As a consultant who specializes in social media, I’ve learned one of the most powerful tools in gaining readers is the title or headline of your stories. Crafting a title that grabs someone’s eye, gets them to stop scanning and pay attention to your story rather than reading another one is a critical first step. Were you scanning your feed reader when you came across this article and saw something called a "Top 12" list? Did it make you pause, make you wonder if somebody made a typo? Isn’t it supposed to be a "Top 10" list?
People have been doing top 10 lists for thousands of years, ever since someone named Moses walked down from the top of a mountain with a 10 top list of "thou shalts" people have used lists. It’s a proven technique.
It’s not just top 10 lists that we’re used to. We’ve also gotten used to other numbers. For example, look at anniversaries. Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary; your parents celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, and Ford Motor Company celebrates its 100th anniversary.
We’ve been conditioned into thinking that certain numbers are milestones and more important than others. If you don’t think so, then ask yourself if celebrating your parents’ 27th wedding anniversary is more or less important than their 25th? Also ask yourself which one would make you stop and wonder if you got an invitation.
Familiarity has a problem. It can also be easy to ignore. Another top 10 list. Another 25th anniversary. Shifting to a non-familiar number can catch the eye, attention and a reader.
What’s true for numbers also works with clichés. For example, read the following three headlines and see if you can complete them:
- A Stitch In Time Saves…
- A Penny Saved Is A Penny…
- An Apple A Day Keeps The…
As a marketer, you can take advantage of this situation by twisting the familiar into something new and unexpected. Look at how these clichés use a familiar start but then break the reading rhythm and stride into something different:
- A Stitch In Time Saves Me From Blowing A Job Interview
- A Penny Saved Is A Penny Spent On Beer Money
- An Apple A Day Keeps The Microsoft Certified Engineers Away
Maybe those titles made you laugh. Maybe they made you scratch your head in bewilderment. As long as they made you do something other than skip over them, they did their job.
This concept can be applied to almost anything where people have been trained to expect a certain response. Everyone wants their computer to run faster, make more money at their job, or have a more user friendly website. Think of ways to use your titles to do that in unexpected ways like:
- Tips for Making Your
Computer Completely Unusable
- How to Make Sure You’re the Lowest Paid Person
in Your Office
- Proven Techniques That Ensure No One Ever Visits Your Website Twice
There is some level of danger to using this approach. If you’ve gotten someone’s attention being humorous, entertaining or even slightly sensational, you’re going to ultimately have to deliver on your promise. If you don’t have good solid content backing up your title, you’re going to have a very disappointed and possibly quite angry person on the other end of the screen. If you’re trying to build regular customers, visitors or RSS subscribers, disappointing people with false hopes isn’t the way to do it.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.