Headline writing: 7 types to avoid, 6 to emulate

You’ll lose readers if you don’t write accurate, catchy and tweetable headlines. Here’s what to avoid and what to mimic.


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

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

In today’s world, you must craft a descriptive, accurate, catchy and tweetable headline. I know people have written about this aspect of blogging before, so I am mystified as to why it remains an obstacle to so many bloggers.

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

I swiped a couple headlines from my blog reader to illustrate both good and bad examples. Maybe one of them is yours?

Here are real blog headlines that were so bad I could not bear to click on them:

1. “False hope”

The headline is smug. The writer assumes the post is so epic he/she doesn’t even have to indicate what it is about. Unless you’re Malcolm Gladwell, I’m probably not going to read this.

2. “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.

3. “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.

4. “A walk in the cloud, part two″

Cloud computing is an interesting topic, but a series generally doesn’t work for a blog. When I see this headline I think, “Well, I missed part one, so I should probably skip this.” It’s like walking in during the middle of a movie.

5. “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, this is probably not enough information for me to click through.

6. “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 people will delete you from their blog readers. No, check that. I already deleted you.

7. “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 someone retweets it, that adds more characters. Keep headlines short enough to encourage social sharing.

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 people are misusing Triberr to hurt something near and dear to me. I want to read this.

5 lessons from the best example of content marketing everby Jay Baer

Baer is one of the best headline writers in the business. And he knows a number in a headline is gold. It probably increases sharing potential by 30 percent. Eight of my 10 most popular blog posts have a number in their headlines, and that goes for most bloggers.

What is sharing on Facebook worth in cold hard cash? by Jeff Bullas

Bullas 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

I recently wrote about how capitalizing on the Hurricane Sandy tragedy was a bad idea. But here’s another take. Martin writes a post that is timely, appropriate and helpful in a time of need.

Did technology kill curiosity?by Christian Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth is a master headline writer. In this example, he takes a simple question that might be on his mind and the minds 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? Livingston did it. “Transmedia writing” promises to explore a fresh concept, and it made me click. Bravo.

Here is my list of best blog post headline practices. Make sure your headline:

  • Is short enough to tweet.
  • Is descriptive and accurate. Never mislead readers.
  • Is creative enough to stand out in a crowded blog reader.
  • Uses numbered lists. They work well.
  • Grabs me with something I’ve never seen before.
  • Offers something helpful.
  • Uses descriptive and unusual verbs and adjectives.
  • Isn’t an afterthought. It’s the most critical part of the post.

Did I miss anything?

A version of this post originally appeared on Mark Schaefer’s blog {grow}. He is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions.

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