I was at a conference in Washington D.C. in the late 90s for an exclusive group of winners. We came from 31 school districts and 26 states. Our proposals had been chosen from more than 5,000 from across the country, to be funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Five years of funding, with an average of three-quarter of a million dollars to each of us to support academically at-risk middle schoolers in their learning challenges.
The feds present that day wanted to make sure we knew both how special we were and how much was expected of us.
The first presenter walked to the podium in that Hilton ballroom. We leaned forward with pens and notebooks, poised to record all the stuff we would need to know to implement our grant projects.
She removed her glasses, peered out at us and paused.
“I have just seven words for you,” she said. “Do what you said you would do.”
Of course, she and the other government officials had many more words for us over the course of those three days. But she led with her most important message.
We got it. We had better do with the money what we said we would do. You see, the federal government is very strict with their funds and the easiest way never to get another grant is to misspend the money you were given.
To this day, I have never forgotten those words. Because they apply to the work we do, the relationships we are in, and—really—to life itself.
What’s This Got to Do with Blogging?
I’ve been noticing a troublesome trend lately. I subscribe to dozens of blogs. For most of them, only the blog post title shows in my inbox. And often I will click through (or not) based on the title. Is it an interesting topic? Does it look like it will teach me something or offer a new perspective?
But because the competition for reader attention is so fierce, blog post headlines can sometimes go sideways. Off topic. Irrelevant to the content of the post. Or, worst of all, written purely for shock value. The temptation to lure readers in with a sexy or sensational headline can be great.
After all, we want our busy, time-challenged readers to click through and read our posts, right? We want them to invest in our content, just like the grantmakers who held the purse strings wanted to invest in good programs.
Still, those words keep coming back to me:
Do what you said you would do.
3 Headline Fails
Aside from my dislike for any headline with rockstar, killer or suck in it (and you don’t want to get me started on that), creating a headline that makes a false or misleading claim is the fastest way to turn me off to what might be an otherwise helpful blog post.
The headlines below are based on actual ones I’ve seen. So here you go. Three blog post titles that make me see red.
1. The ‘tempest in a teapot’ headline
This headline teases us with an idea that seems to be revolutionary, but it turns out to be just an exercise in language manipulation.
Example: Why No Business Should Use Online Social Networking
What was the headline’s promise here? That we would learn why we shouldn’t network online.
Would you click through to read this article? Of course you would. But this writer broke the cardinal rule: deliver what your headline promises.
In other words, do what you said you would do.
Eight paragraphs into his article, this blogger tells us that it’s time to stop referring to it as “social networking.” We should really call it social marketing, he says.
I clicked on the headline that promised one thing, only to find I’d been deceived.
2. The ‘dominate the world in just five minutes’ headline
We all want to accomplish great things in as little time as possible. I get that. Just don’t mislead me into thinking I can switch blog themes in as little time as it takes to change my nail polish. Because after reading your post and giving it a try, if it isn’t that easy, you will make me feel like I am stupid—and (this is a big one), I won’t trust your advice anymore.
Example: It’s So Easy My 90-year-old Grandmother Can Set Up a Blog
I don’t know a lot of grandmas who can set up a blog. And at the age of ninety? Maybe a few. But I don’t think it would be ‘easy.’ So already the blogger has lost credibility—and my trust.
3. The ‘throw in random words as linkbait’ headline
Now I’m not talking about ‘white hat’ link baiting here. In its purest, best form, link baiting is merely creating content that is interesting enough to catch people’s attention and encourage them to link to our sites. I’m all for that. I think it’s what all bloggers want to see happen.
Just don’t mislead me with words or names that have nothing to do with the content of your post.
Because if you stuff keywords into a headline for the sole purpose of feeding the search engines and getting more links, you will lose me. And if I eventually find out that the post I’ve invested time in had nothing in common with its title? Sorry. That’s deceiving me— and disrespecting me as a reader.
Example: How to Get Lindsay Lohan to Read Your Blog
Okay, someone threw a celebrity name into their headline. They’ll probably get some hits from all those people googling “Lindsay Lohan.” But if, when you clicked through, the post just had regular tips to attract more blog readers, that’s a headline fail. Because the post had nothing to do with Lindsay Lohan.
Now I’ll admit, I once used “Justin Bieber” in a blog post title: Would you lose $100,000 if Justin Bieber Got a Haircut? Turns out, though, that this idol of millions of teenage girls had everything to do with the point of my post, which was about…well, you’ll just have to read it.
You can write headlines that attract your readers without deceiving them
So, can a blogger write a gripping, click-friendly headline without all the hype? We think so. Stay tuned for the launch of our Energize Your Blog online course. Bobwp and I will show you how to create powerful, attention-grabbing headlines and more: how to get readers to your blog, how to engage them, how to get them to come back and how to get them to share your content on social platforms.
What about you?
Do you ever read blog post headlines that don’t deliver on their promise?
Do you think there is a fine line between attracting readers’ interest with a punchy title and misleading them about your content?