Don’t write too many McHeadlines.

burger McHeadlineThere are plenty of content writers out there who know how to write a good headline.

These are the folks who know that certain types of headlines are more likely to hook a reader’s attention.

They write headlines that jump out and grab you, and make you curious enough to click through and start reading. These headlines not only work well on the page of content itself, but also drive high clickthroughs when they appear on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Of all the headline-writing techniques used by these canny writers, perhaps the most common is the use of numerals at the beginning of the line.

For example, “5 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Exam Results” is the kind of headline that grabs attention. The digit catches the eye, and the promise of 5 ways to do something that is important to the reader holds attention.

There are variations on this approach, including:

– 5 Ways to…

– 5 Secrets of…

– 5 Tips to…

And so on. In fact, the process of writing headlines becomes a bit like building a burger, layer by layer. Instead of using a bun, patty, cheese and lettuce etc, you use a digit, a “power” word (secrets or tips) and a promise (improved exam results).

From time to time, a fast-food hamburger can be a tasty treat for the family. But if you eat them all the time, you pretty quickly recognize you are eating junk.

The same thing is happening with these carefully constructed headlines.

It took me about 3 minutes to find all of the following headlines among the first page of Google search results for various terms like “traffic + blog”.

– 65 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Blog

– 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic

– 30 Fastest Ways to Build Blog Traffic

– 10 Ways to Generate More Blog Traffic

– 10 Ways to Boost Your Blog Readership

– 15 Tips to Increase Blog Traffic

– 17 Ways to Grow Your Blog From Top Bloggers

– 25 Ways for how to Drive Traffic to your Blog

Each of these lines probably did a reasonable job of attracting readers.

However, the writers and publishers of these lines need to be aware of the dangers of serving up too many of these “headline burgers”, or McHeadlines.

First, there is the issue of credibility.

If all the articles and posts beneath the headlines above contained useful and unique advice, then combined they shared no fewer than 193 different ways, tips and tactics.

If I have spent another 15 minutes on Google building this list, we would probably get up to 1,000 ways, tips and tactics.

Are there 1,000 useful ways to build your blog traffic? No. And that means these guys are just regurgitating the same old stuff. The same old tips, repackaged. They are writing these repurposed articles because they are fast and easy to create, and they are using McHeadlines because they are known to work.

But…over time, their readers are going to catch on. At some point people will realize that each time they read one of these articles or posts, they are seeing the same old tips, rewritten again and again.

At that point, trust in every headline that begins with a variant of “7 Ways to…” will also begin to lose credibility.

In other words, over-reliance on McHeadlines can damage your reputation and your brand.

There is a web marketing blog I have been visiting for years because they generally offer great information. But recently I have noticed that over 50% of their posts use this same McHeadlines approach.

Little by little I am losing my respect for the site. My sense now is that job #1 for them is to hook me, rather than to deliver quality, original content.

They also use a different type of McHeadline a lot. I call this one the “insert celebrity name here” approach. An example might be, “What Adele Can Teach You About Marketing”.

Again, the headline is all about delivering a strong hook. And once we have seen a few hundred variations on this headline, we’ll begin to lose trust in them as well.

Does this mean we should never, ever use a McHeadline?

Not at all. I use them myself, because they work. My post, 4 Tips on Writing a Website Home Page, attracts a lot of traffic.

But I use a McHeadline for about one in ten of my post headlines. In other words, they don’t dominate.

This way I can use their power to draw in some extra traffic, without reducing my credibility or damaging my brand.

Note: Check out my new course on how to write better headlines for web content…

Course on headline writing

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5 thoughts on “Don’t write too many McHeadlines.

  1. Nick, this is really good. I’m thinking that McHeadlines, as good as they can be, are not as effective as a headline that is thoughtfully created by a talented writer who knows the product and the buyer. Like this famous one: They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play! …

  2. Totally agree with you. For at least a year now I have skipped over any list posts I’ve come across because the content is always total garbage. People aren’t as dumb as we tend to think they are and eventually they figure out what “link bait” and “filler posts” look like.

  3. Great post, Nick. Thought you’d like this one I stumbled across: “Who Else Wants The 12 Secrets To Internet Riches That You Can Master In 30 Minutes And Retire Tomorrow Without Owning A Computer?”

    Maybe the day will come when all this rubbish is behind us???

  4. THANK YOU. I am sooooooo tired of the “xx reasons…” heads on so much content I see these days. It is so copy-cat, forgive the pun. Everyone does it because some expert told them they should if they want to attract readers. I do confess to taking the bait on occasion, as it leads me to believe ensuing content will be in small, easy-to-scan chunks and on a topic that interests me. For the most part it does, but it also tends to be so lightweight and common-sense that it doesn’t add much value to my day.

  5. Hi Nick—I agree! I have also noticed the same thing with a lot of those work-from-home videos on Clickbank. My husband had lost his info to spammers when he watched one video; and we both got pelted with “the best work-at-Home offer ever!” video ads. I watched a few of them for curiosity, and they all say the same thing: “I was struggling/going bankrupt/on the verge of becoming homeless when I stumbled on a new way to make easy money online/talked to a friend who was making insane amounts of money online/stole a secret from (whoever) and perfected it. Within minutes/hours days of setting it up, the money was pouring in! I was amazed/excited/delerious with joy/etc. Now I want to share the wealth/ teach you how to do it/do all the work for you. All you have to do is {Pick a number} easy steps and watch the wealth pour in! Click here, and if you’re one of the next ten/hundred/thousand people, you can claim this for the insanely low price of____!” I could recite them in my sleep!

    Every single ad and/or headline said the same thing: “Click here for the best/most amazing/top secret opportunity ever!!” I ended up getting rid of my email account because I couldn’t block them fast enough.

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