How to Write Clickbait Headlines

It’s Thursday and you know what that means: time to pick the best headline for the week. There is a very good chance that you’ve already read them all, but even if you haven’t, it’s probably just about time to try a new approach.

  1. Don’t get too lost in the first paragraph.

Ahem. But don’t knock it out of the park too quickly. As a sign of promise, remember that no one expects a headline to last an entire week. Let the article breathe at least. The article will only feel like a true thread if it has chunky legs. So do the same with these titles: “9 Quick Isolations That Will Make You Really, Really Happy.” That headline runs in a “Today” magazine on the back page, alongside the type you probably haven’t yet begun to type. Enjoy.

  1. Don’t be limited by detail.

Look, we’re talking about a headline here, not a pinboard. But an eight-month-old story with a tiny paragraph about a building draped in chainmail or a photograph of a koi pond with a barcode on it? That’s just a jumble of words. Just because a headline is focused on a specific theme or entity doesn’t mean it has to be over the top or gory or nostalgic. Don’t hit your readers over the head with it. Red-letter day? Thumbs-up. Apartment with a huge view? Thumbs-down. Thoughtful photo? Over. Funny news? Not. Keep it simple and simple is good.

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

For us in the non-New York Times, in the voice of the wire services, an eye-roll and a wave of the wrist are probably sufficient. But your tie, your wallet and your five o’clock shadow should be treasured and the “V” you use to spell your name should be called for. Just don’t overdo it. (Note that our Mail-Donut gives you a warning that you’re moving way beyond the established genres of Facebook and Twitter.)

  1. If your news report is fun and hilarious, edit it even more!

Also, please don’t hang back and let people know you’re trying to hide a nugget of unintentional entertainment. Excerpts or a photo of Grumpy Cat are fine—they’re just fine, and they don’t need to be turned into a headline. A mildly surprising note or scene makes for better copy. And if that’s not enough for you, we have a few helpfully illustrated definitions of things such as Photoshop and frisbee that should serve as a handy guide.

  1. Do your due diligence.

Obviously the kids didn’t get their “unfuckingbelievable” headlines from every website online. On our job, we can’t spend an entire day pouring over every single article on every single story. Or even a little. So there’s no use entering them all in our free encyclopedia if you’re not going to check them out every day for the rest of your life. But it might be worth knocking back a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage to remember that clickbait isn’t evil and it doesn’t need to be treated like some sort of global ideology.

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