When I saw the epic movie Lincoln, I was captivated by the depth and richness of the language used by the actors to portray the solemnity of that period in American history. The passages spoken by many in the cast were simply lyrical:
[Lincoln to James Ashley]
“We’re whalers,” Mr. Ashley!
“We’ve been chasing this whale for a long time. We’ve finally placed a harpoon in the monster’s back. It’s in, James, it’s in!
We finish the deed now, we can’t wait! Or with one flop of his tail he’ll smash the boat and send us all to eternity!”
The eloquence of American English in 1862 stands in sharp contrast to our language that continues to devolve in the Age of the Internet.
In the rush to have our content fit neatly into a mold shaped by Google, it seems we have sacrificed original thought for a high page rank.
Apparently, one of only many ways to achieve a high page rank is to tease readers with a grocery list of items that offers quick answers to a complex problem. You know, articles like: 6 tips that’ll help you build the world’s best marketing plan, or 14 reasons why your blog isn’t followed by 900,000 readers.
Overuse of the grocery-list rhetorical device has created an ocean of nearly identically-constructed headlines–such as these actual posts below:
- 6 email tests that matter more than your subject line
- 3 video marketing gifts: Content repurposing tools and inspiration for 2013
- 6 Twitter analytics tools to improve your marketing
- 25 techniques to enhance your blog’s value
- 7 reasons why your blog isn’t generating leads
- 16 of the year’s best ideas in UI design
- 10 cheesy marketing jokes to tickle your funny bone
- 9 ways your start-up can use social media lists
- 5 common Facebook marketing mistakes (And how to avoid them)
- 4 ways to inject humanity into your social media posts
- 15 of the best social apps of 2012
- 10 of the year’s best designs for social good
- 16 Twitter stars to add to your feed now
- 40 cool things to do with your posts after you hit publish.
- 4 social media marketing gems for your Facebook page
Yes, I’m guilty of using the grocery-list article template, too. Primarily because you can write them quickly, and they achieve results.
But what if President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was reframed in a similar style?
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
… “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
4 Reasons to Remember What Happened at Gettysburg
How do we take our content and blog posts to the next level and write better?
Really good posts offer gravity. Depth. The titles are descriptive and effectively communicate what the story will deliver. I think some of the best storytellers and headline writers are journalists. Browse through nytimes.com for superb examples of descriptive, succint headlines. But great advice also comes from non-journalists. User experience guru Jakob Nielsen asserts you can read some of the world’s best headlines on BBC News. Here’s why, according to Nielsen:
- “Short (because people don’t read much online);
- Rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article;
- Front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items);
- Understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and
- Predictable, so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click (because people don’t return to sites that promise more than they deliver).”
PR Daily is another good source for tips on writing well; here’s a post on writing compelling headlines.
In 2013 I’m opting out of using template blog titles… How about you?
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