I used to write for The Dallas Morning News, and back then, I had to write headlines all the time. Here's what I know about writing headlines based on that experience:
A title must make a reader want to actually read the article.
There are several ways to reach out and whet a reader's appetite with only a few words:
Communicate a Benefit
Make the title more appealing by communicating some type of benefit. The benefit can simply be some type of enticing information a potential reader might want to know
For example, if I were going to try to rewrite my browser post More People Prefer FireFox over Internet Explorer so it communicates a benefit to the reader, I might write it like this instead:
"America Agrees: The Internet is Better on FireFox."
(Okay, I admit, maybe not the most enticing, but the best I can do with that particular topic.) If I were using Internet Explorer, I might ask myself, "Really? What am I missing here? I think I'll check this article out." Why? Because I'm curious about the benefits of using FireFox over Internet Explorer.
Write Something Controversial or Worthy of Debate
Everybody loves drama, so a good way to attract readers is to write a title that seems a little bit controversial.
Applying this principle to the same blog post title, I could have written:
"Why Internet Explorer Sucks and FireFox Rocks."
This is a title that's debatable. I'm sure there are some people out there who love Internet Explorer. It's also a little bit controversial because it's mildly inflammatory. I've just stated that a widely-used product sucks, and obviously not everyone is going to agree with that statement.
Create Fear and Offer a Solution
Ah, fear! The universal motivator. Politicians know how to wield this weapon the best, but that's a blog post for another day.
How could I have created a little bit of fear with that same blog post title? I could have written something like:
"Internet Explorer Can Hurt You. Find Out Why America is Switching to FireFox."
Incidentally, if you are reading this post, it could be that you were motivated to do so a little bit by fear. After all, you probably wanted to find out how you might be inadvertently sabotaging your social media marketing. Right?
Engage the Reader by Asking a Question
What if I had written:
"Why is America Switching from Internet Explorer to FireFox?"
Maybe a reader would go, "I don't know. Why? I kinda would like to know." And then they'd click on the link and read it.
Sound Off: Who else is guilty of thinking more about search engines than they are about real people? How is this affecting your marketing efforts?
5 thoughts on “Prevent Your Blog Titles From Sabotaging Your Efforts [Headline Writing 101]”
I agree with everything except creating fear. I suppose you could call it “creating concern” which I believe is what you mean, but with all the paranoia going on lately, fear is the last thing I’d want to instill in people.
I’ve used all the others though 🙂
Concern or uncertainty. I see that a lot. “Are your files safe?”, “…this happens in an accident…”, “is she really going out with him” (oh wait, now I’m thinking about songs).
I do admire the standard your set yourself to not play on that, Ken.
Great article! Sites like Fark have taught us that what blogs and online article are titled is what makes people want to click through. Love the advice about writing something controversial so that it becomes a conversation piece.
The title is of utmost importance. When I think of some of the titles, I have put out on the World Wide web, I cringe. Most important though, make sure it is relevant to your content. I have arrived at some posts and the content does not deliver what the title says. It is easy to get carried away when trying to think of good titles.
I recognize that, Natalie: feeling the article didn’t deliver on the title. Usually more a fault with the article than with the title. Of course no-one labels their post “300 words in which I rehash what has been said elsewhere” 😀
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