Make Your Headlines Clear – Not Clever – If You Want To Be Read

The temptation to write clever headlines, captions, titles, and text can be hard to resist. In face-to-face situations, the rewards for being witty or funny or erudite are real.

But online – the cost of being clever is lost readers and lost sales.

Today, Harry of Men With Pens reviewed Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Everything he said about web design applies equally to web writing.

It can’t be said often enough.

Online readers don’t read – they skim.

The more time a reader spends trying to decipher your puns, the less likely they are to find your call to action. Or to even realize the call to action exists.

When you have the choice between a boring headline that explains what a blog post or newsletter is about and a clever one whose meaning becomes clear only after you’ve read a paragraph or two – choose the boring headline.


Readers already feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

A subject line that hints rather than explains will be deleted or set aside for “later” (a time that never comes). A deceptive “Look At The Train Wreck!” style headline may work once or twice – until annoyed readers consign you to the SPAM filter.

An effective headline or subject line spells out the benefits of reading the newsletter or blog post.

Blogs and newsletters are gatherers of information. They collect and broadcast what we need to know in small, easy to use chunks.

Respect your readers by telling them, clearly and concisely, exactly what you have to offer. Write a simple, clear headline and then follow through by writing articles that fulfill the promise of the headline.


Harry, of Men With Pens, uses the analogy of a billboard. While cars speed by at 60 MPH, there is no room for subtlty. You need to get the message across fast.

Your headline is your billboard – use it to snag the attention of speeding readers.