By Kath Walters @kathwalters
Are you guilty of over-promising? I am. And I realised the full extent of my descent into this murky, desperate habit when I dropped into my favourite bookshop, Readings in Carlton, yesterday.
The shelves were replete with headlines making big promises – and I mean big. Entire planets saved, personal problems evaporated, business profits tripled, 5 steps to personal enlightenment. Admittedly, I was in the philosophy, business and personal development sections.
The point it this: in our effort to be seen among the daily blog deluge, it’s really tempting to start promising our readers way too much.
The old media trick
There’s nothing new in over-promising – it’s a staple of newspapers and magazines. Predicting trends is a classic example. ‘Most popular products in 2015’. ‘The five most important changes to customer behaviour this year’.
As a rooky journalist, I used to quake in the face of writing such stories: how could we know? Of course, we could not. We would make an educated guess, get lots of experts to put themselves on the line by making predictions, and then publish. Everyone reads (it’s just like the lure of the fortune teller) and everyone forgets.
The new media trick
Over-promising online, however, is getting to epic proportions.
Numerous “ultimate” guides have appeared in my inbox recently: ‘the ultimate SEO checklists’. And don’t get me started on lists – ‘the 8 super-simple tools’, ‘the 7 killer strategies’, and ‘five absolutely brilliant innovations’ … (There’s nothing wrong with lists, by the way. It’s just time to give the poor little buggers a rest).
What’s makes us read
Guess what I clicked on this week. It was a Copyblogger post: Why Copyblogger is killing its blog. I mean, I went into a major panic (I love Copyblogger) and I almost read the whole thing before I realised it was an April Fool’s day joke!
It’s a good headline, nevertheless. It is contrarian, intriguing and, let’s face it, bad news. We always read bad news, things like gossip thrive on it.
Stop whinging, Gladys
Ok, you ask, what makes a good headline? In “old media”, we journos didn’t even try to write headlines. We knew it needed skills and experience, and was really important and the folks who did it were sub-editors. These are the same folks who checked our stories for errors, and corrected our spelling and grammar (oh, my heavens, those were the days!)
Copyblogger has a fantastic guide to writing headlines for the modern blogger, but I would add a word of caution. This guide is more from the marketing world than the media world. I like the messages in this little snippet from the University of Kansas. The website design is truly awful, but the message is good: keep it simple and direct.