I have a new pet peeve. Headlines that over-promise.
For example, I just had someone forward me what I’ll loosely call a blog. It really is just a long list of links -- a really (really, really) long list.
The title? “139 Must Visit Websites”. Okay, I changed the title slightly to protect the guilty. Including using a lower number. Not kidding. You wouldn’t believe the actual number of links. But the headline is real.
Are you serious? There aren’t 139 websites about anything that I would consider “must visit”. First, I just don't have the time. Plus, in addition to breaking my rule about not over-promising, this really isn’t a very creative headline.
But this rant is not about that single headline. It’s about an increasing trend in articles with headlines that promise more than they deliver. The difficulty is, if you overstate the case of what you’re going to give me, I become disappointed – not only in the one article, but in the author.
I’ve been wondering why I’m seeing more of this. I think one reason is the desire to make an article stand above all of the noise. We’re increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of content. Naturally those of us who create content wonder how we can get it noticed.
The better authors/publishers do the same things that book publishers practice:
Craft a catchy headline
Use an eye-catching picture on the front cover that also builds the brand
Have a jacket summary that inspires reading more
The trouble is, if you overpromise in your headline you will also (by definition) disappoint me.
Today’s writers can’t afford this. As Seth Godin says in his book The Icarus Deception, there no longer is any shortage of shelf space. Finding a place for your work is easy. Instead, creating trust in your audience has become paramount. Trust is what will make readers read your stories repeatedly.
As a nonprofit, that trust is also what will convert people who care into people who do something . . . people who will donate, who will volunteer, and perhaps most important who will become your ambassador and spread your story.
That takes quality writing. It also takes honesty.