Top 10 Reasons Your Headlines Fail

Top 10 Reasons Your Headlines Fail“Fertile Woman Dies in Climax.” Now that’s a headline, and it’s no joke. It makes perfect sense if you know that the deceased lived in a northwestern town in Minnesota named Fertile and she died in a fatal car accident in the town of Climax, 32 miles east of Fertile.

Research shared by suggests that while 8 in 10 read your headline, only 2 out of 10 actually read the article. To increase those odds and drive crucial traffic, we’re sharing the top 10 reasons why your headlines fail.

1. Your headline length is too long. The best titles capture our attention in 8 or fewer words.

2. Your headline lacks clarity and doesn’t prepare readers. The worst examples are little more than a bait and switch proposition. If you’re not adding more value than promised, you’re missing an excellent way to grow your audience.

3. You fail to intrigue readers and instead rely on wishy-washy words and ideas. Boring and factual titles are a dime-a-dozen. Who wants to read Thursday Night: Portland, Oregon? Voodoo Doughnuts: Portland’s Best Kept Secret would have been stronger and it gets bonus points for the unexpected.

Did you know that negative superlatives outperform headlines that use superlatives?

4. Titles that fail to solve or avoid a problem or demonstrate a benefit are doomed. How to Blow $9 Billion grabbed my attention.

5. Failing to use numbers doesn’t add up. Who doesn’t want to know the 10 things about headline writing that will help us succeed?

6. Headlines that avoid controversy means you’re unlikely to spark discussion and build an audience through comments. Take a clear stand, go out on a limb and be honest with your readers about your position. If readers disagree, they’re likely to comment, and that’s a bad thing how?

7. Headlines that avoid powerful words in favor of a tame vocabulary mean articles go unread and unshared. Startup Cardinal Sins – Stupid Management Tricks uses a negative approach with strong words; no wonder it was trending on Twitter.

Are you using emotional triggers in your headline or shying away from them? NPR’s Seven Secrets of Feigning Objectivity wins for using strong and emotional words, a number and the unexpected.

8. Relying on a statement rather than asking a question is a tried-and-true means of turning off potential readers. And while you’re asking that question, don’t be shy about challenging your audience. Questions raise our curiosity and stimulate our brains. NPR scores points with Be A Varsity Player In Video Games? League of Legends fans will want to know more; go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

9. Are you speaking to your audience? Do you involve them with the simple addition of “you” in the headline? Do you know what your audience wants? If you don’t know what they’re searching for or what information they need, how can you ever hope to engage them with a headline?

10. Does your headline have a powerful keyword in it? If it doesn’t, chances are your blog post isn’t going to be seen in search engine results. Well, at least your mom will read it.

11. If you’re not tracking the results of each article, with attention being paid to the titles, you’re missing valuable metrics that clearly demonstrate what your audience wants. Tracking views, shares and comments is one way to understand what resonates with your readers.

Do you have any tips for writing great headlines? Share in the comments. And check out our other posts for more writing tips

Kathleen Gossman – Project Manager


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