Great Headlines Are Overrated

3150724610 e2b0f585e3 n Great Headlines Are Overrated

Hi everybody, headline goes here please (Photo credit: reinvented)

The blogosphere has an overabundance of advice on how to become a better blogger and even more superfluity on how to make money. A recent study by the Fouker Institute found that there are 987,032 posts that say that it is very important and or critical for bloggers to use great headlines.  Let’s repeat that, 987,032 posts state that great headlines are a key element in the success of your blog.

That is among the greatest lies and or exaggerations ever uttered.  It is almost as egregious as referring to LeBron James as a basketball superstar. LeBron is an all-star and among the finest players in the game, but he is not a superstar. And the fact is that great headlines are overrated.

I could provide you with a list of reasons why they are overrated and or 1000 words- but in this case I am going to rely upon one word: Retention.

More specifically we are talking about reader retention. A great headline might bring some eyeballs over to the blog but it isn’t going to be the thing to make them stay Great headlines aren’t going to create great content or build community. And without retention a great headline is just an exercise in creativity.

If you like you can equate this to the business world. Retail store XYZ does a fantastic job of generating foot traffic. Lots of people wander in and look around but almost no one buys their products/services and once they are gone they never return. I  can’t speak for you, but at TheJackB I want to build a community that is invested, engaged and welcoming. I’ll take fewer readers with higher engagement over many readers and no engagement.

Great headlines are nice, but without great content they are just fluff and consequently overrated.


  1. Anonymous says


    Content is paramount.  If you write quality information then people once they’ve been exposed to it, will come back for more.

    But headlines are important – they are what attract people in the first place.

    That’s the natural cycle of these things – attraction, conversion and consumption.

    Attraction=people want to see what you’re writing about.
    Conversion=people like what you do, want to read it and read more of it.
    Consumption=people read your stuff and act on it (if it is actionable stuff).

    But if people aren’t attracted to your stuff…they’ll never get to the conversion and consumption phases that we prize so highly. The Blogosphere is so noisy that I view a good headline as a minimum price of entry.

    It’s one part of the puzzle.  Whether it’s overrated or not, I’m not sure.  But it’s definitely worth spending some time on….

    • says

      @Paul_Wolfe:disqus I have no disagreement with the need for great headlines but I take issue with the weight that some people give them.
      They shouldn’t take precedence over the content. I see it as a question of balance. Do I need to work hard to get people to pay attention? Yes.

      But I need to work extra hard to make sure that they choose to come back. I need to work hard to try to make sure that when they come they do more than immediately point and click their way elsewhere.


  2. says

    “Headlines are important but I think that this is one of those areas that
    the parrots and sheep like to bray about. If you are trying to portray
    yourself as an expert it is low hanging fruit to say write better

    I think we can all agree on Jack’s statement as we crash our tumultous tankards in feverish salute to blogging, community, and untimely rewards.

    Love seeing so many awesome bloggers/commentators commenting here: JM, Lori, Dino, John, Leon, et al.  And seeing them here is a certain proof in the pudding.

  3. says

    Hey Jack. I think I do have to agree with some of the folks below that headlines are important, but to your larger point, they are worthless and even counterproductive if not backed up by solid content.

    • says

      @twitter-223833082:disqus There are so many voices out there that compete for our attention it is critical that we give them something of substance to hold onto.

      It is much easier to get someone to look than to stay.

  4. Anonymous says

    Does Pareto’s Law apply here? If so, it means 80% of those blogs are just parroting advice they got from the other 20%, without much regard to context.

    • says

      @StartYourNovel:disqus There is an enormous amount of parroting. Not a big deal to cover the same topic as another- provided you can add something original to the conversation.

  5. says

    Jack, after having a ton of fun yesterday with my headline, I can say that it did indeed bring people over.  However, if the content had been crap (and I’d like to think it wasn’t), then no one would have stayed.  You were even ready to release the hounds of hijacking last night in order to keep the party going, right?

    I agree to some degree with your premise here, but I also have to say in a world where we are constantly bombarded by headlines and content, if a good headline comes across my stream by someone I don’t already know, I’m going to go check it out.  

    Conversely, if I’m already following someone and their headline is lackluster, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to read it.  I will because I know them.

    • says

      @EricaAllison:disqus The hounds of hijacking and I are tight. We swore a blood oath many years ago and for that reason alone I am bound to help them whenever and wherever.

      Headlines are important but I think that this is one of those areas that the parrots and sheep like to bray about. If you are trying to portray yourself as an expert it is low hanging fruit to say write better headlines.

      But they spend too little time on substance.


  6. Columbiarose says

    That’s pretty much the business model of Fox News, The Onion and a couple of others… I read them occasionally for that very reason, knowing the headlines will be the best part. Just like movie trailers.

  7. says

    I feel like so often in almost all walks of life, people want to gain attention or slap a band aid on a symptom without getting to the heart of things. If you gain attention without real content by trying to fix the lack of traffic your blog gets by giving it a sensational headline without assessing what might actually attract people to read a blog, you’re not going to solve the problem.

    • says

      @google-ce6b1f8ea80af2ee7554d4638a53329c:disqus You are correct. Every so often I run a post about blog envy that usually generates a ton of comments about how unfair the blogosphere is.

      More than a few people are pissed off about not getting as much traffic as blogger XYZ. I think that many of the giveaways stem from a desire for more attention.

      But without substance….

  8. says

    True, a great headline is no guarantee that people will like the post, your blog… etc., but then nothing really is. I think, anything we do, if the intention is to get attention, we’re not coming from “the right place”. 

    • says

      @c9495d3a60d89e4335404d13bcc97c22:disqus The question I ask is why are people blogging. I don’t fault people for wanting attention or being hopeful that they’ll get something from blogging.

      But they shouldn’t be upset when they find themselves being ignored because the content is bad.

  9. says

    Hi Jack,
    I agree that  after reading the headline you should not be disappointed in the post. (now thinking back to as many of my posts as I can recall and seeing them from this perspective….) I think you need both a good headline AND the post that is equally good. I’m not really good at headlines, so it’s a relief to me to hear they aren’t as important as you hear they are. 
    You’ve got to do the real work, don’t you, when building a blog. It’s the cyberspace equivalent of pounding the pavement. You build your blog one happy reader at a time. 
    Still…. I’m retweeting this. I’m sure you’ll get lots of clicks ;-) And that’s right because the content matches the headline. 

    • says

      @twitter-228904159:disqus One of the things that I love best about blogging is that there isn’t one right way to do it. There are a multitude of paths that bring success.

      I think that every blogger should know why they are blogging so that they can figure out if what they are doing is working.

      We’re in agreement that it is hard work to build a blog. For me I want a strong community because that provides a great foundation.

      In a perfect world my blog would be my primary source of income. This is what I would do to support my family. In the process of building that I am using the blog to obtain work.

      Sometimes that involves freelance writing and sometimes that involves product reviews and or giveaways.

      My community helps to make that possible and for that I am grateful. But the community offers much more than a way to try earn a buck.

      I am appreciative of the learning and the friendships that develop from it.

      Build a proper blog and headlines are secondary.

  10. says

    Damn here goes my post for today about writing great headlines for blogging success….What happened to judging the book by the cover Jack?

    I can’t believe the number almost 1m posts on headlines. That’s real creativity in the blogosphere for you.

    • says

      I think what Jack has done here is, he created a great headline by saying that “Great Headlines Are Overrated”.

      Which in turn disproves his point. Case dismissed lol

      Anyways. I love Jack, but his logic is flawed.

      Does any one of those 1 mill pages on writing better headlines say that once you write a great headline you can go home. Job finished. We’re don here. Does it?

      I dont think so.

      Headlines are HUGELY important part of the puzzle. Its the piece that brings eyeballs to your content. And no, you will NOT retain those eyeballs if the content sucks. But those are two related yet separate issues.

      But, I could be wrong…maybe we should start publishing our posts with no headline at all…that should fix things…no? :-p

      • says

        @dinodogan:disqus My logic is sound. I didn’t say that they weren’t important- just that they are overrated and they are. They are secondary in importance.

        Great headlines without great content bring people by once, maybe twice. After that you have a credibility issue and the headline isn’t enough.

        Better to have great content first and then the headline. There are lots of ways to drive traffic- but retention is critical.

    • says

      @johnfalchetto:disqus Don’t know why, but this line from Monty Python comes to mind: Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries! Now leave before I am forced to taunt you a second time!

      Maybe it is the judging a book by its cover comment. Anyway, write your post and I shall read it, good headline or not.

  11. says

    G’Day Jack,
               Who Do You Think You Are?

    I’ve been in the direct mail/telemarketing business for some 20 years.I agree totally with your last sentence. But a time honoured way to attract people to your great content is with great headlines.

    Of course, good content is essential: whether it’s a blog, a sales page or a beer ad. But, to use the vernacular, lousy headlines suck.

    But I’ve long believed that we pay far too little attention to names and slogans. A great name and/or slogan wont make a poor product or service great. But a poor one can kill a great product or service ctone dead. The same applies to blog titles.

    And while I’m ranting, doing customer surveys to determine what prospects need is so close to a complete waste of time, money and effort, that I’ll say no more about it.

    But I think we agree about one thing. The www and internet marketing  are absolutely chocabloc with marketing nonsense.



    • says

      @3884c43f625610ab1bb99b677867ea2a:disqus This might be a bit of a tangent, but it is related to your comment. I have seen a number of companies race to try to obtain first mover status.

      They think that the best way to own a space is to be the first one in it. Except in their rush to get there they muck it up. They make dozens of serious errors and are forced to fight an uphill battle to claim a tiny piece of turf.

      Had they taken a moment to slow down and do it right they could have saved themselves a lot of grief.

      • says

        G’Day Jack,
         I simply can’t resist challenges like that! I’m an unashamed and almost fanatical fan of the marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout and of the work of Al and his daughter Laura.

        As they say, being first in the prospect’s mind is extremely important. But note; it’s the mind that you have to be first in. 

        Then you’ve gotta consider market share and competition and lots of other stuff too. Being first in the prospect’s mind isn’t the same as being first to put a product or service in the marketplace.IBM discovered that with PCs.

         Incidentally, did you know that earlier this year, “Advertising Age” conducted a readers’ poll for Best Marketing Book Ever?
        It was won by Al and Jack’s “Positioning,” first published in 1982.

        I claim no professional expertise in marketing. But I’ve been in business long enough to learn that while marketing isn’t everything, everything is marketing.

        OK!OK! I’ll shutup now. Regards


        • says

          @3884c43f625610ab1bb99b677867ea2a:disqus I like the back and forth. It is good to keep thinking about things. It is part of why I blog. 

          I have been in the working world long enough to have sold for the low price leader as well as the higher end market. I am not a fan of selling on price as it negates most of the best selling points.

          Or maybe it is a personal bias- what I know is that I have always done better selling using what they like to call a consultative approach.

          Me, I just call it common sense. You tell me what you need and I help you get it for a reasonable price and service you can rely upon. Everyone ends up happy.

          Rushing to market can sometimes yield big dividends, but if you have issues prepping the infrastructure to support it you create many more for your people in the field.

          Can you tell that I have been burned by that before. ;)

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