Enough already with the formulaic blog titles

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Scanning my newsfeeds tonight and finding way too many salesey, hypey headlines linking to boringly bland blog posts, I was overcome by a sudden and strong visceral dislike for the formulaic, overly-clever blog titles that are everywhere on the Web these days and which, admittedly, until tonight, I have been all too inclined to emulate (and recommend to others).

Clever HeadlinesI’m talking about blog titles that begin like this:

  • 14 Reasons..
  • 23 things…
  • The 6 Things…
  • 12 Ways to…
  • 10 Reasons…
  • 9 Scientifically-Backed…
  • 8 Tips for…
  • 7 Ways to…
  • 14 Steps to…
  • A 7-Point Plan for…
  • The 13 Secrets…
  • 42 Elements of…
  • 3 Simple…
  • The 12-Minute Technique…
  • 22 Ways…

So I opened a blank document in my word processor to draft a new rant.

I typed out a working title on the first line (copyblogger is starting to make me sick) and then turned to the Web to see what, if anything, likeminded others have written.

I googled my working title, fully expecting an exact match. That didn’t happen.

But, man, was I ever close.

Without further ado, allow me to present a marvelous article by Neil James entitled, Copyblogger ‘Magnetic’ Headlines Make Me Ill, which says what I wanted to say better than I could have said it.

If you need convincing, I offer some money quotes below (emphasis added).

(I think you’ll also like Neil’s analogy to hockey’s neutral zone trap, which I won’t try to explain here.)

[H]eadlines are supposed to be more than a cynical tool for eliciting clicks – they’re a promise. How often do these “magnetic” headlines actually offer content of [commensurate] value to their promise? Not often in my experience.

And when crappy content farms like Mashable or TechCrunch (and those sites are content farms) continually write checks with their headlines that their hack writers can’t cash, they debase the art of headline writing.


Far too often, digital marketers imply that cheap tactics – clever headlines, over-optimized copy, excessive commenting, obsessive Tweet scheduling – are vital to building a strong social media brand.

No doubt, those things matter, but they pale in comparison to being interesting.

What’s much harder, and where the digerati media of the day have failed us, is that being legitimately interesting is a sizable commitment and an objective that cannot be reached by cheap tactics alone.

I think Neil nailed it. (Go ahead, read the article.)

What do you think?

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About JeffCohan.com

The nSiteful Tech Blog (the official blog of nSiteful Web Builders, Inc. since January of 2013) is where I (Jeff Cohan) and (occasionally) associates will be posting articles of potential interest to like-minded techies, nSiteful clients who are playing active roles in the maintenance of their own Web sites and blogs, and pretty much anyone interested in how Web strategies and tools can help them reach their goals.

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About Jeff Cohan

Jeff and his wife, Margie, are the proud parents of Sarah and Jake. Jeff is the founder, president and chief cook and bottle washer of nSiteful Web Builders, Inc., a Web development and Internet Consulting firm. In his spare time, Jeff builds Web sites and Web applications, plays guitar, putters around in his basement woodworking shop, mercilessly spoils his grandchildren, and creates videos from more than two decades of home movies. His current video project is an extended montage of people (mainly family members) asking him to stop filming them.

6 thoughts on “Enough already with the formulaic blog titles

  1. Update: Although this Copyblogger post about Priming and the mere measurement effect isn’t about headlines, it’s cut from the same cloth, IMO. Namely, it advocates practices that are questionable at best. I agree that priming isn’t necessarily manipulation. But, dang, tell me that the tactics of the fictional Gallup Researcher (described — and endorsed — at the outset of the article) aren’t crazy manipulative. And then there’s the money quote:

    When it comes to the world of content marketing, you can influence the behavior of your readers, subscribers, and customers … and you can do it without them even noticing.

    What to you think?

  2. I completely concur. I still wonder about the actual effectiveness. Seems like there I so much hype about so many things with very little value that it becomes difficult to run an honest business. Think about it: this is the very reason Google ash to change its search algorithms causing all of the time. There is so much to be said for integrity!

    I wonder if it is other would-be marketers that are the main consumers of that. I read a post not too long along from someone marketing to marketers a software that would rewrite articles for them so they could reuse the content. Perhaps off topic, but what are your thoughts on that?

    • Perhaps off topic, but what are your thoughts on [software that rewrites articles so marketers can reuse the content]?

      (Very much on topic.) I think it’s just more gaming of the system, promoting plagiarism that flies under the radar of search engines.

  3. I think George Carlin said it even better with his riffs on the “bullshit society.” Funny as hell, sadly true…

  4. As a Copyblogger visitor I would like to say that it works for them. Jeff, I do agree that some of the headlines are formulaic and well they influence a lot of bloggers (myself included). Recently I started reading work by Jeff Goins and Michael Hyatt and it has changed the way that I blog.

    I think that I will sprinkle in the formulaic headlines ever once in awhile (like once a month). From here on out I want to provide more value. Thank you for what you do.

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