Now that Facebook is reducing click bait, which headlines will be valued?
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Now that Facebook understands most people hate click bait, you’ll no longer need to read some version of “This story will blow your mind” all over your news feed

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Thanks to Facebook’s conclusion that people basically hate click bait headlines, you’ll no longer need to read some version of “This story will blow your mind…in just 60 seconds” all over your news feed.

In an announcement on Monday, Facebook defines click-baiting as “a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.” Though these headlines garnered a significant amount of likes, Facebook found that 80% of users preferred descriptive headlines that “helped them decide if they want to read the full article” over click bait headlines. 

They will determine if a story is click bait by how much time is spent reading the article. If a user spends just a few seconds viewing the story and then returns to Facebook, this link will be ranked negatively in Facebook’s news feed. 

Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and all your copy cat click bait sites, I imagine you probably feel like locking yourself in your room and crying right now. I would. 

So what makes a good headline anyway?

A general mantra of viral content is that it needs to be a high value story that educates, informs, or entertains its targeted audience. From a news perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Most stories break news (inform), analyze a trend (educate) or amuse (entertain) its readers. 

Realistically, savvy online headline writers will mostly keep doing what they’ve always been doing; writing punchy, to the point headlines that grab a reader’s attention. Increasingly, online news rooms are also keeping SEO in mind and trying to include keywords in the headlines and descriptions of articles. The Facebook announcement boosts SEO’s importance, since it will favor headlines that explain the content of the story more clearly in the headline.

For example, this made-up headline about Amazon acquiring Twitch would be bad for SEO: “Is video game streaming worth a $1B deal?” It leaves out the most important keywords: Amazon and Twitch.

Instead, both these headlines would work better:

Amazon Will Buy Twitch for More Than $1 Billion” – This being a descriptive, “informing” (and real) headline. Or, 

“Is Amazon’s $1 Billion acquisition of Twitch worth it?” – This second version (actually used by us at Geektime) would lead to an “educating” or analysis type story.

I personally can’t think of an “entertaining” headline for this story, but there was a lovely recent headline about thousands of people watching a fish eat Pokemon on Twitch, simply titled, “20,000 People Are Watching A Fish Play Pokemon On Twitch”.

What headlines work best for tech news?

A few weeks ago, I started writing for Geektime and wanted to test out my own hypothesis: Do readers prefer descriptive headlines or headlines that pose a question? Not that you would know, but we over at Geektime have an A/B testing option for headlines of our articles. On five separate but recent occasions we tested the efficacy of a descriptive headline vs a question styled headline. This is by no means a statistically significant sample, but it still gives a feeling for the direction publishers might want to be exploring. 

For three of the stories, the question headline worked better, and for two, both headlines performed equally well. Here were the three stories where the headline that posed a question fared better:

A) Vancouver’s startup visa lures entrepreneurs away from Silicon Valley 

B) Should Silicon Valley be worried about immigrant-friendly Vancouver?

A) Here’s why Iceland’s smart energy accelerator is so exciting 

B) Could Iceland seriously disrupt clean energy technology?

A) The Norwegian Instagram for kids: Kuddle

B) Can Kuddle crack the kid friendly social network market?

Tech readers tend to gravitate towards stories either to read big announcements (such as the Amazon acquiring Twitch story) or to learn more about a new trend or field. Since all of these stories weren’t necessarily “big announcements,” the question headline, which framed why the story could be relevant to the reader, likely drew readers in more than merely describing what the stories were about. 

In short, if a story is big news or entertaining, run with a catchy, descriptive headline. But if a story is smaller, or analyzes a larger trend, try writing a question-posing headline that puts the article into a larger context and asks the “big question” that would be on readers’ minds. 

That is my two cents on the subject. 


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Laura Rosbrow-Telem

About Laura Rosbrow-Telem

I am a social entrepreneurship enthusiast: This is what happens when a former social worker becomes a tech journalist. I mostly write about startups, technology, peace and justice issues, cultural topics, and personal stuff. Before Geektime, I was an editor at the Jerusalem Post and Mic.

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