck in too much of a rut.

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