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.
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?
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!