The 7 Worst Headline Mistakes That Are Costing You Traffic (And How to Fix Them)

You‘ve spent hours crafting the perfect blog post—meticulously researching facts, polishing your prose, and finding the ideal images to accompany your words. You excitedly hit "publish" and wait for the likes, comments, and shares to roll in.

But after a few days, your traffic analytics dashboard is a ghost town. Barely a trickle of visitors have stopped by to check out your blogging masterpiece. What went wrong?

Chances are, you made one of these all-too-common headline mistakes. Your headline is the first (and sometimes only) thing potential readers see. It‘s the gatekeeper that either piques their interest enough to click through or sends them scrolling past.

In fact, on average, 80% of people will read a headline but only 20% will go on to read the article^1. That means your headline has to work 4 times as hard as the rest of your content to make an impact.

If you‘ve been pouring effort into your articles but neglecting your headlines, you‘re doing your content a huge disservice. Let‘s dive into the top headline mistakes that repel readers and how you can fix them to get your content the audience it deserves.

Mistake 1: Your Headline Is Misleading

We‘ve all fallen for those enticing clickbait headlines that promise juicy secrets and mind-blowing revelations, only to discover that the article itself is total fluff. While curiosity-driven headlines can snag that first click, they ultimately leave readers feeling tricked and erode trust in your brand.

Here‘s the uncomfortable truth—misleading headlines work in the short term. In one study, an ambiguous headline generated a 927% increase in page views compared to a specific, accurate one^2.

However, those clicks rarely translate into meaningful engagement. Misleading content has a 17% higher bounce rate on average^3. People catch on quickly when a headline doesn‘t match the content and go in search of more straightforward answers.

The Fix:

Aim for crystal clear headlines that accurately represent your content. Give readers a concrete reason to click without resorting to bait and switch tactics.

For example, instead of:

Doctors Hate Her: Local Mom Discovers $5 Wrinkle Trick


7 Affordable Natural Remedies to Minimize Wrinkles, According to Dermatologists

The first headline is intriguing but plays into the "doctors hate her" trope of unbelievable claims. The second headline still appeals to the desire for cheap, effective solutions but backs it up with a clear promise and expert input.

Remember, while a misleading headline might score you a few extra clicks today, an honest one helps you build a loyal audience that keeps coming back.

Mistake 2: Your Headline Overpromises and Underdelivers

This one piggybacks on the first mistake. Even if your headline isn‘t outright deceptive, it can still set readers up for disappointment by overhyping the content.

I‘ve lost count of how many "ultimate guides" and "complete lists" I‘ve clicked on only to find a smattering of surface-level information I could have gathered from a quick Google search.

As content creators, we‘re understandably excited to promote our work as groundbreaking and comprehensive. But slapping a superlative on a headline doesn‘t make it so.

Overexaggerating claims in your headline puts a lot of pressure on the content to live up to those lofty expectations. When it doesn‘t, readers bounce.

In a survey of over 1,300 internet users, 71% reported frequently or very frequently encountering content online that doesn‘t live up to what the headline promised^4. That‘s a lot of unsatisfied readers.

The Fix:

Dial back the hyperbolic language and be upfront about the scope of your content. Use specific numbers and clear outcomes to convey value without overselling it.

For instance, rather than:

The Ultimate Guide to Doubling Your Conversion Rate Overnight!

Go with:

10 Proven Tactics to Increase Your Conversion Rate by 30% in 30 Days

The first headline sounds too good to be true and is likely to set unrealistic expectations. The second one quantifies the benefit and timeline to provide a more honest and achievable outcome.

Don‘t be afraid to think big with your content, but make sure your headlines reflect reality. It‘s better to overdeliver on a modest headline than to underdeliver on an extravagant one.

Mistake 3: Your Headline Is Too Long and Clunky

Call it TL;DR syndrome. These days, people have the attention span of a goldfish—about 8 seconds[^5]. If your headline takes longer than that to read, let alone comprehend, you‘ll lose most folks along the way.

I get it, there‘s a lot you want to convey in those precious characters—the topic, the task, the outcome, the timeframe. But cramming all those details into a headline makes it a mouthful.

For example:

Top 10 Most Effective Social Media Marketing Strategies to Boost Engagement and Drive Website Traffic and Conversions in 2023

By the time a reader finishes mentally untangling that wordy headline, they‘ll have forgotten what the article was even about in the first place.

Plus, long headlines have technical downsides too. Search engine results pages (SERPs) typically cut off headlines after 60 characters^6. Social media platforms also truncate long headlines, especially on mobile.

So not only are lengthy headlines hard to read, but your lovingly-crafted copy might be chopped off before making its point anyway.

The Fix:

Tighten up those titles. Aim for 6-12 words and ruthlessly trim any extraneous details. Get creative with phrasing and prioritize only the essential benefits.

Let‘s transform that unwieldy example:

10 Social Media Hacks to Skyrocket Engagement and Sales

The revised headline conveys the same key information—boosting social media results—but in a punchier, more digestible format.

Some other tips for staying concise:

  • Skip buzzwords and root out redundant phrases
  • Distill complex topics down to their core components
  • Use strong, active language for impact

Remember, the headline is supposed to be a tantalizing appetizer, not the full five-course meal. Leave the details to the main content and focus on quickly capturing attention and communicating value.

Mistake 4: Your Headline Is Stuffed with Keywords

Once upon a time, it was common practice to game the Google algorithm by cramming exact match keywords into every inch of a webpage—the headline, the subheaders, the image alt text, you name it.

But search engines have gotten hip to these sneaky SEO tactics. Exact match keyword stuffing is not only ineffective these days, it can actually hurt your rankings. Headlines that read like a robot wrote them don‘t exactly inspire trust and authority with readers either.

For instance:

Best Graphic Design Software — Top Graphic Design Tools for Graphic Designers and Graphic Design Projects

With four heavy-handed mentions of "graphic design" in one headline, it‘s clear this was written to manipulate search results, not to appeal to humans.

The Fix:

Go for natural, conversational headlines that incorporate keywords organically. Use synonyms and variations to avoid sounding like a broken record.

A better take on that robotic headline might be:

The 10 Best Tools for Any Graphic Design Project, From Beginner to Pro

This headline weaves in relevant keywords like "graphic design tools" and "graphic design project" without sacrificing readability. It also uses more specific terms like "beginner" and "pro" to signal to Google that the article addresses different skill levels.

Some keyword-optimized headline tips:

  • Include 1-2 keywords/phrases max
  • Use keywords near the beginning of the headline when possible
  • Balance keyword usage with power words that pack an emotional punch
  • Prioritize relevance and search intent over sheer search volume

At the end of the day, real live humans are the ones clicking on and reading your content—not search bots. Never lose sight of writing headlines for people first while still giving search engines the context clues they need.

Mistake 5: Your Headline Is Full of Insider Jargon

You‘re an expert on your blog topic and that‘s fantastic! But that doesn‘t mean your target audience speaks the same specialized language you do.

Because you‘re immersed in your industry day in and day out, it can be easy to forget that the average reader might need a bit more hand-holding to decode your brilliant insights.

Headlines peppered with technical terms, acronyms, and jargony buzzwords are an instant turnoff to most people. No one wants their lack of insider knowledge rubbed in their face before they even click on an article.

Take this pretentious-sounding headline:

10 Ways to Optimize Your Omnichannel CX Strategy for Maximum CLV

Unless you‘re a marketer, you probably have no clue what half those words mean. And even if you are a marketer, it‘s exhausting to mentally translate so much jargon.

Convoluted headlines make people work too hard just to figure out what the heck you‘re talking about. That‘s precious brainpower most of us would rather not expend while casually browsing content.

The Fix:

Break out the thesaurus and swap any industry-specific lingo with general audience-friendly alternatives. Use simple, universal language that anyone could understand.

Here‘s that jargon-y headline rewritten in plain English:

10 Ways to Improve the Customer Experience Across All Channels and Boost Lifetime Value

While less impressive-sounding to industry veterans perhaps, this headline clearly conveys the subject and goals to readers of all backgrounds. The core topic shines through without all the distracting terminology.

Some more tips for jargon-free headlines:

  • Define key terms if you absolutely have to use them
  • Focus on the end result/benefit vs. the technical process
  • Write for an 8th-grade reading level
  • Get headline feedback from people outside your industry

Unless you‘re writing exclusively for experts, embrace simple language in your headlines. You want your amazing content to be accessible to as many people as possible.

Mistake 6: Your Headline Confuses More Than It Clarifies

That clever play on words that sounded so smart in your head? It might not translate to readers. Overly complicated headlines that try too hard to be witty often just end up confusing people.

I‘ve been guilty of this one. When I published an article called "How Tossing My To-Do List Helped Me Get More Done", I thought I was being ironic and counterintuitive. In reality, people weren‘t sure if the article was for or against to-do lists. Lesson learned.

Ambiguity in headlines leaves too much room for interpretation. People don‘t have the patience to solve riddles while skimming for stories to read. They just want to know what they‘re in for if they click.

For example:

The One Thing You‘re Not Doing That‘s Sabotaging Your Productivity

I‘d bet money that headline caught your eye but the curiosity factor comes at the cost of clarity. There are a million things we aren‘t doing that could be "sabotaging productivity". Without more context, we‘re left guessing.

The Fix:

Revise wishy-washy wording and aim for crystal clear copy. If there‘s any chance your headline could be misinterpreted, simplify it.

To fix that vague headline:

Why Single-Tasking Is the Productivity Hack You‘re Not Using But Should Be

Now we have some hints as to where the article is headed without sacrificing the hook. "Single-tasking" is positioned as the under-utilized solution to productivity woes that we‘ll learn more about.

More headline clarity tips:

  • Emphasize one main benefit or pain point
  • Offer new information to the reader
  • Choose specific, sensory words over bland, abstract ones
  • Test your headline by asking others what they think the article is about

Clarity should always win out over cleverness in headlines. A little mystery is fine but make sure your article topic isn‘t a total head-scratcher.

Mistake 7: Your Headline Doesn‘t Stand Out From the Crowd

Here‘s a sobering fact—over 7.5 million blog posts are published every single day^7. No matter how brilliant your article may be, it‘s still competing with a tidal wave of other content for attention.

With that much noise, generic headlines that could have been written by anybody are easy to gloss over. If your headline looks just like the dozens of others on the same topic, people have no compelling reason to click on yours.

For instance, let‘s say you see these two headlines side-by-side in the SERPs:

10 Tips for Better Sleep

The Counterintuitive Bedtime Routine That Cured My Insomnia After Years of Struggling

Which would you be more likely to check out? The tired listicle of sleep tips or the highly specific account of an unusual approach to a common problem?

The first headline does accurately convey the article‘s content but it lacks any noteworthy angle. The information could be solid but there‘s nothing to differentiate it from the glut of articles claiming to help people sleep better.

The Fix:

Identify what makes your content uniquely valuable and zoom in on that. What surprising opinion, fresh perspective, or unconventional suggestion sets your advice apart from the rest?

Some ideas:

  • Incorporate your personal experience or case study data
  • Take a contrarian stance on conventional wisdom
  • Call out your target audience‘s specific struggle
  • Make a bold claim or prediction

The goal is to plant your flag in the ground and give readers a taste of your distinct point of view from the very first sentence.

Let‘s punch up that generic headline with a more targeted angle:

A Narcoleptic‘s Guide to Better Sleep: 10 Surprising Tips That Actually Work

The revised headline appeals to a specific audience (narcoleptics and other sleep strugglers) and makes it clear that the tips aren‘t run-of-the-mill sleep advice. The author‘s unique experience as someone with narcolepsy lends credibility and authority to the content.

Standing out doesn‘t mean you have to be outrageous or controversial. But it does require knowing what sets your insights apart and conveying that extra special something in your headline.

The Bottom Line on Better Blog Headlines

So there you have it—the top 7 headline mistakes that are costing you clicks and credibility with every post. If any of them sounded painfully familiar, you‘re not alone. We‘ve all been there.

Fortunately, once you know the pitfalls to avoid and the proven formulas that work, writing magnetic headlines gets a whole lot easier.

Some key takeaways:

  • Be accurate and clear about what readers will get from the content
  • Keep headlines concise and jargon-free to quickly communicate value
  • Skip the keyword stuffing and prioritize relevance for readers and search engines
  • Aim for highly specific, curiosity-provoking angles that stand out from the crowd

With so much riding on those first few words, it pays to put real time and strategic thought into your headlines. Implement these tips and watch your traffic numbers climb as more readers can‘t help but click.

Happy (honest, clear, compelling) headline writing!

[^5]: Time Magazine