How Not to Write the Most Annoying Headline of the Day

(Alternatively titled as: How not to write an headline that sucks. Except, that one is pretty annoying, too.)

You know what, I haven’t written any posts about headlines, ever.

annoying headlinesWhile it has not been a conscious decision, I have never felt compelled to tackle this topic.

There are couple of reasons for that – I am not expert at writing headlines. I mean, I do think that I do a decent job but I wouldn’t consider myself someone who had extraordinary (read viral) success with headlines so I am happy to leave it to those who do.

Secondly, I don’t like most of the headline formulas that supposedly work.

I strongly feel that headlines vary quite a bit from industry to industry. So while a headline will work great for you if you are a nutritionist or a life coach, it might not necessarily work for someone who is an online marketer.

My thoughts on writing headlines are simple.

1. Don’t be gimmicky just for the sake of it.

Don’t try to scream for attention in the headline, don’t be desperate, don’t insult your readers by calling them dumb or stupid.

Your headline will get clicked on, there is no doubt about it, but would you connect with the person doing the clicking or would they click away in a matter of seconds?

If you write an headline that screams ‘Top 10 (insert industry) mistakes that make you look dumb’ and then you follow up with a mediocre list, you won’t have happy ‘clickers’ on your hands.

Or worse, what if you are making the same mistakes on your own blog? Who is feeling dumb now? (Which is why I never write posts about proofreading. Ahem!)

Look at this other headline: The shocking truth about …?. Sure, go ahead and use it but it better be worth your readers’ time. Don’t come up with a lame post that can’t back up your claim.

Don’t do the bait and switch, either. Don’t use hyperbolic headlines and then write about something completely different.

Remember, getting attention is not that hard, keeping it is harder.

2. You can’t control what goes viral so stop trying.

Stop trying to write a headline that goes viral – you are going to kill yourself in the process.

You can’t control that – you just can’t.

Even if your post goes viral but trust me, the traffic that comes your way won’t always be sticky. Your posts might not get much engagement.

How many times have you seen it happen? Somebody shares your post and it gets picked up by a popular blog. You get a surge of traffic but how many people actually stay, explore your site, even sign up?

I am guessing not many.

Even on a rare occasion where you get a ton of sign-ups, do you have to resort to tactics that are meant to shock and awe?

What happened to a classy ‘How to —– and ——‘, or ‘Little known ways to —–‘, or ’10 —– ideas that really work’. I would click these headlines, would you not? Especially coming from a source I like and trust.

3. Appeal to your ideal audience, would they like it?

Whenever I write a new post, I picture my ideal reader sitting across the table.

I write my stuff for this reader. What will she like? What will offend her?

If she knows me already, great, that makes my job a little easier. If she doesn’t know that I exist, then I have to get her attention – but in a classy way. Because that’s who she is – a classy person.

Maybe your ideal reader prefers something a bit more tongue in cheek, or they really dig colourful language? In that case, writing headlines like using words like abundance, empowerment and awesomesauce is a surefire way to annoy her to no end.

Know and understand what works with your audience. Don’t try to copy headline formulas that you don’t feel 100% comfortable with.

At the end of the day, the only purpose of a headline is to get it clicked. Make sure your content matches up to the hype.

If you trick people into opening it, and don’t follow through with what you promise, they will end up feeling duped and won’t be so inclined to click on your post again.

And I can’t blame them, would you?

Leave a comment. What are your thoughts on writing headlines? 

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  1. Daryl Says :
    Posted on March 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Interesting post Marya.

    For the most part I agree with you. Writing a headline simply for the sake of going viral can appear gimmicky and try-hard if you don’t get it right. That being said, I do think that there is lots of merit to writing a great headline AND following it up with great content. The two definitely work in tandem and both can strengthen the effect of your article.

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 4, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Hmm .. I never said anything to the contrary! 🙂 Writing a great headline is super important as long as you can deliver the goods.
      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Vivi Says :
    Posted on March 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I agree that such headlines sound like tabloid newspapers, so unless those readers are ones you aim for, it’s best to avoid them. Yet you can still use basic headlines that attract readers by, as you say, picturing your actual audience, living, breathing human beings that would want to read what you have to say. I struggle with having headlines that are more like appropriate titles for essays vs. gimmicky headlines for blogs. English teacher that I was, I’m inclined to the former.
    Thanks for your post!

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 4, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks, Vivi. Agree 100% with what you said here.

  3. Sarah Hightower Says :
    Posted on March 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    This is good stuff! The headline posts I’ve turned to for help have been a turn off because they don’t seem to apply to my industry and are too gimmicky. Your advice here brings the headline writing down to my level and takes off a lot of pressure. Picturing my ideal reader sitting across the table from me when I’m headline writing feels more practical than following a gimmicky formula. Thanks so much for this post!

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks, Sarah. You certainly don’t want your reader rolling her eyes when she sees your headline, you know what she likes – choose wisely! 🙂

  4. Ginger Harrington Says :
    Posted on March 4, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Another helpful post. Thanks for keeping it simple and reader focused:)

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 4, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Thank you for your support, Ginger. Appreciate it! 🙂

  5. Pat Moon Says :
    Posted on March 5, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Delivery on the headline is so right on. I have been using http://www.aminstitute.com/headline/ to rate my headlines and have been pretty pleased with it. I usually work on my headline until it rates at least 40% on emotional appeal. Once I get the right headline then I have to remember to deliver what I’ve promised! Great thoughts in this article.

    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks, Pat. Glad to know it got your approval! 🙂

  6. Peggy
    Posted on March 6, 2014 at 1:30 am

    I do enjoy your straight forward approach to timely and valuable topics. Keeping it simple and doable!


    • Marya Jan Says :
      Posted on March 6, 2014 at 2:56 am

      Thanks, Peggy! Appreciate your support, as always. 🙂

  7. Suhail Says :
    Posted on March 8, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    On the contrary, headlines of my blogs are so long that they seem to be from 17th and 18th century. And I like it that way.

  8. misssfaith Says :
    Posted on March 10, 2014 at 1:15 am

    Thanks, a great post!
    For headlines – if I want to keep my blog personal I stick to my headlines. I believe that being authentic is more important than sticking to headlines which may fit into some SEO attention.

    Being unique is rarely enough these days so stick to who you are.

  9. Mainak Halder Says :
    Posted on March 11, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Marya, you have hit on a great subject, too many bloggers overlook the title, and it is probably the most important. If you don’t have a great title, nobody is going to open the book.
    Thanks for sharing such a nice post. I will definitely come back for more information. 🙂

  10. joe arrigo Says :
    Posted on March 19, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly. Try to make the title catchy, yet keep your integrity by being honest with the haedline to reflect what the subject matter is about.

  11. Sagar Says :
    Posted on March 21, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Nice and informative post

    I fully agree that “Headlines vary quite a bit from industry to industry”. And coming to how well any keyword works for a particular depends upon the category too.But our approach should always be towards having better keywords.

    Title plays a major role in any blogging. It is the title which turns the reader to read the blog or continue with his work.If any one founds the title interesting there are maximum chances that he would read that post or article. The above article gives 3 points which we should use when blogging our posts.I hope this post would help many other bloggers,especially beginners.

    Thank you for sharing

  12. Frank Simmons Says :
    Posted on March 24, 2014 at 2:04 am

    For me its all about precision when choosing the headline and it need to be relevant to the article in some way or it really can look lame.Thanks for the post as it got some great content what the WP owners need to learn or I have to say the bloggers need to look for.

  13. dilip yadav Says :
    Posted on March 27, 2014 at 11:49 am

    This will really help me in my headlines for blogging.
    Thanks for sharing them with us.

  14. Adam Kielich Says :
    Posted on March 31, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    It’s definitely a fine line between a well-written headline that entices people to read useful content and a headline written as gimmicky clickbait that will turn people off from your site.

  15. Hemanth Says :
    Posted on April 7, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Hi Marya,

    Its really great. I appreciate the way you conveyed the information. Its simple and understanding. I will surely implement your guidelines in my upcoming posts.

  16. Michelle Says :
    Posted on April 10, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I really like your writing style. Clean and simple but with a sense of humor.

    I agree that you always be real and not a gimmick.

  17. joe arrigo Says :
    Posted on April 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I agree. Writing a great headline needs balance. A creative way to state your subject, and one that doesn’t deceive the reader. If you disappoint by leading them on, there most likely will be a price to pay. Not worth it.

    • Mark Says :
      Posted on April 15, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      I will be upset at any headline that misleads me. Misleading headlines are as irritating as doing a search for “white hat linkbuilding” and finding a post about sending 40,000 blog comments through ScrapeBox.

      Your right Joe. This tends to put everything else the person has done under a cloud of suspicion.

  18. mung Says :
    Posted on April 12, 2014 at 7:35 am

    I love reading your posts, Marya. Always so informative. Thank you.

  19. Glenn David Says :
    Posted on April 14, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Hey Marya, its true that we can’t predict which title will go viral but we can try our best to do so by writing a completely worth and sharable content and keeping the title short, descriptive and attractive as per the content. This is what I think and practise.

  20. Abdullah Khan Says :
    Posted on April 14, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I think headline testing is important, from blogs post to landing page copy. While there are is no perfect ways to get the exact statics, but still we can get an idea what works and what not

    BTW, thanks for the article 🙂

  21. Himanshu Says :
    Posted on April 16, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Hello marya,

    First of all, This is my first visit on my blog.. Only one word for you.. Awesome.. I really enjoying your writing and of course blog also..

    Headline of an article is really an crucial part which helps you to drive traffic as well as readers attention… Keep writing such a awesome stuff.. Have a nice day 🙂

  22. tabish khan Says :
    Posted on May 28, 2014 at 9:55 am

    every posts here is awesome and interesting thanks for sharing the post i really enjoyed it.

  23. sivani Says :
    Posted on June 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    i like your approach.it is very simple and the correct point of view, Most i try to write in the simple headlines. Won’t like to mislead the viewers.
    Thank you for this post marya