Headlines That I Hate: 5 Ways To Ensure I’ll Never Read Your Blog Post

Headlines That I Hate: 5 Ways To Ensure I'll Never Read Your Blog Post

You should know up front that this is not about writing a bad headline and how to fix it. There is plenty of great advice out there to help you make sure your content gets read and doesn’t end up on the Island of Misfit Posts.

This is about writing a bad headline… for me.

Why should you care?

Because I’m not alone. Lots of people I know share these same pet peeves and they aren’t reading your blog posts, either.

And the thing is, we could be missing out on some great content. You may have poured your heart and soul into it but you’re wrapping it with spit and duct tape and that just isn’t appealing.

So here are some silly, trite, tired approaches to headlines that you may want to consider wiping from your repertoire. It just might mean the difference between an eye-rolling click of the delete button and an extra reader who happily clicks the tweet button.

1. “X Is The New Y”

You see these in confounding numbers.

Customer Experience is the New Marketing (It’s not. Read this post from Jeannie Walters at 360 Connext for a great opinion on the matter.)

Social is the New Search

Also not. Social is social and search is search even if they are now intrinsically bound.

How about just telling me what something is instead of what it’s (allegedly) replacing? There is room for more than one thing in the world and in spite of how clever it sounds to be discovering some new paradigm, most things can still be traced back to the same fundamental principles of marketing.

The reason I don’t like this is because it implies that we should be rethinking our methods or tactics or perhaps even our entire marketing plans in light of “the next greatest thing”. It creates a false sense of urgency about something we should be doing. It has “I am a trend” written all over it and that can easily morph into “I am the next shiny thing. Look fast or get left behind!”

How about this instead… slow down. Stop riding trends and figure out how to adapt your tactics and turn change into opportunity. Tell me about your success with that and I’ll be sure to read.

2. “Z Is Dead”

More things have died this year than I can count… search, email, television as we know it.

A close cousin of this headline is in question format: Is Z Dead?

The answer to that is pretty much across the board… nope.

Facebook is not dead or dying. Heck, even MySpace managed not to die, in spite of our best efforts at slaughtering it via headline.

RSS is doing just fine without Google Reader (if you want to say that Google Reader is dead, go ahead. I’ll give you that much. But it still doesn’t make for an interesting headline.)

Nothing from Twitter to PCs are dead or dying.

I don’t like these headlines because they purport to be prophetic and end up being some lame regurgitation of a questionable statistic reported in someone’s ten-person “study”.

Here’s when something is dead: when it’s dead… for you. If email marketing is a waste of your time and you have experimented and tested and gotten zero results then call it and move on. Otherwise, forget what some guru somewhere has decided works and doesn’t work.

Even if you’re the last one standing on earth using a particular tactic – and it’s working for you – who cares if it’s dead or even undead?

3. “I’m In Love”

With a man? A cool app? Your new shoes?

Vague headlines that say absolutely nothing about the content of your post are a guaranteed way to ensure that neither I – nor most busy people – will click to read more.

I’ll admit it… sometimes I read posts even if they have the crummy headlines I just mentioned above. Usually because I’m looking for a fight, but still… ya got me.

But this one? Never.

These kinds of headlines say one of two things: I’m too lazy to come up with something better or I’m too self-absorbed to imagine why people wouldn’t be absolutely fascinated by my every word.

Does that sound harsh? Hey, it could be great content! But I’ll never know. If you’re really in love then woo me… just a little.

4. “Today”

Along with the vague headline, the one-word headline has lazy/narcissistic written all over it.

It’s almost an afterthought… oh yeah, I need a stupid headline. Here, take that!

You’d better have some impressive word up your sleeve if you want to make this even the tiniest but incentivizing. Even if your post is, in fact, about “today” give me a reason to care.

5. “The Secret To Doing ABC”

When you write a blog post, do you hide it behind paywalls and passwords? Do you forbid search engines from listing it and do everything in your power to prevent others from finding out about it?

No?

Then it’s not a secret.

I know this is a gimmick. A lot of people know this is a gimmick. It sounds very important but usually it ends up being the same advice I’ve read on a hundred blogs in a hundred different ways.

Beyond gimmickry, I dislike these headlines because they imply there is just one right way. The right way. And we all know there is no such thing.

So be honest: when was the last time you read (or wrote) about a “secret” that was truly new and heretofore undiscovered?

Then be honest in your headlines. Just tell me you’ve got a great idea for promoting my website. Not “the” secret.

Bonus: D Is A Scam

I called this a bonus because it’s a little different than the rest.

If you tell me something is a scam, you can bet your booties I’ll be clicking and reading!

But here’s what you’d better not do once I get there: bait and switch.

You know what I mean. There’s a headline that shouts, “Twitter advertising is a scam!”

I want to know why! What does that mean? Is there something I should be worried about?

Then you get to the post and what’s the first line? “A lot of people say Twitter advertising is a scam but I don’t agree. Here are six reasons why it’s great.”

Then how about this for a headline: 6 Reasons Twitter Advertising Is Great

Not only will I click on that but I’ll click on your next headline… and your next one… because I will trust that you’re going to share the information I want to know.

What do you think? Do any of these headline tropes turn you off, or are you still bedazzled by secrets and lured by the vague promises of single words?

Got any other headline pet peeves to share? Complain Tell me about them in the comments!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • Love this one Carol! I would agree about some of them, I don’t mind the ones with x is dead. But the secret, yes sometimes, really – is it a secret, why blog about it? Right? I haven’t come across the I love one yet. Some headlines are too vague and I may not read them because of it. Have a great weekend Carol!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Thanks Lisa, I know everyone has different ideas about what’s interesting and what’s not. I mostly avoid things that you hear a billion times… and these are some of them!

    • the problem with X is Dead is that it’s subjective but you’re making an absolute statement in the hopes of getting someone to click through. So you’re setting them up to be disappointed, which isn’t the goal of any blog post.

      • Carol Lynn Rivera

        Great point. It is subjective – not to mention pretty much wrong every time. I know most of these are meant to get attention but ugh… tired!

  • “What X taught me about Y”. One part of me should like these type of posts because they often think outside of the box (which I love) and try to see other areas from our niche’s perspective BUT the web is full of content and most of these posts got the same point.

    I also tend to avoid too popular headlines. Now recently every second post is about Google reader, before that about Google Penalty.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Ah, good one! Yes those are completely ignorable. I will occasionally write one in an attempt to be funny but not for any real “lesson”. Chances are you didn’t learn anything about Y from X but you made some $#&% up for a blog post 🙂

      As for those repetitive headlines… Bitcoin anyone? Panda? Pick a topic, it will be rehashed! Thanks for sharing those!

    • Oh so true. Like after the Olympics, “What Athlete X can teach us about social media”

  • clarestweets

    These are so true! Especially the “Z is dead” one. We all know what Mark Twain said about that one!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Ok ya got me on that one… I’m drawing a blank! But now I have to know, what did Mark Twain say??

      • clarestweets

        “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” 🙂

        • Carol Lynn Rivera

          HAHA! Yes indeed. I remember that now 🙂

  • I hate “The {definitive, complete, etc} Guide To {whatever}” headlines, as they almost always are nothing but a few tips on whatever the post is about. Any post with a headline like that would have to run at least 10,000 words.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Great one!! Yes, I totally agree. That might be a better topic for a book, and even so I doubt it could really be definitive. As a blog post it’s just disappointing.

  • TheTysonReport

    Could I add my personal pet hate: ‘x is y… ON STEROIDS!’?

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      ooo I like it. I think I’m going to need a Part 2 and compile every else’s pet peeves!

  • Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Carol,

    Well, I was going to check your blog choices of the week, but I couldn’t help click on this title of your.

    Well, even though I always try to raise interest and intrigue with my titles, I do not like the titles you give as bad examples here either. I particularly hate the one that says something dead… when for the most part, we know it’s not.

    I think that a lot of such titles come from bad advice to use them. I’ve been places where advice like such was given.

    Thank you for letting the world know that some people don’t like those idiotic titles 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Nope, nothing is “dead”. Those are silly articles because they usually don’t say anything useful. I don’t know who advises people to use titles like that but they are everywhere and hopefully THEY will die!

  • Melanie Kissell

    I can’t really add much to all the fruitful comments here, Carol Lynn, except to say I encounter these same issues with “email subject lines”. ICK.

    I’ve reached the point where anything with the word, “secret”, in it either doesn’t get opened OR I head directly for the unsubscribe link. Hate is a strong word but I really HATE emails or blog posts that lead me to believe something is bad when, in fact, people are actually about to tell me why it’s good. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of reverse psychology!! 🙁

    Oh, and telling me you’re going to offer up a “guide” …
    Had better mean you’re giving me something all-inclusive or you just lost a reader!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      I particularly dislike “secrets”. It’s soooo gimmicky and dumb. Guide is a good one! No doubt if you call it a guide it had better be more than 3 paragraphs!

  • Adrienne

    Maybe that’s why my headlines suck Carol! I’m not good at the intrigue or trend tactics. I just write what I know and I’ve tried in the past to add those words that are suppose to draw attention and bring people in.

    Okay, sometimes they work but I’m not being deceptive. I totally get what you’re saying though. Like, the dead part of they’ll share their secret with us. Bull! You don’t know diddly squat and trust me, this stuff is NOT a secret. Just because you haven’t heard about it yet doesn’t mean it’s so.

    Thanks for letting us have it and I’m going to be careful not to do any of this stuff. Like you said, if you don’t like it then there are plenty others out there too.

    ~Adrienne

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Adrienne, I don’t think YOU have to worry about dumb headlines! You are very good at saying what you want to say and not trying to trick or get people to read with some kind of weirdo hook. I don’t like tricks and gimmicks and I also don’t like when it seems like people just don’t care. Not any problems I’ve ever seen on your site!! So I guess it boils down to the important things which is be honest and care about your audience, right?

  • Yes! I totally agree, Carol Lynn. Headlines like this signal (to me) that the person writing is trying to pull a fast one and sell me something I don’t need (even if that’s just information).

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      If you see enough of them you start to get a whole lot skeptical!

  • Kathy Widenhouse

    Great points! I hate headlines that are hype. Headlines that make me curious, give me information, or offer a benefit pull me in.

    Great post here about how to know if a headline you write is doing its job:
    http://www.nonprofitcopywriter.com/headline.html

  • Carol Lynn Rivera

    I totally agree. Hype sometimes gets eyeballs but ultimately it’s usually a letdown. Stick to telling people what’s in it for them!

  • bahahaha… “Island of Misfit Posts”… you had me from the start with this opening. I love your blog post titles, but even more so, I love your writing style. You make everything so much fun.

    Just to toss my two cents into the ring {several weeks after it matters, but better late than NEVER, right?}, my least favorite headlines are the ones that include so many daggone hashtags and quotations marks and other unnecessary punctuation that my eyes glaze over and I completely miss the wording. I hit delete or skip or whatever the appropriate “I’m not going to read this” button is {dependent upon which platform I’m using to read the offending material}. If I have to struggle to figure out what the heck you’re trying to say before I’ve even entered into the piece, forget it. NOT HAPPENING.

    Or all caps. Forget titles with all caps. I don’t care what the wording says. If you’re screaming at me before we’ve even officially met, YOU. ARE. OUT.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      I live to amuse 🙂

      And totally agree~! Hashtags and whatnots are really annoying. I guess people do that for the sake of Twitter but good grief, how about your READERS?? Even one hastag or @ is enough to make me hit the delete button. There are so many blogs in the world. I can afford to be liberal with the delete button which means “YOU” (other people) better be good with the titles!