How to Keep Bad Headlines from Burying Your Content

I’m a connoisseur  of  really awful headlines. The more appalling they are, the more I love them. But, I rarely, if ever, go on to read the actual stories. Happily, we can still learn what to do by observing what not to do.

Here are 10 Howlingly Horrible Headlines–and How We Can Do Better. Much Better!

  1. Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison: No reason to read any farther. It states the obvious and doesn’t suggest that we would learn anything more in the article.
  2. Judge Named Sue:  This is a play on the 1969 Johnny Cash hit song, “Boy Named Sue”. But, even if you knew that and were slightly amused, the headline doesn’t give you a reason to continue. The writer went for a joke at the expense of meaning.
  3. Students Cook & Serve Grandparents: A perfect illustration on the need to be perfectly clear on meaning. We’re left to wonder if these kids were cannibals or caring relatives.
  4. DOE to do NEPA’s EIS on BNFL’s AMWTP at INEEL after SRA protest: It’s OK to use an acronym that everyone knows–like FBI or GOP–but using 7 mysterious acronyms in a single headline just stupifies the reader who will move right along to another article.
  5. Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum: The writer buried any interest with this headline. Surely, there must have been something unique or surprising to justify writing the story. If so, make it crystal clear in the headline itself.
  6. Dog helps lightning strike Redruth mayor. Now, that’s a very BAD dog–and a very BAD headline. Terrible grammar and total absence of meaning. Unless, of course, the dog was in cahoots with Mother Nature.
  7. Want to spell like a champ? Read Wenster’s dictionary: We won’t expect to learn much with a misspelled headline that deals with spelling. If you are going to misspell a word, don’t do it in the headline.
  8. Libya Ferrets Out Gadhafi’s Taint: The writer forgot to ask whether anyone would have a clue as to the meaning of this gem. You have to ask: Will my readers understand my headline and will it entice them to read the article?
  9. After Detour to California Shuttle Returns to Earth: Although some of us might argue that California belongs on another planet, I don’t think that’s what the author meant. But, I can’t know for sure based on the structure. Be careful to word headlines so there is no confusion about meaning. You want to bring your readers in for a safe landing.
  10. Study Finds Sex, Pregnancy Link: Unless this is a headline targeting a tiny group of readers who are totally clueless about how sex leads to babies, it doesn’t give any reason to continue on to the article.

To learn more about crafting killer headlines, read: “Headless Body in Topless Bar”: 5 Content Marketing Lessons from All-Time Best Headline

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