The WORST Headline Examples + 5 Perfect Ones To Follow

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Writing great headlines is a tough task. Simply put, there are infinitely more combinations of words that don’t sound great together compared to those that do. Nevertheless, great headlines are important because they are able to grab a user’s attention and stand out in a nearly infinite sea of blog posts, newsletters, and op-eds that appear online.

Generally speaking, a great headline should satisfy three basic criteria:

  • It reflects the information in the upcoming post
  • It’s well-optimized for search engines
  • It encourages users to visit the page or post to find out more

3 Awesomely Bad Headline Examples

To put it lightly, there’s no shortage of bad headlines that plague both online publications and physical media today. In terms of what not to do while writing a headline, you take a lesson from the following three we found in the wild. 

1. “Monkeys Hate Flying Squirrels, Report Monkey-Annoyance Experts”

Admittedly, this headline is more hilarious than bad, so it might actually draw some attention. However, it’s still kind of misleading because it misrepresents the original findings of the researchers. 

First of all, the article originally appeared in a 2010 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, which makes it all the more puzzling—because, why would a scientifically-oriented online resource hub treat one of its headlines like a Saturday morning parody? In any case, due to some quips in the article like “the research could pave the way for advanced methods of enraging monkeys” and “researchers have observed small monkeys called Japanese macaques going bananas at the sight of a flying squirrel,” it’s clear that author Adam Hadhazy had some fun while writing about the scientific consensus of professor Kenji Onishi and the rest of his department.

Nevertheless, the research itself suggests that the monkeys in question—Japanese macaques—don’t actually hate flying squirrels, but instead are likely to mistake the critters for predatory birds such as mountain hawks and golden eagles. If that weren’t enough, calling the monkey-antagonism researchers monkey-annoyance experts is also a bit of a stretch.

All things considered, then, if the headline weren’t as funny and eye-popping, we probably wouldn’t have featured it on our list to begin with. Be that as it may, it’s a good example of a headline that doesn’t do justice to the rest of the content, seeing as it turns scientific research into a farcical, lampoon-esque entry.

2. “Surging Wealth Inequality Is a Happy Sign That Life Is Becoming Much More Convenient”

This article appeared in Forbes on November 11, 2018. In it, author John Tamny argued in favor of wealth inequality as one of the signs of a healthy economy, a more convenient life, and a brighter future.

Whether you agree or disagree with the author’s premise, it’s clear at first glance the headline was intentionally designed to cause outrage and entice people to click on it to express their dissatisfaction with the post. This is a no-no in headline writing 101, as headlines with a predominantly negative sentiment tend to attract readers with strong opinions and those more likely to engage with a certain hypothesis more combatively. 

That said, the irony is not lost here. The author uses words that correlate with a predominantly positive sentiment, such as “happy” and “convenient,” but frames them in such a way that it appears as if he’s defending a false premise. In fact, it’s very likely that even computers can’t recognize the double meaning behind the headline and instead treat it like an upbeat take.

Headline analysis results showing positive sentiment

Digging deeper, however, the true weakness of the headline starts to unravel. For example, it’s simply too long from a structural standpoint. 

Headline analysis results for character count and word count

It’s also somewhat misleading because the author’s talking points revolve more around certain systems and ideologies than purely economic talking points hinted by the headline. Meanwhile, the article itself is perhaps too short to justify its bombastic start; it neither delivers on its implicit promise nor makes an observation of anything beyond the then-current economy. 

In other words, it’s an exercise in what not to do when coming up with a catchy headline.

3. “Bugs Flying Around With Wings Are Flying Bugs”

This absolute nugget of wisdom seemingly found its way into print without a single editor contesting its clarity, validity, or brevity. The entry was written by Wayne Hansen, a then Redwood County Extension educator who took it upon himself to solve the mystery a reader encountered with some type of ant-like flying bugs.

The article that follows is mostly educational in nature. It tries to identify the bugs, their living environment, and the possible damage they can do if the area is left untreated. However, the main problem here is that the overarching headline doesn’t tell readers anything about the corresponding story—so, for instance, why should anyone care? 

It also gets worse, because apart from not being particularly witty or catchy, the headline also has circular reasoning and lacks descriptive elements—which kind of defeats the purpose of having a headline in the first place.

In hindsight, the author could’ve used the existing scientific nomenclature to identify or hint at the intruding bugs to give readers a reason to care. Likewise, he also could’ve manufactured some anticipation with a headline writing technique called power trigrams. In marketing, trigrams refer to three-word combinations that can elicit a powerful emotional reaction in readers. These words are found to have a positive correlation with user engagement on social media.

Some examples of trigrams include the following:

  • This is why
  • Is what happens
  • Are freaking out
  • Will make you
  • Can you guess

At the end of the day, it’s not all bad news. We like to think that Wayne Hansen squeezed out at least a couple of involuntary chuckles from unsuspecting scholars who stumbled upon his article by chance. That’s a small consolation prize for an article that could’ve performed far better by sticking to a headline formula

5 Perfect Headline Examples To Learn From

Good headlines can literally turn heads, causing us to stop whatever we’re doing to find out if the article is worth our time. But there’s more to it than just that.

Humans are biologically programmed to perform hundreds (if not thousands) of cost-benefit calculations every day. Before we decide to click on a link, we typically ask ourselves the following question: Is the value we’re about to get from clicking on the headline and reading the post greater than the time we’re about to give up?

The initial cost-benefit analysis takes place in roughly two seconds. In other words, the average internet user will determine whether or not an article will be worth their time after just two seconds of parsing the headline alone. If they stick around for longer than two seconds, then there’s a good chance they’ll click on it. If not, the user will continue scrolling in search of a better offer, aka a more engaging headline.

Take a look at the following examples. These are some of the most creative, successful, and memorable headlines we came across.

1. “How I Made $100,000 With a Fool Idea”

This historical example is one of the earliest attempts at FOMO marketing strategies, and it feels as fresh now as it did when it first came out. We’re emphasizing the historical part because, as the anecdote goes, the headline first appeared in print a few weeks before the infamous economic crash of 1929.

Adjusted for inflation, that $100,000 from back then would roughly correlate to $1.3 million today. (Not bad for a marketing statement that’s practically a century old.) 

So what makes this headline so captivating?

Intuitively, it’s almost like we can feel an emotional urge to take immediate action after reading the title. It plays on the reader’s instincts to find out what seemingly implausible idea could earn someone a life-changing amount of money. In other words, it entices the reader by juxtaposing two somewhat unrelated concepts (i.e., fools aren’t supposed to become rich and this seemingly dumb idea made that guy rich anyway).

From a hypermodern perspective, the headline does almost everything right. First of all, it features numbers, which is a good practice despite how it could have done even better by going with an odd number instead of an even one. According to the latest SEO consensus, titles with odd numbers perform better in engagement and click-through rates (CTRs).

Secondly, if you plug it into a headline analyzer tool, this headline scores a whopping 83/100 as is.

Headline analysis results with overall score of 83 for "How I Made $100,000 with a Fool Idea"

Our own tool suggests adding more characters and power words to improve the CTR—but we have to remember that these tools are calibrated for today’s internet, not a 100-year-old newspaper.

Headline analysis results for word balance, character count, and word count

Lastly, the full ad offered a coupon at the end which readers could send in the mail to receive a free book in return. The advertisers clearly understood the power of a good call to action (CTA) and used the second-largest typography on the page to emphasize free resources at the end of the entry.

CTA to mail coupon for free book

2. “14 Secrets for Getting People to Like (Even Love) You”

This uplifting article was first published in 2014 on under a slightly different title: “How to Get People to Like You (Heck, Even Love You).” Six years later, it was likely syndicated to The Muse with a few additions, including a number and a different word order that conveyed the same underlying message. It was written by MobileMonkey CEO Larry Kim, and it’s a prime example of how to keep your content relevant a decade after its original publication.

The headline is heavily reminiscent of Dale Carnegie’s motivational masterpiece, “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” in addition to some of his other works. The former sold well over 30 million copies worldwide alone and is now considered the cornerstone of the self-help subgenre alongside other heavy hitters such as “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale.

In terms of messaging, Larry Kim’s titular configuration leverages the power of emotionally charged words like “love” and it promises a positive outcome for readers who decide to check out his post. Again, the number used in the title is even, but it’s also a double-digit number—so it’s at least half-optimized.

Finally, the headline is an attention-grabbing hook without giving away too much information and also avoiding the clickbait threshold. It’s an excellent template for an eye-catching classic that should continue to generate lots of clicks in the years to come.

3. “GIRLS! Want Quick Curls?”

Yet another classic from the vaults of pre-Cold-War advertising, this 1947 gem first appeared in a newspaper to promote a wildroot hair care set for girls who, as the ad copy claimed, wanted to achieve curly, healthy, and natural-looking hair from the comfort of their homes.

At first glance, the headline is catchy. It also rhymes and it’s presented as a question that precedes one of the most famous symbols in language—the exclamation mark. It’s the ideal blend of attention-grabbing semantics, paired with a cliffhanger that motivates readers to read beyond the initial promise as outlined in the title.

Speaking of symbols, certain question-type headlines can be beneficial for two main reasons. First, they create a sense of wonder in the reader’s mind and therefore manufacture suspense if the question isn’t answered in the following few moments—that is, unless it’s a headline with a yes-or-no question, because most readers know that those will almost always be answered with “no” or “it depends.”

Secondly, and if we consider them from the perspective of modern marketing, question headlines are good for Google search. More specifically, Google examines the meaning behind each search query in addition to the order of keywords. These types of search mechanics typically fall under latent semantic indexing and are key for having a successful semantic SEO integration for your content and other pages on your site. In other words, question headlines help Google determine an upcoming post’s popularity, validity, and future rankings.

It’s also wise to consider optimizing your headlines for voice search. As modern artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more prevalent online, people are using their voices to look up answers to a query. Naturally, since they’re using full-sentence questions, they tend to expect full answers in return. Thus, creating headlines that satisfy this criteria can help Google match your content with readers a lot better.

4. “The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches”

This marketing sensation appeared as both a book title and as the headline of an advertisement promoting the same book. The concept was devised, written, and self-published to success by a visionary entrepreneur named Joe Karbo. Despite selling really well, the book was never listed in Books in Print, a global bibliographic database for publishers, retailers, and libraries. Instead, it sold mostly through newspaper ads and word-of-mouth recommendations—with a traditional mail-order setup back in 1979.

Newspaper article titled "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches"

Put simply, the headline works because it’s short, snappy, and memorable. For example, everyone can understand the main message because the title doesn’t require readers to know advanced economics, marketing, or copywriting jargon to figure out what they could find inside if they act upon seeing it. In a way, the headline serves as the perfect CTA due to its simplicity and nuance. At the same time, it’s also witty enough to reach the archetypal everyman who wants to spend the least amount of effort and reap the largest reward.

Printed media aside, remember that there are still a few cases in which it benefits your online visibility to introduce advanced concepts in your headlines. These include:

Nevertheless, for commonplace things like social media ads, article headlines, email subject lines, and even YouTube video titles, illustrating a wider pain point in your headlines and omitting highly technical terms will help you attract a much wider pool of clicks.

5. “I Hate To Break It to You, but if You Recognize Any of These 32 Pictures, You Are Officially Old”

This was Buzzfeed’s second-most popular article of 2023 that was not AI-generated. (The site has a separate, special category for the most read AI-written articles, but we digress.)

Buzzfeed article titled “I Hate To Break It to You, but if You Recognize Any of These 32 Pictures, You Are Officially Old”

But what made this headline so popular with BuzzFeed’s readers? The answer might surprise you.

According to a study that analyzed over 100 million articles, longer headlines perform better on social media platforms like Facebook. For example, headlines that had between 10 and 20 words performed better on average, and headlines with exactly 15 words in them were by far the best performers. Now, given that BuzzFeed’s content strategies mostly revolve around social media users, it makes sense for the site to optimize its headlines for social media over organic search.

Notwithstanding, BuzzFeed also has a reputation for teetering between clickbait headlines and engaging content—but this particular headline delivers on its promise to entertain readers with 32 pictures of products, dishes, and kitchenware items that are likely to induce nostalgia in those who play along.

Finally, remember that implementing a long-term strategy around clickbait content isn’t a great idea for most outlets. Due to a consistent batch of dishonest takes, your brand can lose its integrity and your site can ultimately tank in search results. Therefore, it’s better to sacrifice a few extra clicks to preserve the integrity of your site in the long run.


Although it’s relatively easy to come up with an average (or hilariously below average) headline, it’s hard to write a truly awesome, catchy, and memorable headline. Be sure to follow the best practices, use tools and resources for testing, and analyze your results. 

For those interested in more examples of funny headlines to make you smile, here’s a few that we almost featured:

  • From The Guardian: “Book About Book Bans Banned by Florida School Board”
  • From PetaPixel: “Photographer Disqualified From AI Image Contest After Winning With Real Photo”
  • From CNBC: “Goldman Sachs Asks in Biotech Research Report: Is Curing Patients a Sustainable Business Model?”

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