When it comes to writing headlines for your blog posts and other content, there’s one headline mistake that I see over and over again. And it just might surprise you to find out what it is:
You’re trying to be too cute and smart.
I know, I know, writers love to be cute, witty, unique, and original. And it just makes your heart sing when you pen that catchy headline that makes you feel so very smart. You can barely contain your smug self-pride.
You publish your post with high expectations.
And it just sits there. Nothing. Nada. No bites. No clicks. No shares. Horrified, you begin clicking links, looking to see if your post did indeed hit the blogosphere. After all, the only explanation is that there was some cosmic glitch.
Sadly, no. It’s out there. You’ve checked from every browser. The post is live.
What happened is you’ve become a victim of your own cuteness. You made that all-too-common headline mistake. It did not serve you well.
The Headline Mistake You Keep Making
When it comes to writing headlines, cute and clever is the most common headline mistake writers make.
And in these days of internet traffic being higher than a New York City highway system at rush hour, time is a highly valued and sought after commodity. Readers do not suffer kindly attempts to rob them of a minute of their precious time.
If you want to get your content read, your headline has to do its intended job.
Think Elevator Pitch
See what I did there? I’m trying to be cute. Well, sort of. But that headline is a subheading, not my post headline, so I have a bit more leeway here. Just a bit.
Still with me? Okay. Let’s move on.
What, pray tell, does an elevator pitch have to do with headline writing?
Well, dear reader, your headline’s main job is to grab reader attention as quickly as possible. No pussyfooting around here. There’s a job to be done. An important one — to stop your reader in their tracks and get them to open your post.
Your headline is your elevator pitch. Just a moment to get the point across. There’s no time to waste. People are too busy to spend their most precious resource trying to figure out what your cutesy headline is trying to convey.
To put it bluntly, they won’t bother. They’ll move on — step off the elevator, if you will — and disappear.
The moment is lost.
Sad, isn’t it? I know. I like to be smart and cute too, but I’ve learned to save it for dinnertime repartee with indulgent-minded friends and family.
Avoiding The MOST Common Headline Mistake
So must you forever give up your unique, witty one-liners and become a dull boy — or girl? Well, there are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and well-respected writers have been known to get by with a headline that breaks all the rules and still kill it with their off-the-charts content engagement.
But for the rest of us mere mortals, it’s best to stick with what works best for grabbing reader attention, at least until you’ve seriously earned your chops.
Avoid this common headline mistake, at least at first.
Then maybe — maybe — you can break the rules.
The Rules Of Engagement
Avoiding this most common headline mistake isn’t nearly as difficult, or as dull, as you might think. And when you see the difference it makes to your reader engagement, the wisdom of doing so will soon become apparent.
1. Make A List
List posts make headline writing a breeze. “10 Ways To Build A Better Mousetrap.” “12 Tips To Planning A Beautiful Wedding.” “5 Reasons To Get A Dog.” All of these are examples of pretty decent headlines. Why? Because they immediately tell your reader what to expect from reading your post.
There’s absolutely no room for doubt. You’ve spelled it out beautifully.
Plus, list posts are popular and are a great fall-back option for just about any blog post you write that aims to educate or entertain your audience. People love them because they’re easy to scan, they can consume the content quickly, and learn something in the bargain.
You can almost never go wrong with a list post/headline, and you can even make it fun, depending on your topic.
2. Keep It Short
More often than not, a shorter headline works better for gaining reader attention. To start with, it doesn’t get cut off by the search engines, as long headlines do. When people search for your topic, they’ll see the full headline in the search line.
Being able to see the entire headline means that critical keywords are less likely to be lost in the shuffle. And if you just cannot keep your headline short, at least try and put the keyword at the beginning of the headline. That way, the critical keyword will make the cut.
Now, when it comes to keywords or even short headlines, I always advise erring on the side of readability. Never force your content, or your headline, into too tight of a configuration. Doing so tends to make your content awkward to read, and your reader will likely bail.
When in doubt, write with the reader in mind, not the search engines. But do keep the search engines in mind and do your best to work your key content naturally into your writing.
3. Study The Pros
Not that you aren’t a pro, but when learning to craft engaging headlines, studying headlines on magazines, newspapers, ad copy, and other content will provide you with tons of examples of how to craft a tightly written, succinct headline.
The elevator pitch mentality will serve you well when it comes to crafting compelling headlines. It ensures it’ll be as short, concise, and engaging as possible.
A tall order, to be sure. No one said headline writing was for sissies. 🙂
Don’t let headline writing intimidate you. Learning to write engaging headlines takes practice. And even the best of the best can write a dud.
But even if your headline is a dud, guess what?
Who said you can’t go back and rewrite a crappy headline? Turn a ho-hum headline into a zinger?
That’s the beauty of online editing. Corrections are as close as your online editing software and keyboard.
Go ahead. Rewrite that headline. Fix that headline mistake. Over and over again, if that’s what it takes.
It’s totally okay.
I know. I do it all the time.