Why long, weird, rambling headlines surprisingly work
Aug. 10, 2016
My first job out of college revolved around tweens. I spent eight hours and most of my lunch break writing for and about girls whose birthdates approached the new millennium (which, as an ‘80s baby, I find deeply disturbing).
It was awesome.
I wrote at least three blog posts a day, five days a week. After three years, I have a slew of bylines on articles about periods, sleepovers, and ab workouts. If you want to know something about the developing female body, decoupaging anything, or the value of cardio versus weight training (and the number of excuses we can come up with for doing neither), I’m your girl.
As the online editor, I didn’t just write stuff; I also dug through a lot of numbers. One of my stranger findings was how kick-ass one of our site’s quizzes was.
It was a run-of-the-mill, “we need to post a new quiz today” type thing. Nothing about it was different except for the headline. There were no keywords, no numbers, no signs that this would be the knock-out that it was—and is—it still ranks high in popularity, five years after it was created. The only thing unique about this headline was how long, weird, and rambling it was. The title of the quiz is:
“Is your summer too busy…or will you be bored to tears?”
It shot to the top of our analytics sheets week after week. We joked in meetings that it was the quiz that couldn’t be beat. It was the Simone Biles, the Katinka Hosszu, the Usain Bolt of quizzes.
And there’s a reason for that.
If you take current headline-writing advice into consideration, there is no way this quiz’s headline should ever have made it a knock-out. It has nothing the prototypical strong headline should have. No numbers (usually, the bigger and less common, the better). No keywords or keyword strings. No urgency, no promises of quick or easy or free solutions. It even has an ellipsis, for Chrissakes!
For all the strikes against it, this headline’s success wasn’t actually as far-fetched as it seemed at the time.
The biggest thing it had going for it was its uniqueness.
In an Internet full of “6 easy ways to get beach-ready biceps before Memorial Day,” the so obviously not clickbait headline of “Is your summer too busy…or will you be bored to tears?” is refreshing. Nothing about that headline is formulaic. It’s well and truly odd in the same way that our speech patterns are odd.
That’s another plus for this weirdo: It sounds like something a real person would actually say. It’s conversational.
There’s one more thing this quiz had going for it: It was set up to succeed. Here’s what I mean by that. The quiz’s website itself had…
These three elements are ones you should be working to build with your content and social media marketing, and with every single website tweak, not just because they’re good practice, like the much-extolled recommended headline formats, but because they offer major dividends. Build it now, enjoy the compounding benefits later.
I’ve joked about this particular quiz headline a lot, but I’m still a believer. These sorts of headlines make regular appearances on SeeBrittWrite (see X and Y), and they perform well—especially on social media.
Give them a try because:
Just do it, y’all. Think weird thoughts. Think human thoughts. And try these tips.
Tip #1: Hedge your bets with the Yoast SEO plugin
The basic Yoast SEO plugin is free for WordPress users, and it allows you to designate a headline for use by search engines only. That means that you can have a default headline on your post—the one you use on your website—and a more optimized headline that will be crawled by Google and its competitors. If you’re worried about not taking advantage of SEO, this is a great tool to use.
Tip #2: Think of alternate headlines or subheadlines for your blog posts
If your website theme allows you to include subheadlines on your blog posts, use those subheadlines! If you’re handy with coding, there are plugins you can use to alter your theme to include subheads, as well. If neither of those are an option, try brainstorming alternate blog post headlines anyway. Think of them as taglines for your posts, and include them on pin-able images or in social media promo copy, instead, to warm up this part of your brain.
Tip #3: Give The Brainstorm a try!
For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you know that brainstorming is a thing I do a lot. And now, I’ll do it for you, too. My brainstorming service starts with a Skype call and ends (in 72-hours—speedy, y’all!) with a couple dozen blog post ideas (complete with headlines, including weird ones) that’ll keep you set for 6 months or so, depending on how often you update your blog, five content upgrade and campaign suggestions, and a brand brief outlining your brand story, your mission, and mission. It’s quick and intensive, and the reviews are magical.