Article Title Tip – Fear Inducement Gone Wrong

Tonight I saw an article titling convention or style that received complaints and I thought everyone could learn from it as a short case-study.

What the author did: After his article title, he would add a call to action such as “- An Absolute Must Read For You!” or “- You Don’t Want To Miss This!” or “- You Must Know This” or “- A Definitely Want To Know This”…and it goes on.

My theory on why it caused complaints: Because it’s insulting… and if the articles were good, they would not need an “urgency inducing agent” / fear inducing style like this to make them worth reading. It could just be me as I was turned off by the style as well. I perceived it as communicating: “You may be a dumb reader and because you are dumb, you don’t know what’s good for you, so let me tell you what’s good for you: reading my article.”



Edward Weiss writes:

The trick to getting your articles read is to simply write about what your target audience wants to read.

Your articles are urgent to your readers if it’s something they want to know about! :)

Comment provided June 13, 2007 at 10:36 PM


Aidan Bindoff writes:

Not having seen the original articles makes it a bit hard to comment, but I can say that one of my best performing adwords ads reads:
“xxx xxx mistakes
you can avoid by….”

There is a classic headline “Do You Make These 7 Mistakes in English?”

I don’t think there’s any doubt that fear-inducement headlines (or article titles) work. In direct response marketing they have been proven to get response. Mind you, none of these examples are familiar as rip-offs of proven direct-response control headlines.

Drawing complaints isn’t necessarily a reason to change something either. Suppressed response might be a reason, if it’s a suppressed response from someone who fits the right profile for a customer.

“Worth reading” is useless unless you actually get read, and a headline/title is instrumental in getting read. Even better if it draws your ideal customer.

Perhaps there were complaints because the author failed to deliver what was promised? It would be interesting to see his response rate, how many people clicked on the link in the resource box?

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 12:13 AM


Lance Winslow writes:

Dear Edward,



Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 12:14 AM


Shan Ferguson writes:

I of Course dont pretend to be an expert at this but if you are writing an article and you want it to be read,than whatever Title that cathes peoples attention is what you should use as long as it is relevant to your content.However you shouldalways exercise caution as to avoidbeing insulting or rude or even demeaning or degrading,since I have not read the article itself it is hard to comment on why there were complaints though I am sure that it must have had something to do with the content or lack thereof rather than the title.I have seen other titles on articles that were far worse than that so to each their own,though you may keep in mind judge not lest ye be judged.

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 7:47 AM




Yes, the author in question did not deliver what his article title promised… so not only did he hype the headline, but he also did not deliver the promise that his headline offered.

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 7:56 AM



Well yeah, I do agree.

And yet, it’s a pretty popular method… not always in headlines so much as in the body text of marketers’ emails and in their articles. I think I may even be guilty of it when I was “fired up” about a particular copywriting topic in the past.

It’s a very emphatic and fanatical way of communicating that creates a sense of urgency. I would call it “alarmist.” This type of communication may snap people to attention at first, but after a while I think the reader grows immune to it and it becomes a real turnoff.

Even worse is when you get emails from marketers with subjectlines of this nature that also use your name in them.

Especially when everyone seems to be doing it in your email inbox at the same time…

“Joe, you do NOT want to miss this offer…”

Oh yeah?? Watch me.


Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 8:13 AM


Judith writes:

This tactic used be so many “marketers” (I think they are all using the same software) it is actually a red flag that saves me time. It is a “clue” that I don’t have to spend my valuable time reading whatever it is.

I guess it depends on your target market too. This approach must work on someone out there or so many wouldn’t be doing it. I guess I give my readers/market more credit than that and don’t feel this approach is necessary to garner their attention.

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 9:46 AM


Pamela Beers writes:

I agree.

Anytime I see the words “must”, “absolute”, or “definitely” the fine hairs on the back of my neck bristle. I feel manipulated as a reader and I don’t like being manipulated.

There is so much disrespectful hype infiltrating my email inbox these days. Thank goodness for the delete option!

Dina, maybe we could have a contest to see how many of these rude “ads” we can delete in a day. As always, you are right on target with your comments.

Chris & staff, thanks for maintaining the integrity of

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 11:36 AM


Susan Scharfman writes:

Whenever I see or hear the ‘You don’t Want to Miss This” thing I run the other way. Sounds like the old “would you buy a used car from that guy?” (or a new one?)


Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 11:52 AM


Chinmay Chakravarty writes:

‘Hype’ is the order of the day.

Everything is hyped–from the Indian cricketers to iodised salt.

Why pick on just one poor lonely writer for this rough treatment.

Or maybe we are discussing a lager issue. Yes, I do agree.

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 2:07 PM



I’m just back here to offer a friendly wave to Pamela, whom I haven’t spoken to in a while. Hi Pam… yep, the internet gives my neck hairs many reasons to stand at attention too!

“Hype” – yes, Chinmay, that is indeed the correct term for what we are discussing.

Don’t believe the hype!

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 6:09 PM



We audited the authors ~75 articles in depth today that caused this issue to be highlighted as a case study on what not to do and we ended up realizing that 50 of the articles didn’t deliver on the promise that his headline made.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, but never this black and white blatant in volume. Our editors should have caught this but we’re continually training.

And Chinmay, I don’t think this is a poor or lonely writer, but rather one who knew full well that knew the consequences of his hype article testing project. I also don’t think he took it personally (even though I truly don’t know) because most marketers think in terms of ‘tests’ rather than or vs. how a writer might take rejection personally.

Peace brother and sister writers!

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 6:25 PM


Aidan Bindoff writes:

It’s interesting to note that one of the most consistently clicked-on adsense ads I used to have on my site was:
“Dog Aggression – don’t make the same
stupid mistakes I did.”

It’s a fear inducement headline (“a perfectly normal, even intelligent person might make stupid mistakes with an aggressive dog? I’d better check this out before I make these same mistakes!”), but the self-deprecating wording makes it hard for a potential customer to be offended.

Perhaps it is relevant to note also that the offered solution was very weak, from a dog training professional point of view – but she is not selling to dog training professionals. Just goes to show, what one person thinks is “good” another will find “very weak”, so how does one person judge what makes a “good” article?

Comment provided June 14, 2007 at 7:21 PM


Denis Bonneau writes:

I like to think that readers of my articles are intelligent enough to determine if what they are about to read is of interest to them or not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m insulted by the fear-inducing methods being used when I see them I automatically tune out the author. This method is too commonly used in the subject line of annoying emails that are usually followed by a chain letter or some other call to action. It doesn’t do a lot of good for the author’s credibility.

I read somewhere that articles published online should contain a phrase or words attached to the title that expand its meaning so readers can get a better idea of their content. I learned this after publishing my first article on entitled only “Regrettable”, which didn’t generate a lot of hits even though I thought the content was interesting. Had I instead given it the title “Regrettable – The Language of Politics” or “Regrettable – A Politicians Way Out” I probably would have generated more interest. Perhaps fear inducement is simply a lame twist on this method.

Fear inducement probably creates a lot of initial clicks, even if the content is poor. But a publisher looking for articles would likely be turned off by it. I’d be interested to see the click statistics for the article, and see how many of these articles generate hits on the publisher link.

Comment provided June 16, 2007 at 9:23 AM


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