Headlines are like a mosquito in the room on an otherwise lovely summer night. I really just want to nail that sucker, but I mostly miss.
Some people (me) sometimes debate whether headlines even matter. After all, some of the best writers suck at titles. I don’t read them for their titles. I read them because I know I like their writing.
Which is a lovely warm and fuzzy feeling, but does nothing to get new readers. Because new readers don’t know they like my writing yet. Or yours.
So yes, headlines do matter. Especially if you want to grow an audience and acquire new readers along the way. If you want clicks, you’re going to have to nail the mosquito and learn how to write a good headline.
Which is easier said than done, and I say that from experience. See?
The Hilarious Irony of the Free Headline Analyzer
I decided I was going to take a morning and master the stupid headline analyzer tool everyone tells writers to use instead of just winging it.
It works like traffic signals...
Nice and simple. Red, amber, green. If it’s red, stop. Amber, proceed with caution. Green means go.
So, because I’m an ornery cuss and kind of want to hate this tool, I started by putting in their own headline and subtitle. They failed. lol.
My kneejerk reaction passed with flying colors. Green. More lolz.
Coschedule gives you tips on how to improve…
The tool doesn’t just give you a score and leave you to figure out what’s wrong with your title. They give you actionable tips. Here’s how mine scored…
(more below the pics)
13% of the words were “common” words and 0% were uncommon. The emotional score was 25% but I was a bit baffled that they think “of the” is an emotional statement. I guess that’s contextual.
Over the top on power words, though. I knew “free” was a power word in copywriting, but who knew hilarious was a power word!
Apparently, it’s a “generic” title — most likely because I had no “uncommon” words in the title. But everything else was good. Word and character count are good, and it scored “positive” in sentiment.
But still. 0 uncommon words? So I wanted to find an uncommon word and see what happens to the score.
Cardinal rule — one change at a time…
The cardinal rule of testing stuff is to change one thing at a time. Because if you change multiple things, you won’t know which makes the difference. I figured I have a lot of “power” words, so I decided to change one of them and see if I can find an uncommon word.
No dice. All that changed was the mood…
Who knew that “strange” is a neutral word, and “weird” is negative. Okay, nevermind. I know weird is negative. When I was a kid, it was pretty much my middle name along with “broke the mold after this one, eh” jokes.
But still. No “uncommon” words.
I obsessed over “uncommon” words
Hello rabbit hole. I typed in title after title, trying to figure out what constitutes uncommon words, but I kept striking out. Didn’t matter what I typed into the stupid analyzer, they all had 0% uncommon words.
Finally, in sheer frustration, I grabbed a bunch of my old titles and pasted them in. Bingo! Hello, uncommon words!
What coschedule scored as “uncommon” words…
Facebook, look, out, life, old, really, first, little, dog, photos, one
I wish I’d screen-capped my face for you. It would have added something, I’m sure. In what world are these uncommon words? I can’t even peg them. It’s not like they’re looking for verbs or nouns or adjectives or anything that’s remotely specific or makes half an ounce of sense. Nope. Totally random.
Also? Apparently using an “uncommon” word like DOG didn’t help my failed dog title any. It still bombed in both score and views.
Is the headline tool skewed to clickbait?
A lot of people think online headline tools are skewed to favor clickbait. I used to think that, too. Figured I’d test that out while I was messing in there.
Turns out, no!
I googled “clickbait examples” and picked 5 random click-baity titles and plunked them in the headline analyzer. They all failed. Not a green light among them.
Clickbait isn’t what you think
People love to define things their own way. Spam is a great example. Know how most people define spam? Anything they don’t want to receive.
Which is really crappy, when you think about it from the perspective of the sender who might be throttled or blacklisted by email providers for sending email to people who opted in and then later decided it’s “spam” long after they forgot about the freebie they signed up to get.
Clickbait and “interesting” aren’t synonyms.
That’s the jist of the problem. People who write crap titles see an interesting title and whine that it’s “click-baity.” Maybe it is. But maybe it’s not.
Know what defines clickbait? With-holding. A good title tells the reader exactly what they’re going to get. It says this is what it’s about in a way that generates interest. Click-bait withholds the actual topic.
Here’s an example.
Maybe you’ll recognize the top one from ads that have been floating around the internet forever. A tool cannot control what you type into it. It can only work with what you give it. Give it “one weird trick” and you’re the one responsible for the clickbait, not the tool. Know what I mean?
The real headline test…
After spending most of a morning messing around in the tool, it occurred to me that the headline analyzer isn’t going to click my title. Duh.
Even if it has a 76% score. The tool is not going to clap and it can’t comment. It’s a dumb robot. Nothing but an algorithm, really. A math equation.
So I came to Medium and screen-capped the trending stories and plugged them into the headline analyzer. They all failed. Every last one. Not a green light among them. And these are the stories trending as I write this!
Headlines aren’t just important, they’re crucial. But it’s not the score in some online tool that matters. It’s the reader the headline matters to.
If a headline isn’t interesting to the reader, it doesn’t matter if an algorithm loved it. If the headline is interesting to the reader, it doesn’t matter if the algorithm hated it.
Too many writers use story titles that are more like book titles and don’t tell the reader what to expect, much less build anticipation.
Compare these two titles, for example…
They’re both mine, so I can laugh at myself. The first got almost 100K views. The second got 24 views and made less than $5.
The headline analyzer is just a tool. And like any tool, the skill of the person using the tool matters. What I do with a camera and what my sister does with a camera aren’t remotely the same. (sorry, Sis. Truth.)
The takeaway is that the tool can help you refine a title that starts with an interesting topic. But it’s just a tool. A robot. An algorithm. It’s up to you to come up with an idea that entices the reader.
In the long run, that’s what it’s about. Enticing the reader. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort. You’re still going to bomb sometimes. But maybe you’ll get a few more homeruns, too.