Your Headlines Suck, and Here’s Why

Ever heard of David Ogilvy?

Most of the younger generation, like myself, have probably never heard of the guy, so let me tell you a bit about him.

David Ogilvy was THE original Mad Man and he is always referred to as the Father of Advertising. In fact, much of the advertising and copy that you come across in your day to day life is built off of the foundation that David Ogilvy left behind for others to copy off of.

As you can imagine, as someone who has been so influential in the world he is someone that many have turned to for advice when it comes to advertising and creating copy that turns people into the buyers we usually have to beg for.

Here is one knowledge bomb that he dropped back in the day that still has loads of truth to it:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline compared to the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. -David Ogilvy

Basically, the money is in the headline, baby. If you are still confused about writing your first blog post, do read our guide on how to write a good blog post.

However, so few actually spend the necessary time on crafting the headline of their posts. Or they spend too much time focusing on the wrong thing in the headline. The result?

Sucky titles that nobody cares to read.

That’s a real bummer for you. Why?

Well, essentially, if your headline tanks, then the rest of your post has been rendered rather pointless because now so few will actually read it.

If you want your blog posts or your copy to convert, then you HAVE to stop writing crappy titles and start writing ones that convert.

But there is a chance that you already suffer from Headline Hokum and don’t even know it. If your headlines fall into the traps listed below, then get ready to roll up your sleeves and learn to fix it.

How to Fix Bad Headlines
original photo by hobvias sudoneighm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

They’re not clear or they’re too obvious

Here’s an example of a headline that makes you double take and then scratch your head.

Woman Stabbed by Central Park

Personally, I look at this headline and laugh. Not because it’s funny that a woman was stabbed — I’m not a lunatic.

I laugh because of the wrong image this headline paints. Obviously, whoever wrote this title meant to say that a woman had been injured near Central Park in New York.

However, the way that they have the sentence structured makes it sound like the lady was literally stabbed by none other than Central Park itself.

How exactly would that have worked out? *chuckle*

The headline is so poorly written that many would just stare at it as they questioned the title as a whole, shake their head in amusement (or irritation) and then move on to the next headline that actually makes sense.

Changing the title to, Woman Stabbed Near Central Park, would have made all the difference for that title, but live and learn, right?

The point is that your headline should be clear, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be so blindingly obvious that it makes your readers’ go, ‘well, no duh!’ Sort of like this one:

Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Guns

or what about this one:

Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops significantly after age 25.

I didn’t make those up… (source of the stupidity found here)

Sure, these headlines tell you what the article is about and what happened, but they also have that Well Duh! factor.

All joking aside, writing headlines that are easily understood is something that should always be on your checklist when scribbling down ideas for your next article or when creating one for the title you’ve just written.

They’re boring

Boring Headlines
photo by Christiano Betta with CC by 2.0 License

On the flip side of the point above, even if you can write a headline that is easily understood, if it’s truly a boring title, then no one will read your post.

True, what one person finds boring another one will find intriguing, but I’m not talking about varying interests.

I’m talking about headlines that you created to be point towards your personal audience but that mentally turns them into that kid in the back of the class that is yawning and trying to hide his boredom by looking like he’s taking notes when he’s actually doodling something that has nothing to do with what’s being taught. (You all know you’ve been there at one point in your life.)

Here are some examples of the headlines taken from newspapers that are pretty clear as far as what the topic is, but that are mind-numbingly boring:

  • “Castle Under Attack from Pigeons” (Uhh… I’m pretty sure the castle will survive, and who cares.)
  • “Mum Finds Gecko In Fridge” (Funny, but who cares, right?)
  • “Dead Man found in Graveyard” (Isn’t that where he should be?)

Again, I’m not making these things up.

There are loads of problems with these headlines.

First of all, they offer nothing to the reader. You’re not going to learn something that will save your life one day, make your daily life easier, solve any of your problems or learn something that you’ll even want to share with your co-workers. The topics themselves are too bland and boring to even try and come up with something to write about, and yet, some guy did.

Secondly, nothing about any of these headlines mentally shake your brain and make you think, “Ooo, that sounds interesting. I want to know more — like, right now!”

Now, I know that most of you writing blog posts are not going to be writing these type of news based articles, but even those in blogging niches can still take a misstep when writing headlines.

For example, if you were going to write about how to become a blogger, then you may decide to go with this bland title:

  • How To Become A Blogger

It’s a clear title, but it’s just plain dull. There are thousands if not millions of articles on the web about this topic and this headline that just popped into your head and the you decided to run with is going to get squashed under the mountain of other articles with much better titles than that puny little thing you spit up. (Not trying to be mean, just honest.)

However, you could take the idea of that title and really shake things up to create something that grabs a reader’s attention. For example:

  • 33 Steps to Becoming a Highly Paid Freelance Blogger
  • Want To Become a Top Notch Blogger? Don’t Make This Mistake
  • 7 Secrets to Blogging Success That No One Wants You To Know

See what I did there? I took a topic, pinpointed an area of interest within that topic and then gave just enough information that promised to offer something of value to the reader.

Just to refresh you, do read the post – 12 Reasons Starting a Blog is One of the Best Decisions You’ll Ever Make

These are just a few ideas for proposed title, and they themselves could use some tweaking before they were ready to go live on the web. But as you can see, it doesn’t take a lot to season and spice up a headline to it take from so-so to freaking fantastic.

They’re misleading

If you’ve managed to figure out a title that is clear and catchy — great! However, there is another pitfall that you’ll want to make sure to avoid when you’re pulling together a headline.

Enter the Click Bait Title (dum, dum, DUM!)

Sure, click-bait titles do entice a butt load of clicks to certain articles and pages, but most of us find them annoying when they take us to something that has almost nothing to do with what we were lead to think or that offer us no real value.

I mean, writing something like, This 1 Tip Will Help You Lose Inches Off Your Waist if probably enough to get just about anyone to click on the title.

But when you’re taken to a crappy designed squeeze page with a 15 minute long video that you can turn off that eventually promises to give you that 1 tip for one low payment of $27, we all (or at least most of us) roll our eyes in irritation and angrily click out of the window. (Or you get smacked in the face with yet another Rick Ross video. *facepalm*)

See, titles like this one above make it seem like you’re about to enjoy a great piece of evergreen, informative, and helpful content. But instead, all you’re greeted with is the fact that you’ve been duped by that shiny lure of a clickbait title.

You can create great headlines that draw clicks without being too bait-like and that deliver something great to those who click on it. The point is to not mislead your audience with your headlines — it’s demeaning and annoying.

They’re stuffed with keywords

This is yet another area where many bloggers have gone astray.

Don’t take that to mean that I’m saying that you should NEVER use keywords in your blog post titles — that would just be silly. Here is an example of the type of title I’m talking about:

  • How a Vancouver Washington Window Washing Company Started a Window Washing Service in Vancouver, WA

This is a seriously exaggerated example, but it’s honestly not the first time I have seen that type of title. Not only is this headline just plain awful, but it’s way too long, it is stuffed with two longtail keywords, and it’s rather boring to boot.

If you’re going to place a keyword in your title, then stick with one and make sure that it adds to the overall value of your article and headline.

How To Write Headlines That Will Rock Your Readers’ World

When it comes to writing captivating and contagious headlines, there is no single cut and dry, one size fits all method. However, there are various things that you can do and make your own in order to find a way to craft titles that are clear, enticing and non-spammy.

Your first order of business should be to learn how the best of the best write their headline copy. Here are a few resources to help get you started:

These articles and e-books are great places to get started when you’re starting to learn how to write better-crafted headlines.

Bookmark them, download and save them on your computer or mobile device and refer to them when you can a bit lost.

Remember, 80% of your success is in that title so don’t take writing them lightly. Also, don’t let that idea overwhelm you to the point of not writing anything at all. Writing, blogging, and copywriting are all an art form, and like any art form, they take continuous effort, practice and endless learning in order to master it.

Even if your headlines suck now, if you put to practice what you set out to learn, then you’ll be cranking out killer headlines in no time.

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