Copywriting legend David Ogilvy once said that “on the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
That’s great news because it means a great headline has the power to attract lots of readers to your blog and to help you build your business.
Unfortunately, it also means that headline mistakes are incredibly costly. A bad headline could not only lead to fewer visitors but could also hurt your reputation and push people away from your business.
Here are 8 common headline mistakes and how to avoid them!
#1 Being too descriptive
The number one mistake I see small business owners make is to write purely descriptive headlines.
New workout routine
Reading in Spanish
These blog post titles are not the worst in the world, at least people more or less know what to expect but they don’t make you think “I need to read that immediately”.
That’s because these are not headlines, these are descriptions.
And as everybody knows, descriptions make people yawn, not click.
To avoid making this mistake, try to be more creative and to think about the part of your article that makes people want to read it.
What’s one thing that distinguishes your tomato soup recipe from other tomato soup recipes? Is yours more detailed, more cheesy, spicier? Do you use a secret ingredient? Does your article include a video?
It could be that you use a special variety of tomatoes, or maybe your recipe is particularly easy to make or uses a secret spice. Whatever it is, conveying that in your headline helps you turn a boring headline into an exciting headline people want to click.
Here are a few tomato soup headlines for inspiration:
Easy Three-Ingredient Tomato Soup Recipe – Inspired Taste
This headline isn’t incredibly exciting but it at least tries to appeal to readers who find tomato soup recipes too complicated by using the adjective “easy”.
To make it even more appealing, you could try to add even more detail:
Easy Three-Ingredient Tomato Soup
The Easy Three-Ingredient Tomato Soup Your Kids Will Actually Want to Eat
The Ultimate Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup Bowl – Tasty.co
Here, “ultimate” implies that it’s not yet another tomato soup recipe. Plus there is grilled cheese, something few people can say no to.
This may sound simple but writing a good headline is often simply a matter of finding what makes your article unique and expressing it in a few words.
31 Jokes Only “Stranger Things” Fans Will Find Funny – Buzzfeed
Here, a purely descriptive headline like “31 hilarious jokes” becomes considerably better just because it’s more specific. Instead of targetting people who like jokes (ie: everyone), the writer decided to target a specific group “fans of Stranger Things.”
Targetting a specific group is a surefire way to create better blog post titles because, as humans, we love to feel part of a group.
#2 Using clickbait
Clickbait headlines will bring hordes of visitors to your site but it comes at a price.
By definition, clickbait headlines overpromise and underdeliver which means that each click on a clickbait headline erodes the trust people have in your and site.
A clickbait blog post title is the equivalent of airlines promising flights for 5 euros, they will attract lots of people but most of these people will feel cheated when they land on your website and realize what you promised doesn’t actually exist.
That’s why it’s important to look at each headline you write and to make sure you didn’t unintentionally exagerate a few aspects.
During my headline experiment, I came up with the following headline for an article:
15 strange French sayings they don’t teach you at school – French Together
This headline sounds nice at first and uses curiosity well but I decided not to use it because I don’t actually know whether people learned the sayings mentioned in the article at school or not.
If a person clicks expecting new French sayings only to discover sayings they did, in fact, learn at school, they will have less trust in the site.
So unless your goal is to create the next viral sensation, make sure your headlines don’t overpromise.
#3 Revealing too much
Clickbait headlines often work by overusing curiosity. They use phrases like “you will never guess what happens” to open a loop we are desperate to close.
The problem is that they always disappoint us.
But curiosity is a powerful force and it would be a shame not to harness its power just because a lot of people misuse it.
If your article contains something surprising or unexpected, make sure you mention it in the headline.
But also be careful not to spill the beans.
That’s a mistake I see lots of bloggers make. They write everything you need to know in the headline and make reading the article optional.
Just compare these blog post titles. Which one would you be the most likely to click?
Soapwalla makes the best deadorant for women
This little-known brand makes the best deodorant for women
You may still click on the first headline if you don’t know Soapwalla or want to learn what makes it better but the key piece of information (what brand makes the best deodorant for women?) has been revealed in the headline so you have less of a need to click.
The second headline, on the other hand, makes us want to click because we are desperate to know the name of the brand.
To grow more tomatoes, this man decided to water them more
Kind of a boring headline, don’t you think? There is nothing unexpected, and no reason to click.
But what if the headline had been:
One Man’s Genius Idea To Grow Tomatoes – Eat Local Grown
That’s much better.
If you are interested in growing tomatoes, you will click this headline because you are curious to see what the genius idea is.
#4 Trying to be too clever
Every time I take the London Underground, I see ads with clever play-on-words and fun pictures.
The problem is that clever ads often lack clarity and confuse readers who are not familiar with the product.
The same is true for headlines. I love clever headlines that rely on puns and play on words but the fun factor shouldn’t come at the cost of clarity.
In the battle between clarity and cleverness, clarity wins every time because people rarely click on headlines that confuse them.
If people don’t understand your headlines, they will most likely move on and read another article or get distracted.
#5 Ignoring SEO
Talking about search engines…
While it’s essential to craft blog post titles people want to click, neglecting search engines is a big mistake because people don’t click on headlines they don’t see.
The first step to writing a SEO headline is to try to include your keyword in the headline.
I say “try to” because it’s easier said than done and there are cases when adding your keyword will make the headline sound very unnatural.
In such cases, see if you can at least add a synonym. Google and other search engines have gotten smarter and it’s perfectly possible to rank without even mentioning a keyword provided that the topic of your article is clear.
For example, this page ranks second for “Learn French Online” even though the keyword isn’t written anywhere on the page.
Besides having a keyword in your headline, it’s important to make sure your headline isn’t too long for search engines results pages otherwise people will only see the beginning of it.
Research by Moz indicates that 90% of headlines will show up properly in Google and other search engines as long as they are under 60 characters.
This number tends to change regularly so I recommend using a WordPress plugin like Yoast SEO to see how your headline is likely to show up in search engines.
#6 Not measuring results
Writing great blog post titles is awesome but how do you make sure your headline is a great as you think it is?
You could use proven headline ingredients or follow headline frameworks but there is still no guarantee that your headline will perform as expected.
That’s why I recommend you to A/B test your headlines. This process will help you prove your assumptions right and make sure that your headlines are indeed great.
Added bonus: the more time you spend A/B testing and looking at the results the better you will become at writing good headlines and predicting which headlines will perform best.
#7 Being out of date
A while ago, a blog reader named John commented on one of my articles to tell me the dates were wrong.
I was confused and checked the article for mistakes.
That’s when I realized he was talking about the blog post title.
I had written “2018” in my headline and forgotten to update it as the year changed. This may sound simple but that’s the kind of tiny mistake that could hurt you by making your site look out of date.
Moral of the story: Writing a date in a headline is a great way to get more clicks but don’t forget to update the date.
#8 Forgetting embarrassing typos
Having occasional typos in your article isn’t a big deal. In fact, I regularly see typos in articles I read online.
Problems start to arise when the typos you make change the meaning of the headline or confuse people
Just look at what happened when a newspaper forgot a hyphen.
Have you ever made one of these headline mistakes? Can you think of other mistakes to avoid?