Some days it’s all about the headlines isn’t it? A catchy, grabby declaration meant to attract eyeballs and wallets. There is so much content – so much content competing for your time and attention – that the headlines have become formulaic in their attempt to stand out.
“The”. We humans like to know there is definitive certainty. No wishy-washy possibilities or discussion here. This article is all about chiseled in stone absoluteness.
“Three”. We also like definitive numbers. It tells us right up front that there is only a certain amount of info being discussed. Interestingly, the number is either single digit or a fairly high double-digit. Seven is fine, sixty-three is fine, fourteen just doesn’t work.
“Guaranteed”. Who doesn’t love a good guarantee. This is proof it works right? Um, sure. The most relevant legal definition from Law.com is: a promise to make a product good if it has some defect. Most often, if something you purchase doesn’t work, the guarantee would be for money-back, repair, or replacement. How much did you pay for the blog post? If it doesn’t work, how much recourse do you have? Yep, zilch. I guarantee it. A great, sounds good, but meaningless word.
“New”. Yep, none of those old ideas for me, thank you very much. What? You mean I shouldn’t be a complete jackass as a manager if I want people to care about their jobs, I shouldn’t eat more than I burn off if I want to lose weight, and I shouldn’t drive like a teenage boy late for a first date if I want to save fuel? I know that already (even if I don’t do it, like, ever). No, tell me something new. And make it a…
“Secrets”. This goes right along with “new”. There will never be a blog post, article, or book titled, “Common Sense Stuff That Everyone Already Knows”. And the secrets must be either so hot off the press that the ink smears, or they better be…
“Ancient”. Yep, old. Been around for years and recently recovered from the mists of time. But not twenty years old, more like 200+. Bonus points if you connect it to a revered, yet mysterious people from: a) a long time ago; and/or b) far, far away. Tibetan monks, Peruvian priests, Spartan warriors. Tailored to the topic of course. “Leadership Secrets of the Viking Berserkers” would sell like water in the Sahara, but “Human Resource Secrets of the Druids” might not work so well.
“Best Practices”. This is the greatest term ever invented for selling ideas, because it looks buzzwordy, businessy, and authoritative, yet is essentially meaningless. It sounds like it means cutting edge, but it really means status quo. “Best practices” is more eye-catching than “currently fashionable ideas” or “the stuff we’re doing today that seems to work OK, but we’ll look back upon in fifteen years and face palm ourselves in sheer embarrassment.” Interestingly, these best practices can contradict other best practices in the same site or magazine and no one seems to notice or care.
The best part is the topic at hand doesn’t matter. Not a bit. It’s common across every professional, enthusiast, and tabloid subject I’ve seen. Unfortunately, using or not using these secret (ha!) headline best practices (ha!) is no guarantee (ha!) of quality. Some great articles use them and some don’t. Some horrendously vapid and vacant articles use them and some don’t. But the trite articles trending through the interwebs? Definitely.