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The No. 1 mistake businesses make when writing headlines

February 5, 2013

By Steven Strauss

Did that headline catch your attention? If I did my job right, it did. Headline writing is one of those additional new things that small business people need to master these days, along with, among other things, SEO, mobile management, and generally being a tech geek.

But today, let’s concentrate on headline writing specifically because the fact is, today, owning a business also often means being a content creator. You need to create content for

  • Your website
  • Your ads
  • Your social media posts
  • Your blog
  • Etc.

And yet, no matter how valuable the content, if you are unable to write a great headline, the chances of your content being read or watched is almost nil. One negative by-product of this e-age is that there is not only a lot of content, almost too much content, but we digest it so fast that if we are not captivated by a headline, we will likely surf right past the content. (Yes, captivated).

Having written an online column for USA TODAY since the Internet Paleolithic era (since 1997), headline writing is something I have thought about more than most people.

Here are what I consider to be the most important factors to creating a great headline:

1. Create intrigue: The key to a great headline is that it gets the reader to want to read more. It intrigues them. The Huffington Post is tops at this tactic. Consider these recent headlines:

  • “There’s An Enormous Tax Haven Emerging In An Area You’d Never Expect”
  • “This Magical Sandwich Just Saved McDonald’s From Embarrassment
  • “The Fascinating Business Cards Of 20 Famous People”

The key here is to think of your content as a mystery novel and use the headline to tease the best part of the book.

2. Use numbers and lists: Online, numbered lists work wonders. 7 Secrets. 5 Rules. 10 Mistakes. I think my site, TheSelfEmployed, does this quite well:

  • 6 Traits Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Have
  • 8 Business Apps That Will Make Your Day Easier

The reason this tactic works is that it dovetails into the culture of the Web, offering quick, digestible information.

3. Use fantastic words: People love to hear about “secrets”, or “outrageous claims” or “Unbelievably true” events – that sort of thing. In the vast sea of online content, powerful words raise you above the din. I once saw a headline that read “7 Incredibly Powerful, Surefire Ways to Get Your Sales Call Returned.” What salesperson would not read that?

4. Promise benefits: Why should someone read this article? Because they will get something out of it – a laugh, a lesson, something. Great headlines promise great benefits. And that leads me to answer the question that began this blog, namely

What is the Number 1 mistake businesses make when writing headlines?

Answer: Being boring. I once had someone working for me who wrote this headline: “How to become an insurance adjuster.”

She’s not working for me anymore.

Want to be part of this column? Then ask Steve a question! Visit his new site for TheSelfEmployed to get in touch with him.

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