Writers Lie to Their Readers All The Time

Nicole Akers

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She’s covering her ears when she should be protecting her eyes, trying to shut out the lies of what she’s been reading. She looks disgusted, and she’s right to be so. Who is she? She’s your reader and she’s frustrated that she’s been lied to again.

According to Bernard Marr & Co., 7 billion humans use the internet daily, and Google processes more than 40,000 searches every second.

With so many businesses and content creators trying to get our attention, it’s no wonder so many people resort to clickbait. By definition, it works. Clickbait is a hook that draws the reader in. You want the reader to do something, and that something is usually to spend her time or money with you.

Let me ask you a question: Aren’t your readers the people you’re trying to build trust with? They are the people you want to trust you; yes?

So why would you lie to them?

After all, isn’t that what clickbait is? It’s a lie. Okay, you want to feel better about yourself. You don’t want to feel like you’re tricking anyone. You’d rather call yourself a fantastic marketer.

You can tell yourself any story you want to.

How do you feel when you are tricked or duped?

Do the words “frustrated,” “swindled,” and “lied to” come to mind?

“Taken advantage of” are the words that come to my mind.

No good, warm, fuzzy feelings are created when I feel tricked.

Have you ever left a bad movie that had a great trailer that sucked you in, but you felt like you wasted your money when the show was over? Have you wanted to chuck a book you read cover to cover because it sucked? You finished the story because it had to get better, but when you got to the back cover, it wasted your time.

You’ve been lied to. Tricked. You fell for the real-life version of clickbait. Good marketing, some would call it.

Let’s define clickbait in case you’re unfamiliar with the term.

Merriam-Webster defines clickbait: Something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of when the link leads to dubious value or interest. (emphasis mine).

Wikipedia takes the definition a step farther: A form of false advertisement, uses hyperlink text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, with a defining characteristic of being deceptive, typically sensationalized or misleading. (emphasis mine).

It sounds to me like there isn’t much in the way of positive feelings coming back to those who use clickbait, but clickbait sells, gets views, earns money, so I can understand why you’d be tempted to use it. It’s not worth the risk of losing the reader’s trust. When the reader feels tricked, she’s not coming back to read or do anything else with you, much less buy your course, book, or anything else.

What are some examples of clickbait?

Get Rich Quick

Let’s be real for a minute. You know there’s no way to get rich quick. Anyone who’s selling this line is likely a shyster. If you can get rich quickly, a lot more people would be rich. Getting rich takes some combination of luck, skill, risk, reward, and time. If there’s a magic pill or easy path, a whole lot more people would be rich.

Singular Path

If there’s one way to do something, you’re making a promise that doesn’t apply to all. This one book, way, or thing will change your life. Are sirens and buzzers going off? Your Spidey senses ought to be tingling.

Likely, there’s more than one way to get to a goal. If a certain way worked for you, lay out your process. But, please don’t promise that this one thing will transform someone else. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.

Over-Promise

Are you suggesting to 3 X, 4 X, 10 X, or supercharge someone’s day? You’re saying it will work for everyone, but this isn’t possible.

Saying something will happen within a specific timeframe is just as bad: 5 Minutes to a New You, 3 Ways …, …No Matter What, … You Can Apply Now. Whatever method your suggesting may work for some. But if you said this might work for 1 in 1000, no one will read your advice.

Shoot for something in the middle. Go for a title with a bit of hope and intrigue, but one that doesn’t over-promise either.

Look Inside

Are you using the teaser approach? You want to give the snippet of an infomercial and hold back the answer until the reader clicks through your title to read more. Ex: See #6 Inside. Implement these. One Way to. Try this.

Are you promising quick and easy? It’s too good to be true.

Eliminate False Impressions

Certain words give the wrong impression, and you may not even realize it. If these words are in your title, you’re likely overpromising something to be true: The, This, These. Couple any of those words with “will” and whatever follows is probably a lie. Ex: This Will Change Your Life. These Books Will Transform Your Thinking, The Key(s) to Start Your Day Right.

Final Thoughts

Your readers are the people you want to keep hanging around. Please don’t trick them with dubious titles and content that won’t work for a broad group of people. You don’t want them feeling tricked.

Instead of clickbait, you can try a truthful approach:

  • Piggyback on an established person's advice
  • Share a personal process
  • Use an element of shock and excitement without creating a false pretense.

The bottom line is this: Stop lying to your readers. They deserve better. They deserve the truth.

Be truthful with readers and you won’t have to trick them into spending time with you.

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Professional freelance writer | Happy Mom of 2 bringing you amazing tips on parenting, travel, & lifestyle with a touch of humor & sarcasm | Dog Mom | Bestselling author.

Austin, TX
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