The following post was written by Noya Lizor, who was Director of Content at Viola from 2014-2019.
Using numbers and statistics in headlines is a proven method of boosting clicks. But there’s one type of number that some companies use in post headlines that I believe falls into the category of clickbait – and it’s usually in reference to “phenomenal” earnings or some kind of other achievement intended to impress. The reason that this type of headline constitutes ‘bait’ isn’t that the numbers are falsified, they may well be true. But they are usually presented under the guise of helping others to achieve the same sort of milestone, and therein lies the rub.
We’ve all come across these sorts of headlines: “How I earned a gazillion dollars in 10 weeks from Instagram without any previous social media experience” or “How we grew our online customer-base from 0 to a gazillion without ever paying a dime” (etc.). The writer may have meant well by sharing these numbers, but if the idea in writing such a post is to outline a “recipe” or formula for others to follow so that they may achieve the same wondrous results, then it’s a nice gesture in theory but it’s based on a premise that’s intrinsically flawed, and is therefore misleading.
The factors that influence growth differ from company to company based on a variety of circumstances, such as the company’s size in terms of its team, funding (or lack thereof) and market, the type of product and the characteristics of the audience that it’s meant for, the media channels and marketing methods that are most logical for promoting that product, the level of experience of the company’s management and employees, how well connected they are to industry influencers etc. All of these factors (and many others) affect the extent to which every company is able to gain exposure and traction for its product.
Sometimes when a startup achieves amazing earnings or builds up a user-base in record time, it’s not only (or necessarily) because of a magical growth hack, or because the product is better than others in the market, or because the team behind it is smarter than the teams behind competing products. Sometimes there’s a mix of other, random factors – or a magical ‘X Factor’ when you combine them all together – that helps the company get a leg up over its competition and achieve more impressive results faster than others, which is why sharing your particular story of success as something that can be copied by others in order to achieve similarly impressive milestones is, in reality, futile and sometimes even mean.
Having said that, there are certain ‘tips and tricks’ that are most definitely worth sharing in a blog post, if for no other reason than to teach readers potentially new methods that they can apply in their businesses to boost their own success. But there’s a big difference between using a title along the lines of “The steps we used at Company XYZ to boost our income by 300%” and a title along the lines of “How we earned $347,560 in 4 weeks using (whatever)”. While both headlines possess a great deal of click appeal, the first version sounds like a genuine invitation to read some potentially useful tips, while the second sounds a lot like bragging, especially when you consider that the circumstances that might have made such an achievement possible were unique to that particular company or product to begin with, and may never be repeatable by other companies whose circumstances are vastly different.
People click on these headlines because of their click appeal, and they may even be compelled to blurt out a ‘Wow!’ as a first reaction, but more often than not, as in the case of most posts that resort to clickbait in their headlines, they realize in the course of reading the post that the “impressive” number that was used in the headline is totally unrealistic for them to emulate no matter how great the tips or steps shared in the post might be.
As a reader of such a post, what interests me isn’t the shiny numbers plastered boastfully in the headline as a benchmark that I should aim to reach myself, but the tips outlined in the post that may be new to me, and that I can use in an attempt to boost performance on a scale that’s realistic for my company.
You may well be super proud (and deservedly so) of certain milestones that you’ve achieved, and your willingness to share your company’s story and processes in order to help others is a great and wonderful thing. And of course, if you’re going to take the trouble of writing such a blog post, then obviously you need to give it a killer title that will be irresistible to the readers you’re hoping to reach.
But for goodness sake, try to avoid throwing around numbers that are meant to impress but that in reality are totally irrelevant to most of your readers. The insights they stand to gain from the tips you share are likely to be the same whether you brag about your achievements in the headline or not, but a little humility is far more likely to endear you and your company to your readers than bragging, both immediately and long after they’ve finished reading your post.