15 Common Headline Mistakes. How Many Are You Making Right Now?

15 Common Headline Mistakes. How Many Are You Making Right Now?

HOW MANY of these 15 most common headline mistakes are YOU making right now?

And why should you care to begin with?

To illustrate my point, let me start with the quote of Victor O. Schwab, the “Hall of Fame” copywriter:

It isn’t enough to cram persuasiveness into the body matter. Some of the most tremendous flops among advertisements contain body matter filled with convincing copy. But it just wasn’t capsuled into a good headline. And so the excellent copy did not even get a reading. For obviously, it is the headline that gets people into the copy…” (How to Write a Good Advertisement, Victor O. Schwab)

That’s the reason you should be in a constant search of how to improve your headline writing skills.


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Therefore I have collected these 15 common headline errors with brief explanations. I am pretty sure after you have read it, you can write way more powerful (and sticky) headlines.

Let’s dive right into the details.

15 Common Headline Mistakes

1. No Headline At All

Truth be told, this error belongs to the advertising world. Blog posts and articles cannot do without headlines, but let me touch it here briefly as it’s a pretty standard error.

At the same time, it is a pretty surprising phenomenon. You can test it. Take a random magazine and flip through its pages while paying attention to the ads. I guarantee you will find ads without a headline.

Why so? I don’t know. The only conclusion I can offer is that these ad creators have never read any serious handbook on copywriting. Because if they did, they would understand that even a very weak headline is better than no headline at all.

How to fix it:  Give your ad a headline.

2. Your Headline Tries to Attract Everyone

This is one of the most common headline mistakes that (especially novice) marketers do. They try to attract everyone. However, never think that all those zillions are going to dive into your article to find out if they are interested.

No! A glimpse of your headline tells them if it is for them or not.

How to fix it: Address your target audience and them only. It is like there is a crowd of people in front of you and you shout, “Hey, Jim! Listen…” Remember, not everybody is your prospective customer. Therefore, laser focus on finding and attracting your specific target audience only.

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3. Your Headline Fails to Capture Attention

common headline mistakes - Headlines that failed, John CaplesThis is yet another standard headline error that content creators do. You have found your prospective customer but fail to capture his attention. There are zillions of life distractions, all bombing your prospect non-stop. You face fierce competition, and if your headline is not persuasive enough, you don’t get his attention.

Have you read, there are five fundamentals of a good advertisement:

  1. Get attention,
  2. show people an advantage,
  3. prove it,
  4. persuade people to grasp this advantage,
  5. ask for action.

Remember, your headline is the advertisement for your article. The sole purpose of the headline is to get the attention of your target audience.

The big trouble, though, is that if you don’t get their attention, all the other steps (even when correctly done) will render meaningless.

How to fix it: In this article, I give you 57 specific tips you can apply right away to make your headline a real attention grabber.

4. Your Headline Offers NO “Reward for Reading.”

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospect. You see the headline (your headline). Now, ask yourself, “What is there that gets ME reading beyond the headline?”

How to fix it: That’s why most sticky headlines offer attractive “rewards for reading.” The reward is there to get people to continue reading the body:

“You and I will both profit.”

These rewards can be in a positive or negative form. Either tell your reader how he can gain or save or accomplish something by using your product or service:

“It does not cost; it saves.”

Or, tell him how he can avoid worries, losses, risks, mistakes, etc., by using your product:

The most expensive mistake of your life.”

5. Your Main Appeal is Not in the Headline

This is one of those sins that land tons of businesses in trouble. Our attention span is dwindling rapidly, as you know. How quickly you click away from a website, which is not attractive to you? 3 or 4 seconds, right?

Therefore, if you fail to make your point fast enough, your prospect clicks away, and you missed the only chance to turn him into a customer.

How to fix it: Figure out what is the main appeal of your story and then put it into the headline:

“Be Financially Free!” (Main appeal – financial freedom)

6. Your Headline Is Pure “Curiosity” Headline.

Curiosity has great power over people indeed, and it is also one of the strongest human stimulants. Therefore, it is wise to employ it as much as possible.

However, there’s a dangerous trap. Use a “curiosity-only” headline, and you arouse mostly an irrelevant kind of idle curiosity that cannot be turned into a desire-to-purchase action.

How to fix it: Combine curiosity with self-interest or news appeal. That way, you will make your headlines way more sticky.

“How much are you worth?” – (Curiosity combined with self-interest)

“We have a whole new story to tell.” – (Curiosity combined with news)

7. Your Headlines Contain Words That Readers Have to Look From a Dictionary

I see it all the time, and every time I find myself wondering WHY such educated people do it (at least I tend to think that copywriters in stylish advertising offices are educated).

Yet, somehow they manage to produce such ads a day in and day out. They try to be very smart and thus use words in their headlines that you have to look up in the Oxford Dictionary.

Smart? Maybe. The problem with these clever headlines, though, is that they are not personal, and they don’t communicate.

How to fix it: Write your headlines in a simple, easy to understand language. Use the words from everyday life and remember, shorter words do a better job.

8. Your Headlines are “Too Smart.”

This is yet another popular group of “clever” headlines. This time, however, the cleverness is not in particular words the author uses but word phrases and meaning he puts into his headline.

Let me see if I can find a good example. Here is one that sounds interesting:

“We’re here to make advertising better. Not to make better advertising. (Sorry.) “

By the way, this ad did run once on the London Underground. Anyway, it’s smart, isn’t it?

Wait until you read what Drayton Bird, British marketing expert, and world-famous copywriter, has to say about the headline:

“This is what I call “creative masturbation” – produced entirely to please the writer, with no discernible purpose whatever. It does absolutely nothing to satisfy the question in every reader’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

See! Your prospect may exclaim, “Wow! How clever!” but he does not buy. You have won his praise but failed to make him a customer.

Is your headline “smart” also? Do you rather seek applause from your readers than trying to persuade them to buy your product?

How to fix: Rewrite your headline. Flush away all the mumble-jumble. Focus on clarity of the headline and benefits of your prospects:

“New! Survival Guide for the 80’s”

9. Your Headline is “Hard-to-Grasp.”

Let me take the same example above:

“We’re here to make advertising better. Not to make better advertising. (Sorry.) “

First, you think the headline clever. Then, however, you have to do some hard wrestling in your mind, “What’s the difference after all? “To make the advertising better,” or “To make better advertising?”

Henry Ford has said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

Thinking is hard work, you know.

How to fix it: If you want your prospect to continue reading your content, don’t force him to do the hardest work on Earth. Instead, write your headlines in a way that they are clear at first glance. That way, they are way more impressive.

10. Your Headline Offers Nothing

You can’t expect people to read your content unless you first give them a strong reason for reading it. This reason must be in the headline.

People don’t care about you, your business, or your achievements. All they want to know is, “What is there for me?”

Therefore, if your headline does not offer them anything valuable, they walk (or click) away, and that’s it.

How to fix it: Give your reader at least one compelling reason why he should continue reading. The more captivating the reason is, the better.

11. Your Headline Is a Mere Statement of Fact

Read the following headlines:

  • Bugs flying around with wings are flying bugs.”
  • It rolls like a ball.”

Think about it. Do these headlines say anything meaningful? No. Just plain facts for plain people.

How to fix it: Ask questions (“Question” headlines are by far one of the best headlines). Use “News” or “Self-Interest” headlines. Use curiosity-appeal in your headline, etc.

12. Your Headline Takes the Negative Side of the Picture.

To illustrate my point, let me give you an example. It is a well-known fact that toothpaste ads that appeal to the white and beautiful teeth sell much better than the ads that appeal to avoiding caries, gum disease, and other common dental problems.

You get the point, don’t you?

How to fix it: There are always exceptions, as you know. However, usually, it is much more efficient to use the cheerful, positive side of the picture.

13. Your Headline Belongs to the Group of “Dead Headlines.”

You have seen them. Hint: Historical sites. Landmarks. Monuments. All these “dead” statements carved on bronze tablets telling you the facts about unusual times and value:

  • “University Honors 1965”
  • “In Memory of Our Heroic Fathers…”
  • “Dedicated to Our Lady of Our Pillar School…”
  • etc., etc.

Is your headline also “dead?”

How to fix it: Put some life into your headline. Show your reader that you are still blood and flesh. That you have life and emotions. Show your feelings. Show your enthusiasm.

Remember, people (including those involved in the business) make decisions based on emotional reasons. Therefore, find out what are the most effective emotional triggers and use them in your headline.

14. Your Headline Has Two Different Meanings.

Try these headlines out for size:

  • “Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons.”
  • “Wingless Plane Crashes Field.”
  • “David Dropped Goliath.”
  • “Girls’ Schools Still Offering ‘Something Special’ – Head.”
  • “Students Cook and Serve Grandparents.”

Did you get the point? I think you did.

How to fix it: Let someone else read your headline. As you know, people see things from different angles. Thus, he may help you iron the double meaning out from the headline.

15. You Emphasize the Wrong Words.

The reason why you may want to highlight some words in a headline is:

  1. To get the story in a few short words
  2. To improve the readability of the headline (especially true for long headlines).
  3. To send a clear message to those people who read only headlines.
  4. To select your prospective customers from the masses.

The tricky part here is to pick the right words – the ones that deliver the right message.

Emphasize the wrong words, and your headline fails to grasp the attention of your prospects and deliver the message.

The right way to highlight headlines - John CaplesRead the following example and tell if I highlighted the headline correctly?

“THE CHINESE SECRETS Of Weight Control.”

Correct or wrong emphasis? You say correct?

Wrong! The benefit that your prospect is looking for is weight control, not the Chinese secret. Therefore, the right emphasis is:

“The Chinese Secrets of WEIGHT CONTROL.”

Now read this:

“The TRUTH About Getting Rich.” (Wrong emphasis)

“The Truth About GETTING RICH” (Right emphasis – ‘Getting rich’ is the appeal)


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Share Your Ideas:

Do you think these fixes help you write headlines that stick and shine? Let’s hear it in the comments!

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