Don’t Do These 12 Things When Writing Headlines

Don’t Do These 12 Things When Writing Headlines

Reader Comments (90)

  1. Great advice, but you’re killing me! 🙂 I’m just about to write my latest post about how you loss track of the music when you’re really feeling the dance of Argentine Tango. I was going to call it The Tango Stole My Ears!, but now I’m double-guessing myself. Any suggestions?

    The Tango Notebook

  2. “The Tango Stole My Ears” is an attempt to be clever. Don’t do it. How about “How to Lose Yourself in the Argentine Tango” or “The Music vs. The Dance: Will the Tango Win?” or “Lose Yourself in the Tango? Here’s Why It’s a Good Thing.”

  3. I so agree the headline is important, and they’re just the beginning. And, comments alone is not the final measure or success. Sometimes a post with few comments doesn’t mean it’s a failure. Oddly, some of my most popular blog posts (based on traffic and sharing and links) have no or few comments.

    One of my most popular posts, boringly but accurately entitled “Business Letter and Business Email Salutations”( gets hundreds of visitors a day, but few comments.

    This has made me assume that a blog post can be very valuable to readers, even if it’s not commented on much. An accurate headline, traffic and sharing seem to be most important benchmarks for identifying if a post helps my readers.

  4. Extremely useful information! These are tips I can use right away to make myself a better blogger. Good thing I’m finding this at the beginning of my career.

    Thanks for the help! Keep writing great stuff like this…

  5. Mary,

    A post I wrote this past weekend generated a one page email response to my inbox rather than a comment. When I asked why the person didn’t just post it to the blog, they said they didn’t know how. So, it’s possibly that many of the people that find your posts helpful, as obvious as it may be to leave a comment, simply don’t know how. This is an extreme case, I know, yet it’s possible.

  6. Jaky,

    I think so, too! But… I believe Jon is right about keeping them tame if you don’t already have a faithful audience, so as to not deter them from your site. Other than that, if you’re posting only for your people, work the witty, Jaky!

  7. The points are fabulous Jonathan, thank you! When I first starting blogging I loved coming up with creative titles for my posts. However as you mentioned, and through experience, I’ve found that the ones with straightforward titles are the most popular.

  8. I don’t know…it all sounds good in theory, but to me it sounds like not trying to do all these things causes you to lose your authenticity in the process and end up always 2nd guessing yourself.

  9. @Nathan, I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. Authenticity isn’t the same as lack of competence. It’s common to feel a little odd when you first start working with copywriting technique, but it’s just a matter of practice. Trust me, we can be authentic and genuine while still employing the smartest persuasive tactics available.

  10. I have started reading the Digg homepage daily with the theory and hope that by immersing my mind in good headlines on a daily basis, I’ll some how soak in the ability to write more effective headlines.

    You’re right, headlines are by no means everything. But as a blogger… it’s painful to write a great post and yet not feel completely confident about your headline.

    I happen to believe we absolutely know when our headline is good or not. If I can spot a headline in my reader and say “it sucks,” and spot another one and say, “it’s awesome,” then I know when my headlines suck or when they are awesome.

  11. @Nathan, also let me add that it’s not theory. Everything we know (and teach) about headlines has been tested to see what works… from many decades of headlines in direct response marketing, to many years of blogging. 😉

  12. Jonathan, thanks for this article. I’d like your comment and that of others on the effectiveness of positive/negative headlines.

    The “How To….” or “21 Ways to…” may get tiring but they are positive, they are can do statements that make readers feel that great headlines are possible.

    In contrast, Jonathan’s “Don’t Do” headlines feel like the 12 Commandments but these dozen negatives could be expressed positively, provide the same useful advice and have a different impact .

    I am encouraged more by the positive framing of headlines rather than the “Thou Shalt Not” approach. Maybe others like to be flayed with a dozen verbal lashes.

    Look forward to your response.

  13. Thanks again for the great tips, I read the article the other day about writing effective headlines and it really hit home as does this one! Love the post and love reading the blog.

  14. Hi Geoff. Posts outlining common mistakes that people make are extremely popular. Lots of people are terrified of screwing up, and by putting your post in that context, it enters the conversation already going on inside their heads.

    Also, I remember reading somewhere that something like 30% of all people are goal oriented and 70% of people are problem oriented. In reality, talking about problems and goals are exactly the same thing, but people will understand you better if you tailor what you’re saying to the way that they think.

    The reason I took a problem-based approach for this post was that all of the headline posts written before were targeted at people whose goal it is to write better headlines. I guessed that a certain group of people would be much more interested in hearing common problems. Based on traffic numbers so far, looks like I was right.

  15. Jon and Brian

    Many thanks for your helpful responses.

    The psychological research is fascinating and your effort is impressive to key into the consciousness of the readers who are afraid they might stuff up!

    So grateful!

  16. Great post. I clicked through to all the links too, but my question must be a bit off-center. I routinely get a hundred times as many clicks from Stumble On as Digg or Delicious or any of the social media sites. I liked your insight into Delicious–about the numbered lists. What is it about Stumble on that makes them like my headlines?

    Whatever it is, I want it for all the others! Thanks.

  17. Hi Kali, I checked out your blog. You have some pretty good posts there.

    Getting traffic from Delicious and Digg takes a lot of effort. Normally, it’s not something that just happens. You have to promote a post like crazy for it to make it.

    With StumbleUpon, on the other hand, you can often get a few stumbles, and then it kind of takes off from there. Doesn’t take much promotion. You just need a good post.

    So, I’m guessing that’s the difference. If you were to write some resource posts, post them to Delicious, and then get about 30 people to bookmark it for you, I think you could have some success there too.

    Digg is another story. I’m not sure your subject matter is really conducive to Digg. You’d probably have to come up with a special angle specifically for the Digg audience.

    Anyway, the bottom line is I think your headlines are pretty decent. If you did more promotion in other places like Delicious, I think you might succeed there as well.

  18. #11 is key! Never sweat the failures. How else can one improve? Even the very best in every profession go through slumps. Remember: A writer writes, always.

  19. Thanks, Jon. I’m going to take your suggestions and see if I can crack Delicious next. I was stunned when my StumbleUpon referrals increased by 1000% overnight, so I thought the other social networks would work the same. You’ve now explained that.

    I look forward to more of your posts.

  20. Good stuff. I’d add “Don’t Give up.” Don’t ask for opinions is a good one. I worked as the editor of a magazine many moons ago and I used to dread it whenever my publisher would take an elevator ride. He’d invariably ask the persons standing next to him what our magazine needed and he’d come back filled with well-meaning ideas that were generally all wrong for the publication. Everyone will have a suggestion or an idea, of course they have nothing invested in the outcome.

  21. So true! I used to try to be unique and clever and no one noticed my posts. Now that I am using simpler titles, I am getting better results. =D

  22. @Anthony, you’re reminding me of my corporate days. (Hiding under my desk now.) A million well-meaning suggestions and no real vision.

    @Lone Wolf, we are certainly very sorry. 🙂

  23. Thanks, this is really useful information. I’ve always struggled with #3 the most. It seems like for some reason we’ve been conditioned to come up with clever headlines. It often takes some discipline to come up with a headline that is useful and descriptive. Many times when I sit down to write a blog post, the subject matter comes out fairly effortlessly. Writing headlines is a different story, I often have to rewrite my headline several times before I’m satisfied. Thank you Jon for addressing an issue that I constantly struggle with.

  24. Great advice! I just started my blog and only have a few posts, but I will be spending a LOT more time thinking about the headline before I post the next one!

  25. This is great advice Jonathan thank you. I think the point that stood out for me was not worrying about failing. I think we all worry that what we’ve worked hard to produce won’t get any recognition, but it is worth putting out there so you learn from your mistakes.

  26. But I like clever headlines. And I click on them. ( You are now witnessing the copywriter brat mood.)

    You are right though. One thing I am missing in your list is test and compare. Don’t you ever do it? And if indeed you do, what tools do you use?

  27. I thought about writing one about testing, but “don’t fail to test” would be kind of weird. It’s something that you should do, not something you should avoid not doing.

    But yes, testing is important. 🙂

  28. @Ina, that can be a tricky one–if you’re a copywriter, you’re going to have a quite different mindset than most of your readers. Of course you can write to please yourself or the folks who read you, it really depends on your goals.

    I don’t know of a split test mechanism for WordPress headlines, and it would probably be lousy for SEO even if it existed, since you’d divide any links between two different pages. But you can test it for yourself by sometimes using clever headlines and sometimes straightforward ones. Then you can see which posts get more clicks, traffic, links, and comments.

  29. Yet as a copywriter you secretly hope that whatever makes you happy will make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    I only let myself convinced that being a “smartbrains” copywriter is not necessarily good after testing and seeing with my own arrogant eyes how much it matters to adapt to your readers instead of trying to adapt them to your own personal style. (As much as that would hurt an ego:)

  30. I think #1 is the hardest advice to follow:) Not everybody can write like Hemingway. But sometimes you can find your muse by looking at already works.

  31. @David Cain and Sonia Simone. I like #10 ,too, while generally not liking the restrictions this post places on me, so #10 calls for the C-word, compromise.

    I generally have several titles in mind and have to make a choice, so…pick the best for your best project, then the second best for your second best project, and save the rest for rewrites, submissions to secondary article directories, etc.

  32. I just follow one thing and creating a question … curious question for my post and that will be my title. Although I do not apply every time … just when I want to hit Jackpot … 😀

  33. I had to laugh when I got to #11.
    I’m experiencing this right now.
    I give it a few days then move on.
    Moving on is not hard for me because
    I have so much I want to share.
    Great Post! Thanks for sharing. :~)

  34. I’ve tried to be clever in my blog title a few times, and when I go back to read it, it looks cheezy and I can see why more than half of my members wouldn’t get it. Good advice.

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