“You’ll never believe what this marketer accidentally published on the company blog”
“We tried this shocking content marketing technique… and it worked!”
Does this style of headline seem eerily familiar? That’s because they’re using a technique called the “curiosity gap” to pique your interest and persuade you to take action.
The curiosity gap is frequently used by sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed, yet some see it as an undesirable technique. Many in the content marketing space see this method as a cheesy and manipulative way to get high click-through rates to online content.
For newcomers to the term, the “curiosity gap” is the discrepancy between what we currently know and what we would like to know. Marketers can use the curiosity gap in headlines to entice readers to seek more information.
The curiosity gap is based on “the information gap theory of curiosity” by academic George Lowenstein. According to Lowenstein, curiosity is a state that occurs when people can identify a gap between what they currently know and what they would like to know.
Curiosity triggered by information gaps related to a person’s competence is particularly strong, and information gaps of all kinds prompt people to take action.
Lowenstein came up with his information gap theory in 1994, long before the rise of social media. His theory has manifested itself in the widely popular “curiosity gap” technique used in social media and online content distribution.
Curiosity gap vs. clickbait: what’s the difference?
In recent years, the term ‘clickbait’ has been used with a broad brush to describe headlines making use of a curiosity gap. Journalists and copywriters around the globe insist there is one key difference between the two techniques.
According to most, ‘clickbait’ is where a title uses a curiosity gap to trick a reader into clicking on the page, only for them to realise what they’ve been promised to find out isn’t available in the article. Classic examples of articles using clickbait titles as opposed to curiosity gap titles are the articles you see at the bottom of other websites – the ones which give syndication platforms like Outbrain and Taboolah a bad name.
Clickbait is an example of the curiosity gap powers used for evil and not good. What isn’t clickbait is when the curiosity gap between what your reader wants to know and what’s in your content is small, and when you deliver on what you promise to say. Take the following Lush examples:
Should you be using the curiosity gap?
Like many techniques in content marketing, it depends. The curiosity gap technique works for companies like BuzzFeed and Upworthy because their audience is extremely broad. Using the curiosity gap results in an increase in traffic to your content but it doesn’t necessarily create an increase in targeted traffic.
This means using the curiosity gap technique may result in an extremely high bounce rate if your content is targeted specifically to one audience. In most cases, it should be.
Many people have a negative view of this technique and it does have an association with generic, entertainment-focussed content. This may be detrimental to your brand if your content is specifically targeted and information rich.
In 2014, Copyhackers ran a test that revealed using the curiosity gap led to a 927% increase in clicks on their pricing page. Although they acknowledged that click-throughs were not the best success metric, they did consider this a positive result for the business.
How to use the curiosity gap
If generic click-throughs are what you’re after, there are several tips to keep in mind in order to use the curiosity gap effectively.
Firstly, even Upworthy themselves acknowledge that a headline using the curiosity gap isn’t ideal from a SEO perspective:
“A headline that works well for Google is when everything you want to know is contained within those few words — meaning there is no need to click through. In contrast, a good social media headline seduces people to click through by telling them enough to whet their curiosity, but not enough to fulfil it.”
So, headlines with a curiosity gap should be kept to your social publishing, rather than your blog titles.
Secondly, use the curiosity gap with moderation. Identifying a gap too large or too small in the minds of your readers will not produce the best results. You don’t want to create a headline that overpromises but underdelivers, or vice versa.
Moderation should also be used in terms of how frequently your posts feature the curiosity gap. If every single social update your brand posts tries to inspire curiosity in your reader, you’ll experience a “boy who cried wolf” effect and put your readers off entirely. Worse, your brand may be associated with making false promises.
If you’d like help writing the perfect headline, come along to one of Lush – The Content Agency’s How to Write Business Content Like a Pro workshops. It’s guaranteed to improve your writing in just three hours.