Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing ideas to help you grow your business

Look: Another misleading blog post title!

It just happened to me again! You know, where you see an interesting headline or blog post title, click the link, then find you have been fooled? You reach the post, only to find that it’s clearly not what the title promised.

blogging, copywriting, content marketingThat trick is used a lot, because it delivers short term results. However, there’s limited longevity in fooling people into clicking links. people are not stupid and the next time they see a headline from that blogger, they are far less likely to trust the link.

Headlines are promises

The headline of a blog post makes a promise. If the headline says “5 Powerful Time Management Tips”, we are expecting 5 great time management tips. If the content of that post then fails to deliver on that promise, we learn not to trust the next headline we see from them. They train us to ignore them.

I have regularly heard Internet marketing experts slam people like Seth Godin and Robert Scoble (and me) for writing post titles, which are not sensational every time. They suggest that we would get more traffic, if we made inflated promises with our post titles, rather than focus on titles that are compelling, yet make it easy for the reader to know exactly what the post is about. For me, and I am sure for Seth and Robert too, the trust of our readers is paramount.

Building trust

I reach thousands of people every day, using titles that people trust. That’s because people return to this blog, knowing that the content of my posts will deliver on the promise made in the title. If I over sold or made false claims in the titles, I would possibly attract more new readers, but they would only visit here one time. People really don’t appreciate being tricked.

We should write the best posts we can. We should write interesting, engaging titles too. It doesn’t matter which comes first. However, we must be aware that if the title is inaccurate, we will train people not to trust us. We have to deliver, if we want to earn the ongoing attention of our readers.

Photo: Maria Reyes-McDavis

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  1. Jim,

    This is one of my all-time pet peeves. In fact, I’ve written a few posts myself on headline trickery. One of the worst examples I’ve ever seen came from an article that was posted on a social networking site. The title was, “Why No Business Should Be Involved in Online Social Networking.” Now, mind you, this article got 9,116 “views” (hits). But how many people actually stuck around to read the entire article? Because 8 paragraphs later, the author tells us that it’s time to stop calling it social networking, that we should really call it social marketing. Why do we have to be so gimmicky? Is it that we are afraid our content won’t stand up on its own merit?

    I called the author on it, but I was amazed at how many readers defended him in the comments. It didn’t bother them that he did the bait and switch because “it was an interesting article anyway”! I firmly believe that a headline can generate interest without deceiving the reader.

    • You put it very well with this part of your comment, Judy:
      “I firmly believe that a headline can generate interest without deceiving the reader.”

      It doesn’t seem to have held most of the world’s most popular bloggers back.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Stuart Wooster

    March 7, 2012 at 21:35

    I haven’t come across that many misleading titles, maybe it is because I only read great blogs that provide quality content 😉

  3. Gareth Mullen

    March 8, 2012 at 06:59

    Interesting point.

    The copyblogger approach seems to have spread, meaning I’m seeing this a lot more from certain bloggers. It’s annoying and eventually you just stop clicking the links because you can’t trust what is behind the headline.


    • Thanks for the feedback, Gareth.

      Copyblogger is a useful site and I’m not sure I have ever seen them advocate overselling with the headline.

      They do focus heavily on headlines as a traffic driver and maybe those using ‘sensational’ headlines, with less writing ability than the copyblogger team, may be seen as under delivering on the headline title. No way would they advocate doing that though.

      Useful point there. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I can’t say that I’ve seen the issue much either, probably also because I follow quality bloggers/business owners. I also regularly read Copyblogger and have not found the issue that I can recall in the way it’s described here.

    There is a technique though that could be put in this category that hits a gray area in my opinion. That’s when someone says something like The Secret to…..and there really is no secret. But people are looking for that “secret” so the blogger uses the title in order to bring those in who need the lesson that the secret/magic pill they seek doesn’t exist. Misleading? Yes. Does it help the lesson being taught? I think so. Would you want to use that strategy often? Definitely not.

    • I can’t say the same, Cheryl.

      I see it happen every day, most recently to Seth Godin, where a post on Gigaom was called out, by Seth, for a very misleading headline, just to drive traffic. Read the comment and climb down from the author: http://gigaom.com/2012/03/06/godin-to-authors-you-have-no-right-to-make-money-any-more/#comments

      Copyblogger is an interesting one and I can see where Gareth is coming from. They use and advocate ‘sensational’ headlines, which is great if the blogger can write a sensational post each time, but very few can pull it off. Net result, the headline over sells and / or the post under delivers on the promise.

      Incidentally, 75% of the most read posts on copyblogger (according to their sidebar) are basic number posts – Not posts that sensationalise or use tricks. Solid content from very good writers (especially Sonia and Brian.)

  5. The gimmicky titles doesn’t only appear on bloggers, it appear in traditional businesses as well. Flip the newspaper, you’ll see all the promises the businesses put up.

  6. Great post, I agree with you. I’ve stopped looking at over sensational headlines. I know someone who was proud of the number of hits he had generated with a sensational headline suggesting the London riots had spread to a local town, but the article was a story about the need for insurance. I am sure he didn’t get any new business or goodwill towards his business due to the article. I had clicked through due to the headline and I remember the “let down” feeling. And I knew him personally!

    My headlines for my blog post tend to say what they do on the tin. I try to think about how my customers would search for the information that I have written about and how they would know instantly what the post was about.

    Loved your headline for this post, by the way.

  7. Not sure what’s going on with Copyblogger.com, but the site is directing to his domain name registrar since last night. I enjoy Brian’s articles hence the reason I was hoping to visit his site last night.

    As for the headline trickery, the sad thing is, people who use trickery in their headlines often attract people who are in great need, who somehow believe that this is the way to market. But I agree with you Jim, that this is such a short-term tactic. I almost said strategy, but there is nothing strategic in tricking people!

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