I was sitting in a Hilton ballroom in Washington D.C. one summer morning in the late 90s, a newly minted member of an exclusive club. Unlike the Miss America pageant, we represented just 26 states and 31 school districts. Our grant proposals had been chosen for funding by the U.S. Department of Education. It was a big deal because our projects had been handpicked from more than 5,000 grant proposals across the country.
We had been awarded five full years of funding, with an average of three-quarters of a million dollars to each of us to support academically at-risk middle schoolers in their learning challenges.
That day, the feds were focused on making sure, first, that we knew how special we were and second—and more important—exactly how much was expected of us.
As the first presenter walked to the podium, we leaned forward with pens and notebooks, poised to record all the stuff we would need to know to successfully implement our grant projects.
The impeccably dressed, middle-aged woman peered out at us over her glasses and paused.
“I have just seven words for you,” she said.
“Do what you said you would do.”
Of course, she and the other government officials would have many more words for us over the next three days. But she led with her most important message.
We got it. We had better do with the money what we said we would do. If we promised something and didn’t deliver, that would be the easiest way to never get another grant and lose the trust the funder had placed in us.
To this day, I have never forgotten those words. Because they apply to the work we do, the relationships we are in and—really—to life itself.
What’s this got to do with blogging?
I’ve been noticing a troublesome trend lately. I subscribe to dozens of blogs. For most of them, only the title of their most recent post lands in my inbox. Often I will click through (or not) based solely on that title.
Is it an interesting topic? Does it promise to teach me something I don’t know or offer a new perspective?
But because the competition for reader attention is so fierce, blog post headlines can sometimes go sideways. They are misleading. Irrelevant to the content of the post. Or, worst of all, written purely for shock value. The temptation to lure readers in with a sexy or sensational headline can be great.
After all, we want our time-challenged visitors to click through and read our posts, right? We want them to invest in the content, just like those federal grant makers wanted to only invest in good programs.
Still, the words keep coming back to me:
Do what you said you would do.
3 Epic Blog Post Headline Fails
Aside from my intense dislike of any headline with rockstar, killer or suck in it, the fastest way to turn me off to what otherwise might be a helpful blog post is to make a false or misleading claim in your headline.
The headlines below are similar to actual ones I’ve seen. So here you go: three blog post titles that make me see red.
1. The ‘bait and switch’ headline
This headline teases us with an idea that seems to be revolutionary and so contrary to public opinion that we eagerly click through, only to find that it was just an exercise in language manipulation.
Headline Example: Why No Business Should Use Online Social Networking
What is the headline’s promise? That we will learn why we shouldn’t network online.
Would you jump to the content of this post? Of course you would. But this writer broke the cardinal rule: deliver what your headline promises.
Do what you said you would do.
Eight paragraphs into this article, after a tired review of the benefits of being online if you are a business, the author finally gets around to telling us that we should stop referring to it as “social networking.” We should really call it social marketing, he says.
I clicked on a headline that promised one thing, only to find that I had been deceived, and in the lamest way possible.
2. The ‘world domination in 5 minutes’ headline
In the business we are in here at BobWP, this one is beyond annoying. We all want to accomplish great things in as little time as possible. I get that. Just don’t mislead me into thinking I can switch blog themes or build a website in the time it takes to change my nail polish.
Because after reading your post and giving it a try, if I don’t find it that easy, you will make me feel like I am stupid (if it’s easy, then why can’t I do it?) and—this is a big one— I won’t trust your advice anymore.
Headline Example: It’s So Easy My 90-Year-Old Grandmother Can Set Up a Blog
Maybe I’m running in the wrong crowd, but I don’t know a lot of grandmas who can set up a blog. And at the age of ninety? Maybe a handful could do it. But I don’t think it would be ‘easy.’
Already, before she has begun, this blogger has lost credibility—and my trust.
3. The ‘throw in random keywords’ headline
Now I’m not talking about relevant keywords or useful content that people want to link to here. I’m all for that. I think it’s what all bloggers want to see happen.
Just don’t mislead me with words or names that have nothing to do with the actual content of your post.
Because if you stuff keywords into a headline for the sole purpose of feeding the search engines, you will lose me. And if I find out that the post I’ve invested time in had nothing in common with its title? Sorry. That’s deceiving me—and disrespecting me as a reader.
Headline Example: How to Get Miley Cyrus to Read Your Blog
Okay, someone threw a celebrity name into their headline. It might seem like a stupid thing to do, but it’s still happening. They’ll probably get some hits from all those people googling “Miley Cyrus.” But if, when you clicked through, the post just had regular tips to attract more blog readers, that’s a headline fail.
Because the post had nothing to do with Miley Cyrus.
Now I’ll admit. I once used “Justin Bieber” (is he even popular anymore?) in a blog post headline: Would You Lose $100,000 if Justin Bieber Got a Haircut? Turns out that this teen idol had everything to do with the point I was trying to make, which was…well…
If you are interested in more strategies for avoiding headline mistakes and crafting engaging blog post titles, check out my ebook below, How to Create Sticky Headlines: Secrets of the Copywriters.
What about you?
Do you ever read blog post headlines that don’t deliver on their promise?
Do you think there is a fine line between attracting readers’ interest with a punchy title and misleading them about your content?