10 Reasons Your Humdinger of a Headline Won’t Save the Catastrophe That Is Your Blog Post

When I was a boy I had pink hair. Vintage t-shirts. The sweetest jeans any raver would love to wear. And suede sneakers.

I was it.

Until you sat me down and tried to talk to me. The moment I opened my mouth it was all over. I was a fraud. An empty shell. Shallow and water thin on meaningful content.

I had nothing interesting to say. Ever.

This is kind of the way the content marketing world has been moving. Let me explain.

Where We Are Getting Content Marketing Right

People are getting it: if you want to attract attention then you need to write one helluva seductive headline. Whopper headlines that drive massive amounts of click-throughs.

Or generate a landslide of social media shares.

But that’s not enough.

My work demands I surf the web extensively. I’m lured in by some great headlines. Headlines that make me say, “Dang! I wish I’d written that!”

But once I click-through I’m let down almost instantly. It’s like a Gawker or Buzzfeed article. Long on headlines but short on content.

Where We Are Getting Content Marketing Wrong

Thank goodness Panda punishes this content-farm mentality and rewards original, long-form posts. But even those who are picking up on the original post concept are still missing the life of good writing.

They have the form down. They just don’t know how to write to hold interest. To keep me plugging through their twelve hundred word lecture on the benefits of [enter topic here].

They botch the post in one (or more) of ten ways. Let’s look at those reasons. And then you can look at some articles I’ve included to help you on each topic (most of these articles point away from this site).

1. The Opening

Your headline clothes lined me. Good job. Now your opening should grab me by my throat and drag me down the page.

Tell me a story thick with conflict. Make a challenging statement. And then state you are going to prove your position.

Pull me. Please.

2. Sub Heads

Sub heads are the landmarks in your epic post. They help a reader orient himself on the page. They help the scanner determine whether he is going to read more. They help the skimmer comprehend the essence of your post in one quick scroll.

Your sub heads should tell the story of your post in three or four sentences. Or it could communicate the 5 W’s of your article: the who, what, why, where and when.

You need to be specific and clever. See, the rules that apply to headline writing also apply to sub heads. Don’t ignore them.

3. Warm-Blooded Verbs

Your verbs need life. They should vibrate. Tremble. Carve a vivid picture in the head of your reader.

And, for goodness sake, avoid passive verbs.

4. Bullets

Online bullets help you break up the flow of text into bite-sized portions. Bullets are perfect for lists. In print you might simply use serial commas to explain the nature, function, role, shape, habits and love-affairs of bullets.

Online you put them in a bullet list:

  • Nature
  • Function
  • Role
  • Shape
  • Habits
  • Love Affairs

Bullets also break up the text and make online reading fun.

5. Transitions

Every sentence should dove tail into the next. Every paragraph into the next paragraph. Every section into the next section.

When you are editing your post, read, and then re-read. Read it out loud. To a friend.

Sometimes you can cheat with transition statements like “Let me show you what I mean” or “Here’s why.” Better yet, work hard at connecting carefully so the reader doesn’t stop.

6. White Space

People get annoyed when they scan a post and see block after block of text. Use short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.

A short paragraph might only be one sentence long.

And just four words.

Or two.

No worries. This approach allows readers to scramble down your post. Or like gravity it pulls them down.

7. Images

The web wants white space. It also wants beautiful images. And it wants to kill off the lame photo. Think Fast Company. The Verge. Or Boston Globe’s Big Picture. Venues that adopted the advantages of the web and screen technology to great effect.

Images abound. Labor long and heavy through Flickr or Society 6. Approach the artists and ask them if you can use an image. And always give credit where credit is due.

8. Figures of Speech

A figure of speech will breathe life into your text. They compare two different objects. Your eyes ARE LIKE hard-boiled eggs (simile). Your heart IS a hard-boiled egg (metaphor).

A good metaphor lights a fire in your reader’s brain he can’t put out. A bad metaphor is like stumbling over a corpse.

9. Teach

In the marketing world most people are reading your content hoping for answers.

Give it to them.

Teach them how to write. Hula hoop. Show them how to delicately break up with a overly attached love interest. Sell a tank to a priest. Build a house out of sassafras.

And spell it out for them. Be as clear and concise as you can. Go slowly, step by step.

10. Killer Close

A killer close is satisfying. The reader feels it is natural. A killer close ties in the opening–feels like the lid of a box is being shut. All of your questions have been answered. The reader gets what you promised.

You Are Not Superstar Enough to Write These Kinds of Posts

Some people can ignore this list. Seth Godin, for example. He can get away with pithy posts. He can get away with minimum effort because of the decades of work and thought and reputation that goes behind each post.

You and I have not reached that elevated level yet. We have to earn our right. In fact, you and I could churn out the exact same posts that Seth shares and most people won’t listen to us.

We just don’t have his authority or reach. We have to put in the hard work. No short cuts.

And listen: I’m equally guilty of creating catastrophes. Quite possibly like this post. But I’m trying!

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  1. says

    Hey Demian, I’ve seen your epic posts over at Copyblogger.

    This is my first time checking out your site and I’m really digging your writing style. There’s definitely gravity in every post I’ve read of yours, this post included.

    Great guide.

  2. says

    Thanks for this post Demian. It really is getting harder and harder to get content right. I can’t just write what comes in to my head..well, I can but then I need to go through all the ‘rules’ that you mention above and more often than not my original content has completely changed! Hopefully, all for the good though.

    I guess that old adage is true – if anything is worth doing it is worth doing well and that certainly applies for content marketing.

  3. says

    Good stuff! First time I’ve found you. Looking for something to get more action on my blogs. You may be just the ticket! Seriously, I also appreciate your links to other good stuff. Coaching sounds interesting; maybe I’ll talk to you about it.

  4. says

    Hey Demian!

    Great post. Thanks for all of the helpful links and insight. I like to think of writing as a practice. This makes it easier for me to let go of my perfectionism, at least during the initial draft :)

  5. says

    I found your article on G+ with your “condensed” version thanks to Stephan Hovnanian. Lots to digest here and I am right there with your on points made about developing a topic and delivering real value .

    And while I totally agree with your assertion that posts need to be longer, more focused, and offer the reader some real meat to chew on, I have been asking myself, do people really want the mini e-book posts? Or how long is too long?

    I’ve recently started an interview series on G+ and the videos have been getting great attention. The motivation behind the series is that I know I’m not a blogger at heart, but in order to be to be taken seriously, both for my social media activities and as a digital strategy consultant, I need to up the ante on my blog.

    So what I’m doing is adopting the re-purpose strategy. Host an expert interview, save the video to HOA and YouTube, embed the video into a post on my blog, and create a podcast. Take the key points from the articles and write a blog post. And I am not just transcribing the content verbatim, I am taking time to reorganise the content into what could be a stand alone post. Now my readers can digest the content in a way that suits them.

    Why am I telling you all this? Because my posts are very long, content rich articles that are not short easy reads. I am getting a fair amount of people sharing and commenting on the posts in social media, but my Google Analytics tell an entirely different story. I am not getting the traffic I was hoping for, people are not spending time on site, I am getting very few comments.

    Now a couple things could be happening here, I need to improve my writing, I need to improve my marketing, I need to write shorter posts, or I need to find a new audience.

    When I ask people to share their experience and ways I can improve the blog, many say, “chop the articles up into bite sized pieces”

    The thing is, like you, I am someone that appreciates a well written, content rich article that you talk about in this post.

    What are your thoughts about compromising your writing to create shorter posts that are more digestible on the fly vs. a fully researched and well written post that requires you to actually read beyond the headline?

      • says

        I have had it for several years, but only recently started to produce the content from the On Track Tips series. like I said, I really struggle with “perfection” or “epic post” syndrome so I do not post as often as I should.

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