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…