Social Strategy

No Questions: Writing Headlines that Deserve a Click

Headlines and subject lines are tricky. And asking a question in a headline poses extra special challenges. 

Namely, if your question can be answered by a simple, “No,” they have no reason to click through or open.

“Is your refrigerator running?”
“Nope!”

This little edict actually has a name. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines states:

“Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

The sadly dormant @YourTitleSucks Twitter account tracks such instances with a solid “No” to tweets asking yes/no questions. 

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 3.12.20 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-04-06 at 3.10.33 PM.png

But the question is, can you use questions at all?

A new TargetMarketing piece argues that questions should be used sparingly and thoughtfully. Ask whether your question makes your reader feel vulnerable or uncomfortable — and not in a good way.

While unsettling a reader can work to engage them in fiction, in marketing, it typically backfires. You WANT to make your reader feel that choosing your refrigerator repair/cat-herding software/Tonka truck will make them more efficient/smart/playful.

So if you’re asking questions, make sure the answers aren’t going to:

  • Shut down your entire effort before it even starts
  • Make your reader feel lacking/dumb/hopelessly out of the loop

Bad:

Is your refrigerator running?

[Easy to answer, “Yep!” and move on]

Better:

Is your refrigerator running as efficiently as possible?

[Still could be a yes/no, but you can get the reader thinking, “Maybe it isn’t. When did I last clean the dog hair out of the coils? Is there something else I should be doing?”]

Best:

5 ways your refrigerator could run better

[Concrete, states what to expect, gets the reader to say, “Hmm, 5 things? I might be able to do one or two of them. Or maybe I already am!]

Headlines are tricky, but they’re inescapable. Take note as you surf the web or scroll through social media — which headlines grab your attention? Do any prompt a visceral reaction? Or better yet, which actually deserve a click?

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