Clever or cut to the chase? I need your input!

Headline This has been rattling around in my brain for quite a bit and I’d like your take on it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time — you’re used to my "quirky" post headlines. 

Could you be a super hero? (about inspiring your employees to live your brand)

Baby, it’s cold outside (about up-selling by asking good questions)

Shhh, you’re being too quiet!  (about inadvertently drawing attention where you do not want your consumers to look)

There are two very distinct camps on the headline issue. 

One camp, as illustrated by Mack Collier’s recent post Hey look kids!  Free buried treasure! leans towards creative posts piquing the interest of the reader.

The other camp illustrated  by Brian Clark aka Copyblogger in posts like 7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work believes that the more straightforward your headline is, the more likely it will get read. 

I have to admit, I write my headlines the way I do because I like them better.  (Perhaps not the best marketing message, but the truth) I assume my subscribers/readers are pretty clever so I am hoping to tickle their clever bone as well.  But does it cost me readers and exposure?

What’s your headline philosophy?  Which camp do you fall into?   Would you prefer a more cut to the chase Drew or are you getting used to my odd sense of enticement?

Do you think your philosophy applies only to blog posts or is it true for all headlines, regardless of the medium?

flickr photo courtesy of TimmyGUNZ.

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20 comments on “Clever or cut to the chase? I need your input!

  1. Drew,

    It’s a no brainer for me. I like Clever Drew over Cut To The Chase Drew. Come to think of it, I don’t really know Cut To The Chase Drew. The guy I know, the one I drink coffee with, is Clever Drew. I think it’s you who told me, “Spit it out and be yourself”.


  2. Cory,

    Sage advice. If blogging is anything it is authentic.

    But, should I worry that some people who could benefit from the content will just walk on by because they don’t know what the heck I’m talking about?


  3. simon says:

    Prompted by your post, I just looked back at some of my own blog headlines and realised I should have done a better job on them, but anyway…

    I guess I err towards straightforward headlines because they are more likely to telegraph What’s In It For Me.

    But I’ve been reading your posts anyway because I know the content is good — you could have left the headlines off and it wouldn’t have mattered.

  4. Brian Clark says:

    Hey Drew. I don’t think the question is clever vs. straight forward. The question is, does the headline communicate the benefit of reading to the outside world, or am I writing more to please myself?

    The great thing about writing to please ourselves is we succeed just about every time. But of course it becomes more difficult to justify internal complaints about our readership levels. 🙂

    As David Ogilvy wisely said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” If your goal is to market yourself or your company with your blog, people have to read it first. And effective headlines are those that attract readers.

  5. On the contrary. The headlines are compelling…they ignite the readers curiosity.

    Don’t go changing…

  6. I think you can combine both: Make the first part of your head straightforward (good for SEO, linkage, and clear-eyed communicating) then make your subtitle as fun as you like.

    Why decide between cake and cookies when you can have a tasty bite of both?

  7. Simon — well, I suspect if we take a peek back, we’d all find places we could tweak.

    You’re right– your headlines do tell me what to expect and I think there’s great value in that. That’s why I wrestle with the question — both sides have great merit.

    As a reader — which do you find yourself more drawn to read if you don’t know the blog?


  8. Brian,

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. That’s the rub for me.

    I could argue both sides of the discussion. But I’m not sure it is that black and white. Part of what enticing someone to delve deeper into an ad is if it intrigues them.

    When I read your blog, I find myself nodding. And maybe this is where the two philosophies differ.

    You are providing great content and information. And (correct me if I am wrong) you work hard to keep it pretty objective, there’s not a lot of Brian in the posts. While for me, I want my prospective clients to have a pretty good sense of me before they shoot me an e-mail or pick up the phone. Because we are entering into a relationship, I want them to get a feel for what I’m like/all about.

    Am I all wet, do you think, or is there something in that nuance?


  9. Cory,

    I could almost hear you singing!

    I’m going to try to create an experiment where I can test this out. Stay tuned…


  10. Roberta,

    A valid point. I also worry about headline length, especially as it appears in good blogs, etc.

    Would you put both the headline and subhead into the headline field? Or would you use the subhead as your first line of copy?


  11. Great topic, Drew!

    I like the headlines that draw the reader in either through their colorful language or because they express a question.

    For example, I looked backed on some of my posts. Which would you be more likely to read about:

    “Paradoxical Thinking” (straightforward) -or-
    “Have You Wrestled With A Paradox Today?” (clever)

    On the other hand, I had one called: “Breastfeeding Icons” that was straight-forward, but the concept was provocative enough that it didn’t need to be clever.

    As always, good food for thought!

  12. Drew, it depends. Most mostly, I just “stuff” the headline field. I’ve rarely seen my heads truncate.

    (Sounds sorta painful, doesn’t it?)

  13. Roger,

    Your example reminds me that the choice does not have to be either/or. Your clever title still tells me that we’re going to talk about paradoxes.

    No doubt it was the word “icon” that drew them to your breastfeeding icon post, eh? 🙂


  14. Roberta,

    Ahhh, the delicacy of the stuffed headline. That goes with red wine, right?


  15. Mark True says:

    While I can’t lay claim to your ability to turn a phrase, Drew, I like to take whichever tact will attract the reader. Sometimes, that calls for clever, sometimes Reader’s Digest is right.

    Ultimately, it has to attract, and there are a number of ways to do that.

    Mike Sansone gave me early praise for a post that had this as the headline: “Teddy Roosevelt was a poser” I’ve not been able to equal that one since.

    People who spend even a little time reading your posts realize that they heardline is just the tip of the iceberg…much more lies beneath the surface.


  16. Mark,

    Thank you for the compliments. Do I owe you money? 🙂

    Agreed — the purpose is to entice the reader into going a little deeper.

    When it is intriguing enough, like your Teddy Roosevelt post (you need to e-mail me that one!) it’s almost like a lure. The fish cannot resist striking.

    In the end, I think the answer lies in authenticity. Each author/situation will dicate how straight-forward or whimisical the headline and even the post/other copy will be.

    More food for thought…


  17. Drew, I know I’m a little late to the table here, but this one really pulled me in. When I write a post, I start with the idea, then I write the headline, and then I write the post. So typically, if it’s a whimsical headline it’s a whimsical post – kind of like a trigger. I would think the trigger extends to the reader too. Interestingly, I’ve found that I’ve rarely, if ever, changed the headline after I wrote the post. I know in the newspaper biz this works exactly the opposite. So, to relate this to you, I’d have to ask about your process first – if you are like me, I wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s driving the excellence in your posts. If it isn’t, you probably have a bit more “play” in what you end up with in a headline.

    Am I making any sense?

    All the best.

  18. Terry,

    Never too late to sit down and add to the discussion!

    I was told by a wise blog coach that it is best to write the post and then write the headline…because sometimes a post takes on a life of its own and goes in a direction you didn’t expect.

    I agree completely with that advice. However, I don’t do it that way.

    I write like you do. Idea. Headline. Post. On occasion, I need to tweak or completely ditch the headline but its rare.

    I appreciate the vote of confidence. I’m going to experiment a little and I’ll let you all know how it goes!


  19. Brian Clark says:

    >>Am I all wet, do you think, or is there something in that nuance?

    Sorry, I got distracted by something shiny. 😉

    No, you’re right to inject your personality into your blog. Saying otherwise would be silly.

    And frankly, I may be guilty of leaving myself out *too* much, but from my perspective, it’s impossible to be too focused on the reader.

    If I can boil it down to the overly simplistic, it would be this… write a headline that draws the most people in, and you’ll get to be Drew for many more people. 😉

  20. Brian,

    No worries about the delay. I’m not sure a blogger has to insert his/her personality into the posts. If your content is good enough, it could stand alone and be more than enough for your audience.

    Your point is well taken, though. If people don’t stop long enough to read the posts, it doesn’t matter how good, witty, interesting etc. they are.

    At that point, I’m just writing for myself anyway!

    Thanks for your thoughts on the subject. They’ve been very helpful as I sort through this question.


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