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How to Craft Question Headlines that Don’t Flop…

"This type of question in a headline is guaranteed to be ignored." – Stefanie Flaxman

During last week’s Editorial call here at Copyblogger, we had a lively discussion about ham.

But that’s not the H-word I’m going to talk about today.

More commonly, we analyze headlines.

There’s nothing more disappointing than a unique, thoughtful, and helpful piece of content that has a headline that doesn’t do it justice.

Great content needs a title that effortlessly captivates the attention of the writer’s ideal reader.

I sometimes like using questions in headlines, but there’s one type of question in a headline that’s guaranteed to be ignored.

Avoid “yes” or “no”

If someone scanning headlines can easily answer “yes” or “no” to the question you pose in your headline, they won’t click on your article.

They won’t read any further because you aren’t helping them — or more accurately, you’re not giving the impression that your article will help them. The content might very well be groundbreaking and useful, but the headline does not communicate that.

For example, if you run a home gardening business, you wouldn’t want to write a blog post that asks:

“Does Your Lawn Need Fertilizer?”

You wouldn’t even want to ask:

“Are Your Weeds Out of Control?”

Those questions have the potential to attract ideal customers who need their lawns fertilized or have weed problems in their yards, respectively, but those questions don’t demonstrate you’re a likable expert who has something to teach your reader.

And, perhaps more importantly, they’re too similar to what a competitor would write.

Instead, you could try these:

“Are You Making This Common Fertilizer Mistake that Shortens the Lifespan of Your Grass?”

“What’s the Secret to Keeping Your Weeds at Bay (Year After Year)?”

When you’re building your audience, especially in the beginning, you have to provide crystal-clear value when you invite people to your digital home.

No reward, no relationship

To build relationships with content marketing, you have to publish something worthwhile and people have to consume what you offer.

But we have so many content options.

If we can “get away” with not reading something because we think we already know what it’s going to talk about, we will. When your audience can answer “yes” or “no,” there’s very little room for a relationship to grow.

I don’t think we have limited attention spans; I think our tolerance for average is limited.

We have the luxury of looking for exactly what we’re after. We don’t have to waste our time on anything mediocre, generic, or boring.

If that’s the way a reader views your headline, she is going to skip checking out your content.

Yet, we’ll spend time exploring topics we care about, no matter how busy we are.

Content that educates and entertains tends to seem short, regardless of its actual length.

So when you write a question in a headline:

Intrigue your audience with your proposal. Make them feel certain they’ll connect with your writing style and gain knowledge, rather than make them feel certain they already know what you’re going to say.

Try this headline exercise

Thanks to digital publishing, we can update our old content.

Go back to any question headlines you’ve published that someone could easily answer “yes” or “no” to and try a different approach.

Use this opportunity to make other sharp improvements to the content.

Then re-promote it to your audience and monitor your new engagement.

Headlines that stand the test of time

Going forward, craft headlines that will stand the test of time.

The ones that will be viewed as educational and entertaining now and into the future.

If you can do that, watch out, you might get what you’re after.