07/01/2014 02:25 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2014

This Is the Worst Mistake Your Company Blog Makes

If you've been in business these last few years, you've heard the buzzwords "content marketing," "content strategy" and "thought leadership." A cornerstone of this "new" approach to marketing with its heavy focus on content is a company blog.

If you've read David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing and PR, downloaded a white paper from HubSpot or read the Content Marketing Institute's CMO magazine, you likely know better than to commit this grievous sin. Just in case you don't, and your company's blog is failing to engage readers (if you have any), consider this: The worst mistake your company blog is probably making is publishing posts with weak, unclear or self-promotional headlines.

Your headline is the first reason why visitors to your company's blog will or will not read a post. Some sources say that 80 percent of readers never make it past the blog post's title.

A good headline sets clear expectations in the reader's mind. He or she has some idea of what they're going to get out of reading your post. With that expectation in mind, they'll be more likely to click the link and read past the first sentence.

Take this blog post for example. "This is the Worst Mistake Your Company Blog Makes." How's that for a clear headline? You came into this post expecting to read about one egregious mistake you (probably hoped you're not) committing on your company's blog.

With bad blog post titles, you may be lucky to get a visitor to your company blog to even open the post. There are a few characteristics that make for a bad blog post title.

Vague or unclear headlines such as "On Motherhood & Storytelling" (the title of a recent post on Whitney English's blog) may evoke visions of English 101 essays. A headline such as this almost always indicates content that is about the blogger's own life and experiences. That's just a little bit 2009, thank you very much.

(No, seriously. In 2009, I was an 18-year-old blogger with visions of Carrie Bradshaw dancing in my head. That's when I wrote blog posts with titles such as "The Mourning Tree," and "On the Value of Opinions.")

The only exception I can think of to this point is Seth Godin's blog. His posts have such titles as: "The existential crisis (and the other kind)," "The handyman, the genius and the mad scientist," and "In search of meaningful." But even he mixes in more direct headlines such as "Three marketing lessons from Broadway," and "Self assurance [sic] checklist for the anxious traveler."

You also want to avoid using strictly promotional headlines related to your products and services. In fact, your content should not be entirely about the topic of your products and services. Your goal here is to write content for your audience, not for your sales goals.

Examine the habits of the potential and existing customers you want to capture with your blog. What problems are these people trying to solve? What search terms are they using? For example, they're probably searching for "Best marketing blogs" instead of "On blogging about marketing."

So good headlines should set clear expectations for your readers, and you can do that in a few ways. Blog post titles might be in numbered, reader-addressing, how-to, question or normal formats. Here are examples of each:

Numbered Format Blog Post Titles
5 Ways to Fix a Broken Window
7 Beauty Tricks that are Life-Changing
79 Engaging Tweets about Marketing

Reader-Addressing Format Blog Post Titles
Ways You Can Fix a Broken Window
Beauty Tricks that Will Change Your Life
Tweets About Marketing You Can Use to Engage

How To Format Blog Post Titles
How to Fix a Broken Window
How to Paint Nails with a Toothbrush (and Other Life-Changing Beauty Tricks)
How to Engage Potential Marketing Clients on Twitter

Question Format Blog Post Titles
What are Ways to Fix a Broken Window?
What are Some Life-Changing Beauty Tricks?
How Can I Tweet About Marketing in an Engaging Way?

Normal Format Blog Post Titles
Fixing a Broken Window
Life-Changing Beauty Tricks
Engaging Potential Marketing Clients on Twitter

As you likely see in these examples, starting with a headline and picking one of these headline formats could have a dramatic effect on the content of the blog post. In his research, Nathan Safran found that 36% prefer number-based headlines, 21% prefer reader-addressing headlines, 17% prefer how-to headlines, 11% prefer question headlines and 15% prefer normal headlines.

Try these variations out and see what garners more clicks, comments, tweets, likes and shares. Remember that your content has to be valuable, of course. A great headline won't generate more engagement if the body of a post isn't helpful, informative or entertaining.