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Choose Your Headline Heroes Wisely

ImageEvery marketer and blogger has been told that their post's headline needs to be "magnetic" and needs to make people want to click the article or content you're sharing. There's nothing wrong with that advice, and I completely support it. It's a content marketing, blogging and downright writing fundamental, and it needs to be taken seriously.

While scrolling through a populated newsfeed, if someone was to see "Tips for Photo Contests" or "Four Tips From the World's Biggest Brands on How to Run a Photo Contest" - most people would put their money on nearly everyone clicking the second article.

The reasons are obvious. And as experienced marketers, we don't need to explore them.

However, over the last couple of months, we've seen the rise of websites like Distractify, Upworthy and Viralnova - websites that "apparently" have mastered the art of headlines and titles and are generating clicks and traffic like crazy. Tons of bloggers and content marketing experts and looking up to these publications and holding them in high esteem, talking about how great their headlines are - and how everyone as a marketer should aspire to be like them.

Here are a couple of examples of their headlines.

Viralnova Article Headline

Viralnova Article Headline.
And here's another one.
Upworthy's Headline.
Upworthy's Headline.

So what have they done? Based on reports that most people take the time to read your headlines if not at least your content, that's where you should get them hooked. And since people are reading your headlines anyway, why shouldn't you go ahead and make them a little longer to try and create a hook?
And so - Viralnova, Upworthy and the like have been flooding our newsfeeds on Facebook, as well as generating millions of hits in traffic. That's great!
So should we, as serious marketers, advertisers and bloggers try and adapt our headlines to do the same?
Absolutely not.
Let me ask you a simple question. What are Viralnova, Upworthy and Distractify known for? Their headlines. Are they known for their content? No. No one has ever said, "Hey, Viralnova has some pretty good content!" because the truth of the matter is that they really don't, and they're doing nothing different from one another. They find the most viral images online, package them on their website and create a ridiculous hook in the title and seed them on their page which has a massive reach.
Tons of people do the same.
As a marketer, a blogger - you want to be known for your content. Always remember that. You're a content marketer, you're not in the clickbaiting business - which is pretty much what these guys are doing. And you know who has to resort to clickbaiting? Scammers. All those Facebook phishing scandals start this way, about clicking a website to see who visited your profile the most in the last month, or to see a video of a snake swallowing an entire boat.
It's a difference you can compare to that between the tabloids and serious newspapers. The only reason anyone picks up a tabloid is because you'll see a ridiculous headline on it, along the lines of Kim Kardashian Scandal - which would probably be Kim getting a parking ticket that's overdue. And over a long period of time, no one cares about tabloids - because they're gimmicky.
Publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal are the ones that you should aspire to be like. Great content with a headline that promises you exactly what it delivers. That doesn't mean that you should make the headline boring - but don't make it too "gimmicky".
In fact, we don't have to look that far. I'm an avid follower of Rand Fishkin's blog on Moz. His most recent post is titled, "What Can SEOs Do That No Other Marketer Can?"
There's nothing wrong with that headline, and that article told me exactly what SEOs can do that other marketers cannot. Similarly, when Circus Social launched a new feature allowing their users to run Facebook contests on a website or blog of their choosing, the post was titled, "Run Facebook Contests on a Website - Yep, It's Possible!"
Short, to the point - and delivers what it promises. A user that clicks on it doesn't feel "duped" into clicking a link that eventually doesn't promise what they'd hoped for.
In fact, over the last couple of weeks I've seen more than a couple of outcries about clickbaiting headlines spreading on Facebook, and people are complaining, "I don't care what this amazing guy did for his dog that will reduce mankind to tears".
Don't make your readers feel stupid, treat them with respect and don't clickbait. Choose your headline heroes wisely, and aspire to be like a respected publication rather than be tossed aside as a tabloid.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger and Darren Rowse of Problogger stress time and time again about the importance of headlines - so yes, it's serious business. Even more serious is who you try and impersonate in the business.

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