Five Mistakes to Avoid when Writing a Headline

 Writing a great headline means extending an enticing invitation to a potential reader. It’s not the whole story, nor is it an attempt to convince anyone to do anything other than to keep reading.

That being said, it seems the web is littered with poorly-crafted headlines. While many contain one or more necessary elements, other factors are often left out of the headline, diminishing the overall power of your articles.

Here are five common mistakes that people make when writing headlines, which also serve as checklist items for you to take into account when creating your own.

1. No Reader Benefit

No communicated benefit for the reader, no readers. The expressed benefit does not have to be over-the-top – that’s called clickbaiting, and it’s kind of frowned upon in the Internet community. Your headline only needs to be relevant and worth the time investment required to keep reading.

How to avoid: Ask yourself “what’s in it for them?” If the headline doesn’t tell you, it’s missing a benefit.

2. Lack of Curiosity

Even if the headline contains a benefit, often it’s not presented in a compelling manner.

You must make a visitor curious to read more.

How to avoid: Does your headline make you have to know what the promised answer is? Use questions, numbers, challenges and statements that compel the prospective reader to explore the beneficial content you’re offering.

3. Lack of Specificity

Headlines that lack specificity are short on clarity, and general statements and unsupported claims are often deemed untrustworthy. The power of specificity is one of the reasons that the “list” headline is so popular among bloggers. The format itself forces you to provide specificity, which the reader in turn responds favorably to.

How to avoid: Use variations of the “list” headline, use words like “this,” “these,” “here is” and “here are” to refer specifically to your content, and also use hard numbers and exact percentages.

4. Lack of Simplicity

Have you ever seen a headline that tries to say too much? It becomes a story instead of a teaser that leads you into the content, often while trying to communicate multiple concepts.

Simplicity if one of the most important aspects of effective communication that resonates with readers, and this is especially true when it comes to headlines.

How to avoid: Stick to one concept, eliminate unnecessary words, and use familiar language.

5. No Sense of Urgency

Some headlines make you want to read the content, but you decide to put it off until later. And then you often never get around to reading it, right?

Headlines that contain the above four elements should also create a sense of urgency and prompt the reader to act immediately, but you should also keep this mistake in mind.

Does your headline make visitors want to read your post now? As in, right here, right now?

How to avoid: Check to see that items 1-4 above are truly present. If so, try reworking the headline to make it more compelling without stepping too far into hyperbole.

There are certainly other ways to sabotage a headline, and I’ve tried them all at least a couple times.

But when you lack one of the above elements, your odds of a great headline are greatly diminished.


13 thoughts on “Five Mistakes to Avoid when Writing a Headline

  1. Simplicity and specificity do it for me most times. May be that’s why 3 of the top 5 posts on my blog have list headlines.

    Somehow I feel that writing a headline with too much sense of urgency makes it appear ‘desperate’ which makes readers want to treat it with suspect. I don’t know what you think about that.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is great advice. It’s easier for me to create that sense of urgency in my work blog than my personal blog. Convincing readers there’s something in it for them to read an anecdote of mine can be tricky. I always try to bring those anecdotes full circle & include the reader- that’s where I need to derive my headlines, while using your suggestions. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is the second time I have read this. This article has been very helpful for me. I always think about my headline now and how it will attract readers. Will they be interested in it? Does it have a punch? Is the article going to be helpful or entertaining for my readers? Why am I writing this? Then I sometimes realise that it is only relevant for me so I don’t have to publish everything I write. It is cathartic. Thanks Christian. 💙

    Liked by 2 people

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