To ask, or not to ask — that is the question.
What constitutes a perfectly crafted headline? While there are tons of tricks and tips for capturing the attention of online users, there’s one debate that I decided to settle once and for all — do question headlines ever work, or should they be avoided at all costs?
I asked two of L&T’s in-house digital marketing experts to share their thoughts on the matter. Here’s what they had to say:
Danny’s Take: Question Headlines are OK (Sometimes)
“Asking questions inspires curiosity, which can compel your audience to click and even contribute their thoughts to the discussion,” says Danny Goodwin, L&T’s in-house Content Strategist.
Danny tells me there are ways to effectively execute a question-based headline, but only after you’ve carefully considered alternatives and found that it’s still the best way to draw in your target audience.
When Should You Question Your Question?
Danny advises against using a question-based headline if your content doesn’t provide a sufficient answer. “Rather than just throwing a question mark on the end of a headline, spend some time developing an actual angle or position.”
A surefire sign that your question headline should be vetoed? It can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” There is not much incentive to read further if the answer to the question being asked is self-evident.
The Perfect Scenario
While it may seem like a lazy way out of crafting a more compelling statement, Danny says there is a time and a place for question-based headlines in the world of content creation.
“Sometimes you have a theory or some ideas that you want to share in order to get people thinking or solicit feedback. In these cases, question headlines are entirely appropriate, because there is no one answer.” Like all marketing strategies, your headline should ultimately be tailored to your target audience and the underlying purpose of your content.
Jonathan’s Take: Question Headlines are Never OK
L&T President Jonathan Allen agrees that question headlines should never merit a simple “yes” or “no” answer, but argues that most question-based headlines fall victim to Betteridge’s Law, which is to say they can be answered by the word, “no.”
“As a reader, if your automatic response to an article is ‘no,’ then you’re unlikely to click through and read it,” Jonathan says. “So, in my opinion, question-based headlines tend to deter the reader from pursuing the story.”
What About Rhetorical Questions?
Rhetorical questions aren’t meant to be answered with a yes or no, so are they ok to use? According to Jonathan, these types of headlines are still off-limits.
“Rhetorical questions imply that the answer is already known; which means there is, again, no incentive to click, as the reader automatically perceives that there is no new information to be gained.”
While framing your content with an over-arching question may not be the end of the world, Jonathan insists, “If you were to restate your original question-based headline simply as a headline emphasizing your core idea, you are likely to attract more attention and clicks because you are signalling to the reader that you have new information or arguments with which they can agree, disagree or find out more.”
While Danny and Jonathan may not be in complete agreement on the topic, one thing they both stand behind is that headlines in general should be interesting and have a substantial hook. No matter what type of headline you choose, just be sure to monitor the success of your strategy so you’ll know what is most effective for your brand and goals in the future.
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