Clickbait headers share one or more of the following features or characteristics:
They omit critical information, not the how or why, but the WHO or the WHAT of the story.
You Won’t Believe Who Tripped On the Red Carpet This Time (Omits the “who.")
This Woman Kept This Jaw-Dropping Secret For 20 Years (Omits the “what.")
You must click to get an answer that is just a single word or short phrase.
The One Spice In Your Cabinet that Some Say Can Cure Everything (Answer: It’s Cinnamon)
This Olsen Twin Just Had a Big Cancer Scare (Answer: It’s Mary Kate.)
They exaggerate, over-dramatize or overstate the importance or impact of a story.
The Unbelievable Story of a Miracle Mom. I’m Crying Buckets. (She stayed home for a sick kid.)
The Essential Hack That Will Save Your Camping Trip from Total Disaster (It’s just a flashlight.)
They tell readers what they already feel or how they will feel once they read the article.
You Won’t Be Able To Sleep After Reading These Ghost Stories (Tells them they’ll be scared.)
This Jaw-dropping Stunt Has The Internet Buzzing (Tells them they’ll be impressed.)
They specifically identify something to be found on the other side of the click.
He Applied For To Be a Cop With a Fake Resume. Then THIS happened. (Baits “THIS.”)
They Tried to Mug Her in Daylight. What Happened Next Is Gold. (Baits "what happened next.")
Examples of header set-ups, from perfectly fine, to very clickbait-heavy.
The Brazilian Robbery Mess Keeps Getting Worse for Ryan Lochte
Discussion: This identified both the who and the what. While readers may pose questions in their own minds as to how or why, this is perfectly fine. They will want read the article to gain that information and then be satisfied. No hyperbole or exaggeration.
The Brazilian Robbery Mess Keep Getting Worse for Ryan Lochte. Wow.
Discussion: This introduces an element of hyperbole and the writer’s opinion into the header, setting up expectations that might not be met, and might in fact encourage readers to react against that emotion.
The One Thing That Ryan Lochte Wishes He Hadn’t Said in Brazil. Wow.
Discussion: Readers must click to find out the missing information. It also introduces an emotional expectation that might not be met. The “one thing” that is missing probably can be answered in a short phrase.
You Already Thought Ryan Lochte Was a Bad Boy in Brazil. Then He Did THIS.
Discussion: This specifically baits a missing “what” on the other side of the click (the “THIS”) as well as tells the reader what they already think or feel (“You already thought…”) which often causes readers to react against the presumption.
You Already Thought Ryan Lochte Was a Bad Boy. But What He Did Next Will SHOCK You!
Discussion: This baits the missing “what” on the other side of the click (“what he did next”), requires a click to gain that information (which can be answered in a short phrase) and tells the readers not only what they thought already, but how they will feel after reading (“SHOCK”).