Headline Humbug: Creating Engaging Headlines

Maybe it’s an excessive dose of tryptophan, but I am really tired (mostly bored) with headline hoopla.

Out with the Old
Heading “100 overused headline ideas” is the use of numbers. I’m ready to take 10 running steps and jump off of a 15-story building! I’d take good old-fashioned cognitive dissonance over numerical figures any day. Instead of five things to avoid or 15 ways to…, how about “little known facts that can kill you.”

Another overused headline tactic is superlatives. Talk about crying wolf. Cut the hype, and be real. PT Barnum has left the building. Our widget has saved users millions of dollars. The truth can be powerful in its own right.

I’m on the fence about words like “today,” “now,” “immediately.” If you’re going to incorporate them into a headline, you must include a real reason for a reader to read your article without delay. Today, you can stop fuel waste!

Ask and You Shall Receive
Ask a question that makes readers feel they must read on. For example: How do you know if your drivers are running up the fuel tab? The reader isn’t going to know the answer unless they continue.

Asking a question can also pique a reader’s curiosity, such as: Why are your drivers wasting fuel?

Controversy
Another tactic to suck in readers is an opinion that goes against conventional belief. By all means, avoid repackaging a viewpoint that’s been widely expressed.

Appeal to emotions—frustration, fear, demons and desire
Empathize with your reader about their feelings. Highlight a problem or angst they have and offer solutions; appeal to what your readers want. Is technology standing in the way of new business? Can technology help you get new business?

Risky business
Humorous headlines can backfire because not everyone will appreciate the joke. Clever headlines with puns, etc. can fall flat because not everyone will “get” them. If you’re confident about your audience, proceed…with caution. Example: No need to change your software as often as your underwear.