A weak headline is the worst thing that can happen to your blog post or article. It doesn’t matter how informative or engaging the content might be; if no-one’s interest is piqued enough to want to click on it, you’ll have completely wasted your time. It’s like writing a great novel but failing epically on the cover art.
On the flipside, craft an attention grabbing headline and see your click through rate shoot up. A killer title will attract readers like bees to honey. It will act like a magic key that unlocks your content to the audience. Suddenly, your post is read widely, liked, commented on and shared, your content pushing your page up the Google rankings.
Writing a strong, irresistible headline takes work. As a professional content writer, spend whatever time is necessary to hone and finetune your draft headline before deciding on the final version. Come up with the right 6-12 words and the results will speak for themselves. Get it wrong and you may as well go home.
Here are 9 common headline errors you should avoid like the proverbial plague.
If you’re used to writing for traditional magazines and newspapers, you’ll know that an article’s headline is typically accompanied by a picture, strapline or intro, providing additional context for the body copy that follows. On the web, however, there is no such context – the headline has to say it all.
Example: No more room – we’re full
This headline is meaningless without further explanation – it might be about hotel occupancy rates or a piece on immigration. Add some more information and it suddenly makes sense:
Example: No more room – we’re full: How to secure a primary school place for your child
Statement of the obvious
A factual headline does not elicit curiosity, nor a reason to click through. It’s a statement of fact, so what? Everyone is short on time in the digital age, so unless you make the article sound useful, it’s likely to be ignored.
Example: 25% of your heating is going straight out of the window
Instead, create interest or build a degree of mystery into your headline to drive clicks. You could rephrase the title to make it more interesting like this:
Example: Top tips to cut your home heating bills
It’s amazing how many content writers don’t seem to realise that boring essay style headlines just won’t cut it in the digital world. A well written article headline needs to be engaging and stand out from all the other well written article headlines out there.
Example: The role of women in the modern workforce
This headline sounds like a book title and the subject matter is huge. Your short article will only ever be able to cover a small section of this vast topic, so why not craft a title that promises to answer your particular angle?
Example: 5 reasons why you should you go back to work after a baby
Who’s the target reader?
Your headline must make it clear who the article is targeted at. If the reader isn’t sure whether the content is meant for them, chances are your piece won’t get read.
Example: Diet related illnesses in children
Does this sound like an article aimed at parents? Is it a professional abstract for doctors or dieticians? Try tweaking the headline so it speaks more to the intended audience:
Example: What parents should know about healthy nutrition
There’s nothing wrong with writing an opinion piece but if your headline gives the impression that a long, contentious rant is coming, many people will be put off clicking through.
Example: Are you poisoning your kids with needless toxins? Why the current policy on childhood vaccinations is driven by the politics of big pharma
Better to choose a specific point and support your article with factual information from credible sources. A more enticing headline might say:
Example: What’s the sensible alternative to the combined MMR vaccine?
Puns and oblique references
A little mystery is a great way to entice your readers to want to click through to the article but you have to give them a clue! If you’re trying to be too clever with your wordplay or reference, or the meaning is ambiguous, it’s no wonder that most of them will lose interest.
Example: Sweeping beauties
The article is about bringing ancient Sussex windmills back to life, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the headline alone. The vague fairytale reference does nothing to help, while the meaning of ‘sweeping’, without the explanation that ‘sweeps’ are a local term for the sails of a windmill, is open to speculation.
Better to be crystal clear, so that the reader has at least an inkling of what to expect from the article, ideally with a few well chosen keywords.
Example: A new lease of life for the ancient windmills of Sussex
The danger with topical articles and blog posts is that they’re no longer of interest if the event referred to has past, the concept is outdated or has been covered to death.
Example: How to use Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ emojis
Facebook’s expansion of the ‘like’ button to include a suite of Reactions emojis happened in February 2016, with much publicity and discussion at the time, so this is now old hat. Unless you have a new angle on this topic or something fresh to add to the debate, the article is unlikely to get read. How about:
Example: Facebook Reactions: Why is there still no ‘dislike’ button?
Crafting a punchy headline is an art that requires the ability to summarise the salient message, not a kitchen sink approach. A long, rambling title won’t be focused enough to capture the reader’s attention and may confuse your audience with too many ideas all at once.
Example: Why you should always make sure that your employees are on time, and how to keep the office healthy, plus annual bonuses
Even more importantly, headlines that are more than 55 characters long are likely to be truncated in search results, so your wordiness won’t even be seen in full.
A better approach is to keep your headline short and to the point. You should be able to say it without having to pause for breath.
Example: 5 management tricks that your employees will love
Writing for the web isn’t about creating beautiful prose, it’s about imparting information. This means that you need to tailor your writing to the reading ability of your audience. Why risk the reader being put off by unnecessarily difficult words that may not be understood?
Example: 10 commendable endeavours of ebullient septuagenarians
Americans talk about adult reading proficiency being at the level of 7th or 8th grade. This would suggest that it’s a good idea to present your ideas in a concise, reader orientated manner without any unnecessary explanations or embellishments that couldn’t be understood by 12-13 year olds. While there’s no need to ‘dumb it down’, there’s really no point in showing off your knowledge of the dictionary.
Example: 10 ways to stay happy in your 70s