Horrifying Headline Gaffes and How to Avoid Them

Posted on July 16, 2015 by Sarah S

newsHeaders are essential to optimizing content—they have been since the days when newsprint ruled the world of media. While crafting search-engine friendly titles is important, you also need headlines that appeal to the Internet user’s inner need to click. Headline gaffes might get you your 15-minutes of social media fame, but they don’t bring people to your page. Whether you use content writers or craft your own headlines, here’s a look at five things to avoid.

The Hilarious and Terrible Typo

The headline is your first impression with the reader, and a typo gives the impression that you aren’t to be taken seriously. You can’t even proof your headline, so what does that say about the quality and value of your content? Typos in important keywords can also diminish optimization with search engines, and just the right typo can create the impression that your content is obscene or laughable.

How to Avoid: Proofread. Then proofread again. Then get someone else to give it a glance.

Using the Wrong Word or Name

A photograph recently made its way around social media; it pictured a news headline that proclaimed “Amphibious pitcher makes debut!” Underneath the heading were images of a baseball player pitching with both hands—ambidextrously—rather than underwater. Using the wrong word or name in your headline gives the same impression as a typo and can also hurt optimization.

How to Avoid: Check your facts—especially the spellings of names, companies, and cities. If you aren’t 100 percent sure about a word you’re using, look it up. Dozens of free online dictionaries exist for that purpose.

Failing to Identify the Content

Time is valuable and so is data. Users aren’t likely to click on a header that doesn’t give them some idea of the content, especially if a video is involved. The only thing worse than vague headlines are titles that give false impressions. If you tell a user you’re going to give them five top tips, then that’s what they expect.

How to Avoid: Be as specific as possible in headlines, and shoot straight with the reader. Tricking people to your page doesn’t win you any friends –or customers.

Inappropriate Clickbait

Clickbait titles are all the rage, and even news media and serious blogs are using them now. These titles include formats such as:

  • She cut an apple in half. What she did next was amazing.
  • Five of the Best Videos about Candy-Eating Dogs. We Thought Three Was Impossible!
  • The Scariest Words on Earth. 6 and 19 Give Us the Chills

Despite many writers’ dislike of clickbait, there is a time and place for this type of headline—but it isn’t every time you post something. One video about a daughter’s tribute to her father was captioned by a content-curation site as “Her father died and she was sad. What she did next was amazing.”

How to Avoid: Title your content in keeping with the theme and mood of the piece. Create serious headlines for serious pieces.

The Never Ending Header

Some headers go on for miles—or at least long enough to get cut off in the search engines. A too-long header is confusing for browsers. Would you click on a page title like “Seven Ways to Save Yourself from Sunburn” or a cut-off title like “Why you need to know about these seven ways to keep your kids from getting…” That second title concludes with “sunburned at the pool,” but you don’t get that information in the part of the header that you see, and search engines aren’t likely to pick up the key phrase at the end.

How to Avoid: Keep headers short when possible. When using longer headers, make sure to lead with important keywords.

Writer Bio: Sarah S enjoys a clever title, but avoids content with clickbait and vague headers. She also likes to judge books by titles, but that’s a personal problem she’s addressing with copious amounts of reading.


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