Headlines Matter: Don’t Write Stinky Ones

Writers often slap some sort of headline (or title) on their work right before they publish. Don’t do that!

Headlines are more than just an afterthought; they’re essential to each piece’s success.

Skunk in flowersA poorly written headline is like a skunk at a garden party; people won’t come or will leave very quickly. So, how do we get people to stay and play?

Like barkers at a carnival, headlines need to hook readers in that split-second first impression. If readers aren’t interested, the piece could be award winning stuff but go unread.

Headlines are also deceptively difficult to write.

“C’mon! They’re just a few words long. How hard can it be?”

Well, we need to put the essence of the entire work in those few words while making them sparkle to attract the attention of readers facing a gauntlet of info-barkers. Let me put it to you this way: it’s harder than answering “tell me about yourself” in a job interview.

“How do we give ourselves an edge?”

I’m glad you asked! First off, we must make sure that what’s in the headline has a strong connection to what’s in the piece. How many times have you seen an intriguing headline (“Turtles Take Over the World”) only to find out the story has nothing to do with what’s advertised (candy turtles beat out brownies in school cafeteria polling)? Feel betrayed? So will your readers, and you’ll never see them again.

Which brings me to the too cutesy headline. Yes, we want our headlines to be clever, but we don’t want to get carried away. A serviceable headline is better than an allusion fraught one nobody will get. Alliteration is fun unless it’s forced. Remember, there is a slew of impatient readers out there only too ready to move on at the slightest whiff of difficulty or deception.

Content real estate is valuable, so we can often cut out articles (a, an, the) and forms of the verb to be as long as we don’t sacrifice clarity.golf headline minus articles

A major problem when writing headlines is trying to include too much. Give the readers just a taste to make them want more. Don’t try to serve up the whole meal right away.

too long headline
This is much too long not to mention it sounds as if the newborn is sentenced to eight years in prison.

Also, make sure that the headline actually says what you mean. Mixed up word order can make for malodorous headlines.

misplace modifier headline
If the person is already dead, why did the soldiers shoot him? This should read, “Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian dead…”

When we remember to use techniques that get readers into the story without deceiving them, we can avoid headlines that stink.

Next Week: The Meat Is in the Content


7 Critical Content Concerns

me-me nametagNobody likes a braggart. On the other hand, if you’re in business, silence is deadly.

How do we market our businesses without being either of these?

There’s a fine line we have to walk when it comes to content.  If we keep the idea of quiet confidence in mind, it can help us avoid falling one way or the other. So let’s look at some techniques that can work as guide ropes for us.

  • It’s the customer, dummy! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (until I’m blue in the face if I have to), it’s what the customer needs or wants that’s important. We can have the niftiest product or service the world has ever seen, but if the customer doesn’t need or want it, it is all for naught.
    So, go from, “This is the greatest thingamajig you’ve ever seen!” to “This is how our thingamajig can make your life better.”
  • Headlines matter. Those bold snippets of information grab readers and draw them into the actual content. Great headlines are hard to write. Don’t get too cutesy or clever, and never leave a grammatical error. Headlines should cause folks to keep seeking more.
  • What we say is important. Flashy animation and pretty designs are great, but it all comes down to the information and how we offer it to our readers. If what we say isn’t clear or doesn’t meet the readers’ requirements, we get nowhere.
  • So are looks. Although what we say is vital, the way things look is also important. A pleasing or interesting layout that highlights our content is what we should strive for as well as ease of use for the reader.
  • Get the right attitude. Remember, we want to be quietly confident in how we approach potential and current customers. We all know people who are constantly telling us about all the people they know and all the great things they do. They’re rather annoying and actually come across as a bit desperate. On the other hand, the people who state things with confidence without feeling compelled to be the brightest star in the sky are the ones we tend to gravitate toward and trust.
  • Change is constant. If we try something and it isn’t working, we must analyze the problem and adjust what we’re doing. Nothing is written in stone; everything is open to revision.
  • Content needs nurturing. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to set up content then leave it alone. Our content is our relationship with our readers, customers, and prospects; it needs maintenance to retain the connection.

These are a few things we need to keep in mind when we’re marketing ourselves, our services, and our products. I’ll investigate each of these in more detail in my Monday posts over the next several weeks, so stay tuned.

What do you think of these points, and how do you deal with them?