Everyone has a bait-and-switch or hidden fee story. Like the time you bought your car and the dealer quoted you a price—and then when you headed to the signing table, you had new, higher total that included mysterious dealer fees on top of the car’s price markup. Or the time you went to the mechanic and got a repair quote only to return to the garage and receive an invoice for a significantly higher price.
You’ve probably also had similar experiences when reading content online. You search for a topic and click a promising-looking headline only to end up at an unrelated article or, even worse, a page full of spammy ads. You look at the content, feel a spike of irritation, and hit the back button on your browser. In many cases, you note the name of the company or the publisher, and you mark it down as an untrustworthy source.
Anytime your headline, title tag, or meta description fails to match what your audience actually gets from the piece, your content lets your readers down. The customer doesn’t even get to the point of trying your product or service; you’re already in the discard pile. Your headline got the click, but you didn’t win the audience’s trust.
Outright deception isn’t the only way that publishers bait-and-switch their readers. In fact, most authors do it unintentionally or out of habit. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that your headlines lead to content that disappoints your readers.
No, Everything Is Not Awesome
One scroll through your Twitter feed will tell you that big claims are overused in article headlines. “This One Weight Loss Trick Will Change Your Life.” “The Ultimate Guide to Ending Procrastination for Good.” Sadly, most articles claiming to deliver something completely amazing turn out to be incredibly average. In marketing terms, we call this “puffery,” and it’s not deceptive per se, but it is annoying when you click on something that promises big and turns out to be nothing special.
It’s perfectly normal to position your business as being the best at doing what you do. But as legendary game show host Bob Eubanks once said to a surly teenager, “Don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash.” If all of your headlines are superlative—all of your posts are the ultimate, greatest, most incredible, perfectest, best ever, whiz-bang, amaze-balls blog posts ever written—most likely you aren’t delivering.
What to do: Unless you’re truly publishing the most amazing content on the Web, take your headlines down a notch. Or improve the quality of your content and make the product match the promise.
Senator, You’re No Jack Kennedy.
Do you have a downloadable asset that promises to be “The Only ______ Guide You’ll Ever Need?” So do 30 million other would-be entrepreneurs, and every one of you can’t be right. Again, the promise of exclusivity, like puffery, isn’t intentionally deceptive. You might truly think your guide is the only one worth owning, but there are millions of landing pages just like it.
The Web provides a free and open venue for self-publishing content. You have no obstacles to getting your content published, least of all a pesky editor who’s really questioning whether it’s as unique as you think it is. Ironically, in your quest to stand out from the crowd, you become just another unconvincing “let me teach you to make millions” moonlighter.
What to do: Instead of trying to recreate something that everyone has already done, create assets that are truly unique. Discover your unique spin on a familiar topic, or find an unoccupied niche that can really offer value to your readers. Then, craft a great headline for your content.
Sorry, Officer. You’ve Got the Wrong Guy.
I once completed a project for a university in which they asked me to compose a blog post entitled, “5 Reasons to Get Your Master of Education Degree.” As a former educator, I know that it’s a terminal degree designed for people who want a job in a district administrative office (e.g., Math Curriculum Coordinator or Director of Gifted Education). It’s not even a degree for principals or superintendents; they complete the Ed.D. or Ph.D. in Education. So I wrote a blog post directed to the sort of people who would use an M.Ed. to recharge their career.
After submitting the piece, the university’s marketing agency told me that the university wanted to market the degree to people in business. Not people who wanted to leave the corporate world to become educators, but people who wanted to keep on working for a business. If you’re developing training and development curriculum for a company or not-for-profit, I can see how an education background might be loosely relevant. But you’re not learning how to educate children. You’re educating adults in the business world.
I share this story as an example of a client who was selling to the wrong crowd. I applaud the creative thinking, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to sell a lawnmower to someone who lives in an apartment complex. Your content should appeal to people who actually need your product...not to people who would purchase it and discover they have no use for it. Someone would click the headline seeking an education degree only to find an article geared toward the business world.
What to do: Market to new customer segments if they can truly benefit from your product. Alternatively, if you want to appeal to a new audience, create a new product just for them—and content explaining why they need it.
Be Yourself. It’s Okay.
Plenty of businesses use cheap claims and over-the-top headlines to make their content sound great. Be as honest with your content as you are with your products. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver.