Misleading Headlines: Do they work or do they hurt?

As I was flicking through my RSS feeds yesterday, I came across the following headline:

“Steve Jobs Leaves Apple”

Huh? Wow… well I know I haven’t read that anywhere else, but could this be a scoop?

Naively, I clicked on the link to be greeted with this opening paragraph:

“Steve Jobs is leaving Apple — eventually. Whether because of health, age, or any other reason, key employees leave companies. It happens everyday. What distinguishes a great company from a just a good company is how they plan for this eventuality.”

Well, duh!

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t impressed, particularly as for some reason the web site in question had decided not to publish an excerpt — let alone a full feed — for the article.

I can cope with less-than-scintillating prose so long as it’s related to the title and excerpt, but in my opinion this misleading headline was simply used to try and entice more visitors to the web site.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that a misled visitor is a happy one.

The article in question was about succession planning — something that I might have had a vague interest in but probably wouldn’t have clicked through to if I’d found it sitting in my feed reader.

Because it used a famous business leader who generates a lot of online buzz, particularly of late where his health is concerned, it potentially lured other readers in.

Are the articles at that web site well-written? In general it looks like a fairly professional outfit, so I’m guessing so.

However, does this little stunt make me want to subscribe to the RSS feed of that publication? No, not really.

No doubt the site will pop up again from time to time as I search for information, but it’s not on my list of favourite sites.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this, but I really don’t think creating deliberately misleading headlines is a good policy.

Controversial headlines: fine, so long as the article is on-topic and actually contentious.

Now, hand on heart, I can’t say that I’ve never published an article with a headline designed to lure visitors, but I hope that I haven’t deliberately tried to mislead people in order to get a few more click-throughs.

At the end of the day, the overall reputation of my site is more important than any short term gains gleaned from such tactics.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Misleading Headlines: Do they work or do they hurt?

  1. These kinds of headlines are turn-offs. I don’t mind a bit of exageration, but the headline must be a reflection of what’s in the story to some extent.

  2. I certainly agree with your point! I don’t think it is fair enough for the readers to get this kind of stuff. It is so disappointing in so many ways.

  3. Totally agree Andy. It’s getting the same as the magazines sitting on the store shelf with bold headlines announcing a major story – and AFTER buying the mag finding that it was a total play on words for increased sales. Does nothing for credibility for the publisher and a sense of feeling manipulated by the visitor I am sure…

  4. To create a catchy headline is an art, however now we have more writers than readers resulting in not only talentless headlines but overall content as well

  5. When using a catchy headline, staying on-topic is crucial. Is their anything wrong with spinning a headline or a topic? No, just as long as the information you give remains factual. Misleading folks with the sole purpose of gaining more visitors to a site is . . . well, trafficking, in a sense. Either way, it is disreputable. We at Precise Edit don’t have an issue with
    spin, but being misleading certainly goes against our writing and communication ethos.

  6. I totally agree with your point. There’s a huge difference between captivate/try to catch the attention and mislead. I hate to be misleaded and yes, as you, hands on heart, I used attractive titles on-line and off-line… without hurting…ethics!
    Thanks for this post!

  7. In this day and age, you could actually hurt yourself more by using misleading tactics like this. Is it really worth it? Thanks for highlighting such an annoying practice online.

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

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