(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.
While 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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