7 Triggers to Use in Ads to (Practically) Force Readers to Click

“To catch a fish, you gotta have the right bait.”

When I was ten years old, my dad took me fishing for the first time.

He wasn’t really a fisherman himself. But he wanted me to learn.

We started with a trip to Wal-Mart to buy fishing rods, a tackle box, and a variety of lures and fake worms.

I remember feeling really happy about the lures. As a 10-year old, I thought worms were gross. I certainly didn’t want to load one up on a fishing hook.

Then we headed for the lake.

Two hours later, I hadn’t caught a thing.

Finally, an older man came by and looked over my equipment.

“Son, you don’t need any of this fancy stuff,” he told me. Then he leaned down and held out a white styrofoam cup.

I took the cup, which looked like a cup of dirt.

“Dig your finger down in the dirt,” he said. “Those are nightcrawlers in there.”

Then he stood up and smiled.

“To catch a fish, you gotta have the right bait,” he told me, then walked off.

Sales Funnels Need Bait

I didn’t know it as a 10-year old, but that old fisherman had just taught me my first lesson about sales funnels.

Right now there is an ocean full of potential customers for your product. They’re good prospects, but they don’t know you. They don’t know what you sell. They don’t know how you can help them.

It’s your job to change that.

This is the top of the funnel, the place where you do everything you can to catch the attention of your target audience.

To be successful, you’ll need bait—something so enticing prospects can’t help but notice.

In fishing, it’s night crawlers.

In sales funnels, it’s an irresistible ad or an amazing piece of content.

It’s something—anything—that earns you two seconds to introduce yourself to people in your target audience.

Quick note: I’m not talking about deceptive “clickbait” formulas here. You can expect search engines and social media companies to continue to crack down on spammy clickbait in the coming years. Facebook already has.

7 Triggers that (Practically) Force Readers to Click Your Ads

How do you create ads that catch the attention of people in your target audience? Here are seven tried and true paid traffic strategies you can use:

1. Use Stories as Hooks

I’ve written before about stories being a secret weapon for anyone building sales funnels. Research has shown humans are hardwired for stories.

It’s why hit movies bring in billions of dollars. As marketers, we can use this to our advantage.

When you hear the first few lines of a story, you naturally want to know how the story ends. So, at the top of the funnel, write an ad or a headline that hints at the story to come.

If the content is compelling, people will click.

Want a great example? Upworthy does story-based headlines better than just about anyone else:


Source: Upworthy

2. Add Personal Callouts

Good ads will shout an invitation to your target audience. They scream: “Hey you! Yes, you specifically. You should pay attention to this.”

My favorite example is from a classic direct mail campaign written by Gary Halbert.

It’s known as the “Coat of Arms” letter. You can read the full letter here, but here are the first two paragraphs:


If your name is Macdonald, are you interested? You bet you are, because it’s talking to you, specifically, not just anyone who might pick up the letter.

You can do something similar in places like Facebook by adding personal callouts to the intro of your ad. You can’t target names like Halbert did, but any personal detail will make the ad pop.

Think identity. Job titles, city names, activities people participate in and use to define themselves. For example, here’s one I mocked up in Facebook:


If you’re a sales rep, this tells you this story is for you, which is very different than most of what you’ll see on Facebook as you browse. Other examples:

  • KATY, TX

3. Include Female Faces

Eye tracking studies have shown where people really look when they see images. I love what this ad featuring Scarlett Johansson tells us about images and attention.


Image source: Business Insider

Yes, guys. In marketing, it’s her face that dominates the audience’s attention, especially her eyes. Don’t forget it.

No matter the gender of the person in the photo, faces are always among the hottest areas in an image, with female faces gaining more attention than male faces.

This image from a male and female Facebook profile is also telling. The study included viewers from both genders looking at the two profiles.

Men and women viewers were both more likely to look at the female profile picture. In the male profile, the face is still a hot spot, but not as much as on the female profile.


Image source: Business Insider

4. Use the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

In marketing terms, get readers to take an action. Any action.

This is why polls, quizzes, and tests are so incredibly effective as top-of-the-funnel marketing tools.

This landing page from bills.com is one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to get people moving in your funnel.


If you have debt of any kind, there’s almost no way not to play with the slider.

Click through a few slides on the site and the company asks for your contact info so it can send you a personalized report about your situation.

That kind of personalized offer is much more compelling lead magnet than a standard generic offers.

5. Invoke Curiosity

Using curiosity is like a turning on a high-powered magnet, which is why it’s such a heavily-used tactic among the spammy clickbait marketers.

I don’t want you to be a spammer, but I do want you to get good at using curiosity to attract attention at the top of your funnel.

Curiosity works because it creates uncertainty in the brain of the reader. To answer their uncertainty, they’ll have to click to find an answer to their uncertainty.

Right now, you’ll find the best examples of curiosity in native ads from services like Taboola or Outbrain.

Here’s an example from my local newspaper’s website: the Dayton Daily News.


Source: Dayton Daily News

I should say: many of these ads tend to be spammy. The fake news articles in this example all have that feel. But if you look closely, you’ll find a few that make a promise that peak my curiosity about a product, instead of a celebrity scandal. In this case, it’s a promise that a meal service is cheaper than my local store.

As a busy self-employed parent of two (who tries to have a life outside his business too), I’m interested.

6. Solve a Problem

Useful, actionable content never goes out of style.

To be effective, target a pain you know is shared by people in your target audience, then promise to solve it.

Much of our content at Performance Marketer falls into this category, and it works beautifully:


7. Create Numbered Lists

Sometimes derisively called “listicles,” numbered-list articles are everywhere. I’m writing one right now in fact.

I don’t know the deep psychology behind why numbered lists are so effective. I suspect seeing a number gives readers a concrete idea of how long it will take to read the article.

This much I do know: I’ve tested numbered lists in multiple markets with a variety of companies.

They work. Period.

If you need proof, just look at newsstand magazines like Cosmopolitan and Entertainment Weekly. They rely on catchy headlines to sell copies of their magazines. As a result, they have some of the best headline writers in the world.

If Cosmo ever stops doing numbered lists, I will too.


Finaly Thoughts on Sales Funnel Hacks

It’s been 25 years since an old fisherman handed me a cup of nightcrawlers and taught me a lesson about bait.

I think of him from time to time. And while I’m still not much of a fisherman, I’ve never forgotten the lesson he taught me.

I often work with clients who are frustrated with their funnel results.

They don’t understand why people aren’t clicking, why Facebook gave their ad a “2” relevance score, or why their cost-per-click and cost-per-lead numbers are outrageously high.

Nine times out of 10, they’re using the wrong bait.

There’s a time and place for a high-tech spinning lure.

But don’t underestimate the effectiveness of tried and true strategies—like nightcrawlers or numbered lists.

Get to know your audience, study the mistakes people make at the top of the funnel, then use the tricks in this article to improve the results you get with your ads and content promotion.

Do that well and people start clicking your ads and paying attention to your content. Not everyone of course, but enough to get you started.

The more you work on top-of-the-funnel content, the better you’ll get to know the people you’re trying to reach—and the more attention you’ll attract over time.

And as you know by now, attention—more than anything else—is the critical first step to any successful funnel.

Nathan Collier

Nathan is a content marketing expert. He’s been writing professionally for over a decade and has extensive experience creating content online. He’s also a former journalist.

  • Robb says:


    Anton shared your post. I really liked what you said: “They don’t know what you sell. They don’t know how you can help them. It’s your job to change that.” It’s simple, but it’s true. Sometimes we don’t think of designing our ads with this in mind. Thanks for the tips.


  • Anastasia says:

    Awesome tips! Thank you, Nathan!
    Any recommendations on how to create quizzes?

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