Far more often than not, entrepreneurs miss the mark when it comes to writing headlines for their content. And when they miss the mark, they miss it by a lot.
Bad headlines can kill your blog posts and articles, keeping them out of the hands of your target customers—and burying the value you’re trying to share.
Content-killing headlines are a widespread problem for entrepreneurs who depend on business content to build credibility and attract clients. But what, exactly, makes a headline fail?
As a content strategist, I’ve seen hundreds of failed headlines across industries. No matter the subject or the audience, they always have at least one of these five fatal flaws:
- There’s no identified audience. Writing a headline to attract all readers just doesn’t work. Like the old adage says, if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Think of writing headlines like throwing a party for a group of guests. You don’t just run out and grab food, drinks, and decorations at random. Instead, you take careful stock of who you’re entertaining—and then you shop according to their likes, wants, and needs. A headline should speak directly to your target reader. Your first step is to identify precisely who that is.
- There’s no clear promise. Some headlines don’t promise readers anything about the content, leaving them in the dark—and failing to catch their interest. Make sure your headline clearly announces a specific promise to readers. What should they expect to find inside? Maybe it’s a how-to article about reupholstering sofas, a blog post about gardening in August, or a site page about consulting services for CEOs. Whatever it is, make the promise obvious and clear. One of my favorite examples is an article I received from a sales guru a few years back, entitled “Sales Story.” This vague, generic headline is the epitome of how a promise-less headline can kill your content. It means nothing.
- They promise too much. On the flip side, many businesses are obsessed with attracting web traffic and earning click-throughs. As a result, they make wildly false promises in their headlines, opting for the “shock and awe” factor. They use catchy terms and grandiose claims to draw readers in—but the content never delivers on the headline’s lofty promise. (Even more important, this tactic is frowned upon by Google. Google won’t reward you if readers don’t remain on the page long enough to actually read the content. It used to be that good headlines meant good Google rankings; now, great headlines and great content are both required.)
- There are no “trigger” words. A headline without a dash of powerful language will fail to intrigue any reader. Long before we were obsessed with Google keywords, there were “trigger” words. These simple words or phrases elicit emotional reactions, making people feel happy, sad, excited, motivated, or even angry with just one glance. Some examples of common trigger words include: new, never, top, kill, powerful, must, unstoppable, and ultimate. To find the right trigger word for your headline, ask yourself, “How do I want readers to feel when they read this headline?”
- They’re not concise enough. Many headlines fail because they’re simply too long and convoluted, turning readers off before they even get started. We live in a world of short attention spans and constantly competing stimuli. To get readers hooked, your headlines need to be short and sweet. Try not to surpass 10 words in a headline, and keep it under 65 characters if possible. Make it a habit to write short headlines and you’ll also avoid the dreaded “cut-off” feature on many content platforms, which limits the number of characters you can publish in a headline.
Keep these five common mistakes in mind the next time you write a headline. The key to writing powerful headlines for your business content—whether articles, blog posts, site pages, e-books, or anything else—can be boiled down to this: Captivate your ideal customer and make exciting promises that can be kept.
Which of these five ideas was most helpful for your content strategy? Share below in the comments!