Why binary questions make terrible headlines (and what to do instead)

Ask questions, turn them into headlines. What could possibly go wrong ?

Quite a lot actually.

Using questions as part of your content can be a very powerful tool and it is one of the lynchpins of persuasive writing, however it is also one of the most misunderstood, and misused techniques in marketing.

There are two types of question. Open-ended questions, and binary questions.

  • Open ended questions mean there can be a wide range of responses, which often require some thought.
  • Binary questions elicit a quick yes or a no. The answers are more reaction than response.

Both types of question have merit; the trick is in how you use each type for the most engagement in your content.

When NOT to use a binary question (and when you can)

The most common mistake when using a binary question - and it happens all the time - is when it is used as a headline:

Does your car need a service?

  • Reader 1 - no, had it done last week ... doesn't click the link.
  • Reader 2 - maybe but I'm too busy right now ... doesn't click the link.
  • Reader 3 - no idea ... doesn't click the link.
  • Reader 435 - yes ... reads the article.

Alternatively, if the headline read:

3 ways to know if your car needs a service now (even if you think it doesn't)

there would be a much higher chance more readers would click the link to find out what the 3 things are. This kind of statement headline triggers the reader to ask the questions:

  • what are the 3 ways?
  • do they apply to me?
  • is my current mechanic not up to scratch?

Do you see how much more powerful it is to have the reader ask the questions themselves?

And - did you see what I did right 👆🏼 there?

I gave an example of how to get readers to ask their own questions - but then I asked you a binary questions at the end of my example once you have seen the difference. The chance of your mind responding in the positive is much much higher than if the question is asked before the information is given.

Crafting statement style headlines and opening paragraphs will trigger readers to ask themselves the questions you want them to ask and then draw their conclusions based on the information you've given them. 

The power of a curious mind

Curiosity headlines (quirky statements or open questions) will attract people with curious minds - and unless you know for certain your audience is very curious, it's best to limit curiosity headlines, as fun as they are, and use headlines which focus your audience's attention on the one thing people are always interested in:


When your audience is mentally asking questions - Is this what I do? Does this apply to me? If I don't take action, will be there be a consequence for me?  What will it be? - they are instantly engaged with the content as their brain searches for the answers. And the longer you can keep them asking questions about how the topic relates to them, the more engaged they will be.

Of course it is not as simple as it sounds. If you don't know what it is you do for them, it makes it much harder to reverse-engineer your content to trigger people to mentally ask questions.

What do you do for your clients - and how can you use that in your headlines to trigger curiosity?