This is why I am not reading or tweeting your blog post

Harry Truman

Do you want to increase the readership of your blog by 400% in just one easy step?

Lean in close now as I share this blogging secret: “Stop writing sucky headlines.”

In today’s world, you simply MUST craft a descriptive, accurate, catchy and “tweet-able” headline.  I know this aspect of blogging has been written about before so I am mystified as to why it remains such an obstacle to so many bloggers.

If you don’t have a headline that grabs me by the throat in a nano-second you have lost me, and most other people too.

I swiped a couple headlines from my blog reader to illustrate both good and bad examples of blog headlines.  Maybe one of them is yours? Here are real blog headlines that were so bad I could not bear to click:

“False Hope” — The headline is smug. The writer assumes the post is so epic that they don’t even have to indicate what it is about. Unless you’re Malcolm Gladwell, I’m probably not going to read this.

“Your Video Presence” — This has the potential to be an interesting topic but the headline is too generic.  It doesn’t tell me enough about the angle of the article to force me to take the next action. I’m a busy guy. Sell me baby.

“What’s in a Word?” — I don’t know and I won’t find out either. It’s clever but not descriptive enough to capture my attention.

“A Walk in the Cloud, Part 2” — Cloud computing is an interesting topic but a “series” generally does not work for a blog. When I see this headline, I think “Well I missed Part 1 so I should probably skip this.” It’s like walking in during the middle of a movie.

“Monday Inspiration” — This could be a great article but it’s a lazy headline. Unless I am a regular reader and already interested in you as a person, this is probably not enough information for me to click through.

“Want to grow your revenue? Check out B2B Marketing Sales Leads, a sales lead generation program” Ewwww. You’re trying to sell me something. Yuck. Do this a second time and you’ll get deleted from the blog reader. No check that. I’ve already deleted you.

“New Yelp feature turns photos into online menus and we also compare tablet VS smartphones usage stats” This is an interesting headline but it’s too long. At 100 characters, it’s too long to tweet once you get the sender’s name in there. And remember, if it gets RT’d, that adds more characters. So keep headlines short enough to encourage social sharing.

Now, here are some great headlines from the pros:

How some people are using Triberr to kill blogging By The JackB — This headline promises a fresh angle on a hot technology. It indicates that people are mis-using Triberr to hurt something near and dear to me. I want to read this.

5 Lessons From the Best Example of Content Marketing Ever By Jay Baer — For my money Jay is one of the best headline writers in the business. And he knows a number in a headline is gold. Probably increases “sharing potential” by 30%.  Eight of my 10 most popular blog posts have a number in the headline and that goes for most other bloggers too.

What is sharing on Facebook worth in cold hard cash? By Jeff Bullas — Jeff is a master blogger who understands how to write a headline. He never fails to grab you and his content keeps you there. Combining “Facebook” with “cold hard cash” is a winner.

Five Tips to Navigate Sandy’s Stress and Sensory Overload By Judy Martin — We recently wrote about how capitalizing on the Hurricane Sandy tragedy was a bad idea.  But here’s another take. Judy writes a post that is timely, appropriate, and HELPFUL in a time of need.

Did technology kill curiosity? By Christian Hollingsworth — Christian is a masterful headline writer. In this example, he takes a simple question that might be on his mind, and the mind of others, and riffs on an answer. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Transmedia Writing By Geoff Livingston — Is it possible to get an idea across in just two words?  Geoff did it. “Transmedia” writing promises to explore a fresh concept and it made me click. Bravo.

So here is the Schaefer Ever-So-Useful List of Best Blog Post Headline Practices:

  • Make it “tweetable short.”
  • It should be descriptive and accurate. Don’t EVER mislead readers.
  • Make it creative enough to stand out in a crowded blog reader.
  • Numbered lists work well.
  • Grab me with something I have never seen before.
  • Make sure the “value proposition” offers something helpful.
  • Use descriptive and unusual verbs and adjectives.
  • Don’t make your headline an after-thought. It’s the most critical part of the post.
Did I miss anything? Was this helpful?

Illustration: This is a very famous headline announcing the wrong presidential election result, held up by the true victor Harry Truman.

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  • RogierNoort

    Once in a while we need to be reminded of the obvious. When it’s well explained with helpful tips.., so much the better. I saw the title in Twitter, clicked it to read more.

    It worked!

  • Fabulous post – good to see things like this which make you think you can always try harder, then harder still. Thanks!

  • radiojaja

    As some one that never has a problem filling a page with stuff, and for whom editing is the real issue (!) I find headline writing fascinating!
    Get it right and see your post soar! get it wrong and it will languish down the bottom of the pile.
    Its almost annoying that some of what I regard as my best work doesn’t get read, yet a snappy reblog of an infographic gets shares all over the place!
    I Spend loads of time on my headlines as it is – time to look at them again!
    thanks Mark!

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  • Thanks very much for a terrific post, and for the kind words. I say in every blogging training I conduct that successful bloggers who are not great headline writers simply do not exist. It’s simply axiomatic at this point, when the only thing potential readers have to decide whether to click is the headline.

    I absolutely recognize that somewhat hackneyed nature of the “Top 7 ways….” construct, but I’ve tested it over and over and over and (like you) have found that it just works. Correlation is not causation, however, and it would be very difficult to test fully without an A/B test (which unfortunately isn’t possible on Twitter), but I try to spend almost as much time on headlines as I do on the rest of the post. It’s that important.

  • Preach on, brother Mark.

    I invited a long time buddy of mine into one of my tribes. This kid and grew up together, we shared some great times together, I’d give up my left nut if I could help him.

    So, I invited him into my tribe even tho he has a blog about poetry which is totally outside of my wheelhouse.

    So, his blog title/headline is the title of the poem. Can you imagine how tweet-unfriendly those are?

    Here are some examples:

    Red
    Euphoria
    Hot breakfast
    I
    Moments of weakness

    Yup…those are his “headlines”. I share what I can and maybe these headlines would work if he built a poetry tribe, but for my audience this is just puzzling.

    I think I need to send hi to read this post 🙂

  • I always write my draft with a “placeholder” headline, and then go back and try to “szhoozh” it (is that how it’s spelled?) Another tip I read somewhere is to look at magazine covers to get inspiration for headlines; that can be a fun exercise. “10 sexy tricks to keep your readers wanting more…”

  • Excellent points. Your illustrations show exactly why some articles get clicks, comments and shares while others whither on the vine. I really wonder about some of the titles I see in my Triberr feed. They give no clue about the content of the article and do nothing to entice the reader to go to the site.

    That being said, I wish I had the gift of headline writing that JackB has. He seems to nail it every time!

  • Nice advice!

  • Hey, you’re a case study! : )

  • That really sums it up Tony. It really is that simple. Thanks!

  • Constantly learning new lessons from you Mark! Thank you for the “heads-up”…

  • Very inspirational comment Jay. I really struggle with headlines. I know that no matter how smart my post is, it’s going to languish without a great headline. And now that I’ve written 1,000 posts and 1,000 headlines, it gets even harder! Many thanks for the great comment!

  • Of course “Euphoria! A red-hot breakfast” would be a good start for him : )

  • I was rather fond of this one: http://ike4.me/11

  • I don’t know about that. Headlines make me a bit crazy, but there is a long story tied into that and I don’t want to hijack the thread. Thank you for the compliment though, I very much appreciate it.

  • Hi Mark,

    Thank you for including me here. I certainly can work on improving mine so they are more consistent in pulling people in.

    One of the “issues/challenges” that I see are the headlines that deal with time sensitive content. If you post something like “Monday’s News” there is a good chance that people who don’t come by on Monday will skip it because they don’t expect it to be relevant any more.

  • Good advice. I do the same thing!

  • I’ve even contacted some of those headline-challenged writers personally and it hasn’t made much of a difference : ( It just isn’t going to get shared.Thanks Carolyn!

  • Excellent point Jack. I should have had that on the list!

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  • When I started my blog I tried following the tips for crafting great headlines. My conclusion was I probably needed more overall writing experience because it was just awkward and I ended up with headlines that had little to do with the topic. When in doubt, just try to stay away from the really bad headlines 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this post. Writing good headlines is challenging. I’ve seen that as I’ve been starting my own blog and through a company that I’m working with on some SEO for YouTube videos. The age of SEO has made us so keyword paranoid that headlines tend to not even make sense anymore but if search engines like your headline and people don’t, it still doesn’t benefit you!

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  • A sound plan! Hang in there!

  • I had a friend who was “writing for SEO” and was miserable. She was addicted to keywords. Once I convinced her to loosen up and have fun, she enjoyed it more and had a lot more success attracting readers. And I think the way the SEO word is playing out, that strategy will also create the right business results too. Thanks for your comment Kathryn.

  • Sylvia Browder

    Fabulous post. I followed the link from twitter and had to find out why your blog was being boycotted. Your title is very attention grabbing. Thanks for sharing tips.

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  • Saskia

    We were also side tracked by SEO writing on our site. We have recently switched back to writing content that feels right and tweaking SEO a little afterwards and the results have been very positive. More sharing, more subscriptions and feeling better about ourselves. Time to re-look the headlines. Thanks, Mark for a great article and especially for the awesome summary at the end.

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  • newsworthy_az

    Good information and good to know. I’ve been blogging for about 9 mos and can say the post that got the most views fell under the tips that you provide.

  • Good insight. Thanks for sharing friend.

  • Ha! I’m my own case study. Was I under pressure to write a good headline? Yeah, just a little!! Thanks Sylvia.

  • Cool. Keep working it!

  • Ross Quintana

    Great post, for me the title, the picture, and the content all have to be compelling or I don’t release it. There is too much noise out there online and writing quality content is not enough. I appreciate your analysis on this subject and it is a dialog I have had in my mind for some time as I read the titles in Triberr to decide what I share. Thanks Mark

  • geofflivingston

    Thanks for including me, Mark. I agree with many of the comments and words here; headlines make or break blogs (and almost every other form of writing, from ads to novels).

    My father was managing editor of the Philadelphia News when I was growing up. He won two local pulitzers for his headline writing skills, including one I still see today when the story inevitably comes up about Elvis, “The King Is Dead.” I look to him as my teacher and hero when it comes to tight, punchy headlines.

    Cheers, and thank you again.

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  • Superior LLC

    Nice article and good concept… Thanks good to see you..

  • Joseph Botelho

    Just a wealth of solid and very informative information to gain confidence of the reader, tricks or tips that will encourage and grow an audience to your blog and articles. thank you Mark for the right receipt for success with any article you write or publish.

  • surely this just says more about the author as a person, not the best blogs? “If you don’t have a headline that grabs me by the throat in a nano-second you have lost me,” – well that just tells me you have a tiny attention span. I read blogs about topics that interest me, and personally I’d ignore every one of those “great headlines” as none of them sound remotely like something I’d enjoy reading. I guess my point is, if you are blogging for business or trying to sell something, then you’d need a different sort of headline to someone who is writing for pleasure; different audiences need different writing styles.

    p.s. – if you are writing about blogs, wouldn’t it be an idea to allow commenters to sign in with wordpress?

  • Great post, and I like your examples.

    I find it extremely hard to write short and compelling headlines like “Transmedia Writing” or “Did Technology Kill Curiosity?”.

    It’s easier to focus on the value proposition of an article and make sure a potential reader understand what he’ll learn or how he’ll feel better after spending time reading a post.

    I also don’t think it’s a problem to “recycle” strong headlines. When I pitch a guest post I review the headlines on the target blog, and I find the headlines that received most tweets. Then I tweak one of these headlines: I use the same structure but change the topic and replace some words. I like using strong and emotional words. It has worked well for me so far. And it’s not stealing is it?

    Oh, and talking about unusual words, I like these headlines from Sean d’Souza:
    Why Daily Learning Beats Gobble-Gobble Learning
    How to Put That Zing-Kapow in Your Articles (with Storytelling)

  • Great Ross. Sounds like you hold yourself to a high standard!

  • That is so interesting Geoff. No wonder you migrated so naturally to blogging!

  • I sincerely appreciate the dissent. I agree with you that my comment says a lot about the reader but would contend I am in the vast majority of time-starved readers out there. I’m glad to meet somebody still left out there with enough time to review blog posts leisurely. Thanks very much for commenting.

  • Great points Henneke that certainly add a lot of value to the discussion. I like the idea of “recycling!”

  • Ross Quintana

    BTW I just ordered a copy of your book Return on Influence. I am working on writing my own book on social media and influence and look forward to hearing your insights.

  • echarlie

    “Numbered lists work well?” Numbered lists suck. It’s a “Listicle,” and listicals are a lazyy writer’s way of getting something, anything, down even if’s crap. Give us a break.

    And thanks ever so much for explaining the famous Chicago Tribune’s iconic “Dewey Defeats Truman” picture. Are all your blogs so sophomoric?

  • Hey Mark! Hope you and your family had a happy and festive Thanksgiving. Love the article and especially love the examples. Mastering headlines is one of the final steps of blogging mastery – the 5-10 words that can make or break the blog post. It separates the good from the great.

    As far as other examples, I am always fascinated by how compelling the headlines of “spammy” sites are. The ones that say some thing “You wouldn’t believe what this girl did to her face” or “Find out why this man is banned from Canada” etc. They’ve not blog posts per se, but they do so well to arouse curiosity.

    Cosmopolitan (and women magazines in general) have been great at headlines, particularly milking the method of using numbers in a headline “7 Easy Ways to Look great this summer”, “21 Mind Blowing Tricks in Bed” etc. Magazine headlines are the closest craft to blogging headlines, and they have done well (they have to, since they’re most appealing when you’re waiting in line at the cash register and it just catches your eyes). It’s great how other industries can really teach us a lot about blogging.

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  • In essence, it’s all about the title.

    A tweet gets lost in the
    crowd so quickly, and people are not checking Twitter to click on every
    single link. They only click on the ones that catch their eyes and
    attention.

    I appreciate this breakdown of titles — both good and
    bad — and although I’ve aspired to craft catching and informative
    titles, you’ve inspired me to continue honing this skill. Thanks!

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  • Judy Arzt

    Obviously, your headline worked. When I saw it tweeted, I went right to the post.

  • Having a catchy headline works great for random posts, but if the mainstay of your blogging is film reviews, having a fun headline instead of e.g. “Filmname (2012) review“ means it won’t be descriptive and easy to find, which then defeats the purpose. Any suggestions for situations like that? 🙂

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