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How Likely Is Your Next Headline Going to Fail?

By Britt Malka / March 19, 2012

Facepalm

If somebody woke you up in the middle of the night and asked you what you would put in your headline, you would probably say “keywords”. Because that’s what we’re taught.

When we want somebody to read our article or blog post, we should always start with the keywords. This is SEO wise and blah blah blah.

Well, yeah, it might be. But we’re forgetting about the human part of the equation.

A headline should have only one main purpose. If your headline fails its purpose, you can put all the best keywords in the world in it, and your article or blog post will fail anyway.

How can you tell if your headline is likely to fail or not?

Headline Fail Reason # 1

According to Copyblogger, there’s one way of putting your headline, which is almost 100% certain to fail:

Make your headline ask a question that your reader can answer ‘no’ to.

They also give an example of a headline that failed:

“Are Your Readers Calling You a Liar?”

The answer for most of us is “no”, so we go on with our other activities without thinking more about that blog post.

Sometimes, it’s not as obvious. Numerous times, I’ve received emails with subjects like: “Do you want more traffic to your blog?” and my internal dialogue continues: “No, stupid! Of course I don’t want traffic.” And just because that question was so stupid, I wouldn’t dream about opening up the email.

Ask A Question the Reader Cannot Answer

It’s great to ask questions in headlines, but it must either be one that the reader can answer “yes” to and feel compelled to read more about, or a question that the reader cannot answer, without having read the article or blog post. The latter is my favourite.

This is what Copyblogger says about it:

The proper way to use a question headline is to ask a question that your readers can’t answer. In that sense, your question (like all good headlines) becomes a compelling promise to the reader that they’re about to discover something they didn’t know before, if only they keep reading.

They managed to fix the failing headline in a very effective way, I think. Instead of “Are Your Readers Calling You a Liar?” they went with “Do Your Readers Secretly Think You’re a Liar?”

And there’s no way the reader can possible know the answer to that question.

How to Know Which Headlines Hit a Homerun

Copyblogger’s post also give a nice tip to how to know which headline works better than others. Tweet it. Then check how many retweets it got.

Another way is to use some kind of statistics. You can either use Google Analytics, Jet Pack for WordPress or other systems.

Which headlines have you failed with? And which have been a huge success? Let us know in the comments. (And with “us”, I don’t mean me and my invisible friends or staff, but me and all the readers.)

Are Your Readers Calling You a Liar?
2 comments
justin - March 23, 2012

great tips on using headlines. thanks.

Reply
james - March 23, 2012

great tips on using headlines

Reply
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