How To Avoid Overdoing the
Curiosity-Factor In Your Headline

Curious Cat

If you’re going to write a headline, you want the headline to attract. And one of the many elements of attraction is ‘curiosity.’

The more curious your headline, the more you have a chance of the reader stopping long enough to get interested. But hey, in the desire to write a really curious headline, we inevitably risk overdoing the headline.

So let’s analyze a headline for an example:

Why Adjectives Are The Key To Locking Out The Orange Job Candidate

Now, can you see what’s happening in that headline above?

First of all, because it’s got so many curious things to work out, you tend to get confused.

  1. Is this ‘adjective-stuff’ a grammar lesson?
  2. Is this ‘lock out’ a factor of some trade union?
  3. What’s an ‘orange job candidate?’

Your brain is sizzling, but not in a good way. Because it now has to deal with:

  • Adjectives
  • Are The Key To Locking Out
  • The Orange Job Candidate

So how do we make this easier for the reader? Let’s take a simple formula:

  1. One known factor.
  2. One curiosity factor.
  • Known factor = Hiring a candidate.
  • Curiosity Factor = Using Adjectives

Now we have sizzle. And a good sizzle at that. Because you don’t need to be a genius to work how the headline will unfold.

But just in case you’re struggling, here goes…

How ‘Adjectives’ Help You Hire The Right Candidate

See? One curiosity factor, one known factor… and the headline is ready to go. :-)

Let’s see some more examples. See if you can spot both the known factor and the curiosity factor.

  • Why Client Doodles Cost You Sales
  • The Fundamental Flaw in Creating Your Uniqueness
  • The Choice Paradox: Why Customers Want More And Less Simultaneously
  • Sales Strategy: How To Make A Godfather-Offer
  • How Ego-Killers Can Drive Clients Away
  • How the Yes-Yes factor helps you increase your prices by 20%

Spotted them?

Good.

Now you’re on your way to create your own known/curious headline. Without overdoing the curiosity-factor 😉

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Check out his blog, too.

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Reader Comments (32)

  1. says

    Sean,

    Nice work breaking it down into what makes a killer headline, and what happens when you overdo it. I’ve been trying to follow a lot of the advice I’ve read on copy blogger recently as I write some of my own title bait.

    I am not sure I completely agree with your example though. There are over the top headlines, and then there are headlines that just don’t make any sense – I think the main reason that headline fails is not so much because there is so much going on, but because “orange job candidate” makes no sense to me.

  2. says

    Excellent post! Too many people try to grab audiences attention by being too over the top with their titles and many times are just plain confusing. I like plain, clean and (many times) funny titles.

  3. says

    But overdoing the headline is Sleezy Internet Marketing 101. You should never be realistic or honest, or no one will want to know how they can make $103,045 in just 13 days using a Top Secret method that other internet marketers don’t want you to know!

  4. says

    I like that way of thinking about it. Sometimes I come up with (what I think are) wonderfully creative and curious post titles, but I often don’t use them because there’s just no information. I’m not sure whether I fix them by working in a known factor or not…I haven’t thought much about the process.

  5. says

    think the main reason that headline fails is not so much because there is so much going on, but because “orange job candidate” makes no sense to me.

    If one of the elements made sense to you, and you were interested in the subject, it would work.

    e.g. How the ‘orange job candidate’ helps you increase prices.

    How the ‘orange job candidate’ helps keep you warm in winter.

    I’m not suggesting ‘orange job candidate’ as terminology. I’m just saying that if you’re going to create curiosity, then restrict it to one fact/term.

    Sean

  6. says

    But overdoing the headline is Sleezy Internet Marketing 101. You should never be realistic or honest, or no one will want to know how they can make $103,045 in just 13 days using a Top Secret method that other internet marketers don’t want you to know!

    Well, there’s a market for every headline, and I have to say if the client is brain dead, that headline, completely overcooked with curiosity and hype—is purrrrrrfect.

  7. says

    How’s my latest blog title? It says, “A Sexy Girl with Big Boobs.”

    Is that a catchy headline?

    Of course it’s catchy. If you’re targeting an audience that’s interested in porn. But if you’re targeting an audience of writers, then yes, some of them will click on the link to go to your site, but once they reach there, will they continue to ‘respect you in the morning? 😉

    The truth is any headline can get attention. There’s no magic to getting attention. If you ran down the road painted red, you’d get attention. But would that convert to customers? That’s highly debatable.

    Unless of course there are others just like you who want to run down the road painted red. In that case, you have a great attention getter.

    There’s no such thing as a bad headline, if you know how to draw the right customer to the right material. And your headline is perfect for the right audience.

  8. says

    Excellent points and examples!

    I’m really cautious when creating headlines. If I’m not too careful, I can make them rather cryptic, and confusion doesn’t attract readers. 😉

    Best wishes,
    Shannon

  9. says

    @ Sonia – That’s hilarious! I thought that “A Sexy Girl With Big Boobs” headline isn’t catchy at all but yours is!

    @Sean – Great article as usual. For some unknown reason to me, you’re always good at breaking down complex concepts into simple instructions.

  10. says

    While I agree that a headline should always try to avoid overdoing the curiosity factor, I would say that overdoing it still works.

    As a guy in my office said yesterday: “These viagra ads are getting good now! How can I get an email that says ‘How a toilet fetish turned into a moneymaking hoby’ and not click on it?!”

    Okay, so I could only laugh. But it just goes to prove that sometimes going over the top does work. I guess it really just depends on the target market.

  11. says

    This reminds me of the insurance company commericals on TV that clear up confusing situations – to me titles should do that use simple language that make people go “ah, ok.” The titles can be quirky, double-meant, or have an double-entendre, but always clear.

    And I hope that my titles (and sub-titles) do just that.

    Cheers,
    Alex

  12. says

    Ah, but the headline follows the principle exactly.

    How a toilet fetish turned into a money-making hobby

    Toilet-fetish=Curious
    Money-making hobby=Non-Curious.

  13. says

    The other factor is the time factor.

    You’re always writing assuming that you have two-three seconds (if you’re lucky) to get my attention. If your headline is too curious, and I’m pressed for time, then it’s more than likely the only click is the ‘delete’ button.

    But it just goes to prove that sometimes going over the top does work.

  14. says

    Right on – my iGoogle is nothing but survival of the best blog headlines.

    Then you have to wonder…what have I missed out on because of crappy headlines?

  15. says

    It makes my brain sizzle. Less is still more. Some of those curiously absurd headlines make good absurd t-shirts for a beer fest.

  16. says

    I follow the KISS method when writing anything, with the target of having a 10-year-old understand the meaning.

    If I lost the 10-year-old, I lost the adult.

  17. says

    @ Joe R: I agree, great t-shirt material.

    @ Sean: True… but way too absurd. You’ve lost me instantly with that one, but my colleague is another story.

    Which simply proves that what works for one doesn’t always work for all.

  18. says

    You know what just dawned on me? A bit back I remember reading Ogilvy On Advertising and I remember reading that longer headlines which spark ideas are good…in plans books though (It might have been “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This”).

    I would have to agree that in certain situations longer and thought provoking headlines are cool. Maybe it’s in situations where the reader HAS to read what you have written (like a plans book). And maybe online articles are indeed OFF limits. Who knows?

  19. says

    Tongue-in-Cheek Blogger Wows the ‘Sphere – Film at 11

    I love headlines. Heck-a-roo, Leno does a segment on the “classics”

    All seriousness aside, good headline copy is golden. It takes hard work. Thanks for breaking it down for us.

  20. says

    Great post! Simple and clear is best. I like your suggestion of focusing on only one curiosity builder. Very effective.

    By complementing the headline with a curiosity-building image, you can make the headline even more compelling.

  21. Dare says

    Sean one question have you ever got on Digg front page or something similar?

    You explain concepts that have been in my mind for months and make me say…damn there’s finally a man who’s able to simplify this.


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