The Marketing Word | Differentiation Marketing

I Suck at Headlines

Best Sub Heading EverI saw one of the best headlines (actually, it’s the sub-head) EVER -->
on FaceBook the other day for an article in The Ulster Gazette about the price of a rail system (Over £100M!) The sub head is, of course, an extended pun on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hip, it’s funny and it works. DAMN!

It does violate one of the rules of headlines – that they be short. There’s a similar rule in comedy – the longer the joke, the stronger the punch line has to be. This sub head overcomes that rule. Each line of the subhead builds the joke. The payoff is HUGE.

Which brings home the fact that I suck at writing headlines. And email subject lines for that matter. A headline should convey what your article (or blog post or whatever) is about, intrigue the reader and draw them in. Many times you can do this by asking a question. The famous example is the Psychology Today headline that asked “Do you close the bathroom door when you are home alone?” Can’t remember the most common answer; I can remember that their subscriptions skyrocketed.

I really, really hate headlines (and subject lines for that matter) that lead you in one direction and then don’t deliver. If you want to piss off your followers, that would be a quick way to do it. I recently read an article on Huffington Post where the title had nothing to do with the article. (No, it wasn’t a Kim Kardashian side-boob article. They always deliver the goods on that one.) The comments blazed and the author of the article apologized profusely explaining that he did not write the title. Any merit the article had was negated by the misleading title.

If you can’t be intriguing, if you can’t be hilarious and you can’t think of a GREAT headline, do this:

1. Keep it short
2. Convey the main point of what the article is about
3. Convey that point in terms of how it will benefit the reader (Please Note: This post headline does not do this. Yes, I am a risk taker.)

There are “headline generating” programs that you can get. But you pretty much end up with canned headlines. “5 Easy Ways to…” or “Ninja Secrets for…” Blah, Blah, Blah. I think the general public is getting more sophisticated when it comes to sales copy and screaming headlines. Maybe I’m an optimist but then again, the National Enquirer’s circulation has been in steady decline since 2010, so there is hope. I think people are over-marketed. They are growing skeptical. The sales page headlines that worked so well in 2006, with promises of the secret to quick wealth have been seen too many times. People still respond to hype -- you can trick people into buying your stuff. But if you need to trick people into buying your stuff, maybe you should re-think what you are doing with your life.

Honor your client base by treating them as intelligent human beings. It’s a radical concept, I know. But for businesses whose target market is NOT the lowest common denominator, respect for your client base is a pretty good place to start and maintain the relationship.

Yes, you want a strong headline. Yes, it’s important. But you can try too hard. Many times keeping it simple, original and honest will work better than an over-the-top headline that immediately turns the reader off. Try it. Less hype. More honesty. Because this is real life, not a fantasy.



  • Tara Jacobsen · 04/28/2013 at 4:54 am

    Ohhh really good post! I too am (was) bad at headlines then I wrote a post about 100 great ones and got better at copying…:) Researching good headline writers made me a better writer and I think you sell yourself short!!!

    Here is the link – please feel free to edit out, was really just sending for your edification!!!

  • Brenda Ellison · 04/28/2013 at 5:00 am

    Great Topic! I am so tired of misleading headlines, SEOd article titles and “hooks” for selling. If you write a great article, there’s no need to use diversionary tactics just to get more people to read.

    Every time I click on an article and the first paragraph has nothing to do with the headline at all I leave and it doesn’t matter who wrote it. I see this everywhere lately as people scramble for attention.

    Good advice Barbara! Thanks for posting!

    Brenda Ellison

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