Don’t Spoil Your Headline: 10 Mistakes Writers Make
Are headlines really that important for a successful online presence? Well, according to the opinions of the experts, a well written headline is absolutely mandatory for engaging your audience. They are your one and only chance of making a good first impression, one that will induce your readers to continue, sentence by sentence, right through to your call to action.
Online readers are a savvy bunch, with amazing abilities to filter any material irrelevant to their quest. If your headlines don’t immediately convey the benefits of reading your post, they’ll quickly move on to content that holds the promise of greater value. And with no readers, you can’t share your ideas, no matter how great they may be.
Effective headlines are based on market formulas that have been tested by industry giants over the years. So, to become proficient it’s a simple matter of study and then adapting an outline to your specifics. Sounds easy, right?
Test your headlines knowledge by seeing if you’re making any of the following 10 common mistakes. If you are, the solution already exists, so please, read on…
1. Treating your headline as an afterthought.
A great headline takes time, attention and focus. It needs to convey an idea, emotions, conflict and resolution. An outstanding headline is bloggers’ poetry, concise and evocative, whetting the appetite for more with promises of satisfaction.
To give the headline is proper due consideration, Brian Clark of Copyblogger recommends writing the headlines first, with this explanation: “Why? Your headline is a promise to readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.”
By tailoring your content to fit the promise in your headline, you have the benefit of writing content specifically for keeping that promise, making the content focused, on topic and compelling.
2. Are you trying to be completely unique and original with every headline?
If so, please stop. This is an exercise that would stretch even the most creative of writers, and there’s simply no need. Headlines that work are based on tried and true methods that have been tested over and over, and continue to get great results regardless of the medium used.
Make your own compilation of swipe files for ready reference, and learn what makes an effective headline effective. Here are a couple of very helpful reference guides available for free download: Brian Clark’s Magnetic Headlines from copyblogger.com and Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks report from boostblogtraffic.com.
3. Headlines without keywords.
Keywords are important. And keyword research is like a crystal ball, giving you the ability to see what your target audience is looking for. It also endows the ability of talking their language. “Keywords matter, because when you speak the language of the audience, you attract more readers, more links, more retweets, more social bookmarks, and yes… more relevant search traffic.”
4. Are your headlines too passive?
If they are, then buff up for greater impact with an “active voice and strong present-tense verbs.” Neil Patel’s infographic on Hubspot gives a formula for creating effective headlines that demonstrates this principle very well.
5. Headlines without authority.
To establish the perceptual position as an authority in your niche, learn to master the ‘list’ and ‘how to’ headlines.
How do these types of posts bestow authority? List and how to posts are formatted to educate or entertain in a quick and easy manner, so if your content matches the headline’s promise you can quickly establish expert status. Plus, as Chris Lake at eConsultancy points out, if these posts are of value they can become “opinion magnets” and “share worthy”; a superb way to be seen as an authority.
6. Headlines that stretch credibility.
Overexposure to the fantastical, adjective driven headline has caused a certain amount of reader scepticism.
Ideally, the claims in your headline should be exciting, but believable. Provide useful content relevant to your readers’ needs and wants. If you’ve promised excitement, don’t let them down with empty content.
7. Headlines of vague benefit.
This is the flip side of the above point, to make that WOW impression on your readers: “Overpromise and overdeliver.” This advice is from Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley, where they “use breathless headlines to set the bar for content high. “
8. Drone headlines.
If headlines are too familiar, carbon copies of others in your niche, your readers programmed reading habits will simply filter them out. Your headline should have a unique twist reflecting your personality or angle to set it apart from everyone else’s.
Neil Patel and Joseph Putnam of Quicsprout offer a good explanation on how to make your headlines more distinctive in their Definitive Guide to Copywriting.
9. Non-targeted headlines.
To be compelling, headlines must be specific. Let your readers know that your headline’s offer is what they’re interested in. If content is king, specificity is queen – they go together hand in glove.
10. Headlines with no sense of urgency.
If you can create a sense of urgency in your headlines, you may be able to convince your audience to continue reading so they don’t miss out on what you promise. However, use this tactic with some discernment. Not all headlines need urgency to work well, and for those that do, discretion is advisable to maintain credibility. A headline that urges action unnecessarily can be seen as empty hype, making it less likely to be successful.
The goal of all headlines is to draw the reader into your post and engage them all the way to the conclusion. And when you can do that on a consistent basis, you’ve mastered the art of the compelling headline.