I’ve been telling my blog consulting clients over and over again this one very important thing, and now I’m going to share it with you:
The headlines for your blog posts make a promise, and your post content needs to deliver on that promise.
I was suddenly reminded of this again while reading this excellent article on branding and action. Whether you realize it or not, the headline of your blog post is making a promise to the reader. One of Mr. Becker’s points in his article is that if the content fails to live up to the promise, that is a disappointment for the reader, and that unpleasant experience is now associated with you. With your brand.
If I go to the store and buy a bag of buffalo chicken wing corn chips, they had damn well better taste like buffalo chicken wings. If they don’t, I’m not going to be happy with my purchase and I won’t buy them ever again. As the old saying goes, it has to do what it says on the tin (well, bag in this case). Likewise, if your headline is How to Succeed in Tradeshow Networking, and all you do is talk about how it’s important to go to tradeshows and network… but you never provide any actual “how-to” advice, then as a reader I’m going to feel pretty ripped off.
Readers who feel disappointed won’t return—or even if they give you more chances, if you keep failing to deliver you’ll eventually lose them for good. They certainly buy whatever it is you’re selling. Okay, so you get it: you don’t want to fail at delivering on the headline’s promise. But that’s the least we could do.
What’s the best we could do? Exceed expectations. Your headline offers ten ways to braid your cat’s hair? Give them eleven. You told them things they were expecting, now tell them something unexpected (but still on topic). Don’t just give 30 links to useful articles, give them 30 links to the best damn articles on the web… ever.
You get the idea.
Tips for Delivering on Your Headline’s Promise
- Write the headline first and make sure your post delivers what the headline promises. Treat your headline like a thesis statement: your post content has to support it and deliver on its promise.
- If you can’t perfectly match up the content with what you wanted to promise in the headline, adjust the headline to suit the content. Maybe you wanted 10 tips but could only for the life of you come up with 8. Use 8 or drop the weakest one and give 7, a number people seem to like better.
- Write the post first, figure out what it’s really delivering (unless it’s obvious), then write the headline. If you’re still not really sure, share the post with a friend or two and ask them what they think it’s about.
- Count how many pieces of advice or tips you have in your post and write the headline to that. You wrote down all the tips you could think of and came up with 23? Now you have a headline that may begin: “23 tips for…”
- If your headline says “how to” in it, there had better be step-by-step instructions in your post.
Why isn’t the headline for this post “5 Ways to Deliver on Your Headline’s Promise”? Because I needed to first make the case that you should be thinking about what your headline promises, and I needed you to understand why and what the consequences were if you failed.
Nobody wants to lose readers, so in my headline I gave you a curiosity-inducing way to lose readers you haven’t considered. The promise of my headline is a bit more implicit than normal: you were expecting me to explain what it means to deliver on a headline’s promise. You already know losing readers is bad. What wasn’t explicitly promised was how to do it. So I gave you the tips anyway and overdelivered on that promise.
Go look at the last three blog posts you wrote right now and look for parity between headline promise and post content: did you deliver? What would you change to fix it? Try making those changes and then re-sharing those posts with your readers. Then come back here and tell me what you found in the comments.