How Should You Use the Question Mark?

How can you motivate readers to click on your posts? How can you guarantee that they’ll read through to the end? How do you ensure they’ll read your post and share it? These are concerns that 36% of content marketers struggle with, but the answer is simpler than they realize.

What is that simple answer?

There it is. The question mark. The question mark is one of the most effective writing devices you can use to pull in your audience, grab their attention, and keep them hanging around.

59% of shared links across social media aren’t ever clicked. When readers do click on posts, on average they only read 20% of what’s on the page. A headline with a question mark has a higher likelihood of racking up clicks than a statement headline; this gets them clicking on your content. Furthermore, section headers with questions pique the curiosity of the reader and gets them to read on. From there, they’re more likely to share your post, remember your brand, and purchase from you in the future.

Mastering the art of the question mark leads to more time spent on the page, a lower bounce rate, higher engagement, and a higher likelihood of conversion (i.e. purchasing a product or service, signing up for a newsletter, etc.).

Asking questions is more than a creative blog-writing technique. It helps break through the noise and ensure your readers take in the full message. It guarantees that people pay attention to your content and brand.

What questions do your readers want answered?

Before you start asking your audience questions, there are some questions you should ask yourself.

Who is your target audience? What are their demographics? Where do they live? How much money do they make? Where do they spend their time? Where do they get most of their content?

If you want to attract them, keep them, and convert them, you need to understand what makes them tick. Then...

Why should they care about this post in particular? How does your content add value to their lives? Even if your ultimate goal is to make a sale, the reader still needs useful information.

What questions will your reader have about the product, service, or information being presented? How do you anticipate those questions and proactively address them in your content?

How is this content relevant to your brand? How do your posts provide further insight into your industry or niche?

Now, explicitly ask those questions in your blog. Then answer them. You want to ensure your questions and answers are clear. To get your readers to the proper conclusion, you need to connect the dots first.

Aside from more effective writing, questions also provide a solid framework for the post. You’ll have a structure to follow that guides your reader down a well-defined path of information.

You should also align personally with these questions. Why do you care about answering them? The more passionate you are about solving the problem at hand, the better your writing will be.

Why should you use a question in the headline?

When you form your headline as a question, it immediately draws in your reader. Questions stimulate the brain and spark curiosity. You’re explicitly asking the question that’s top of mind for the reader. They’re attracted to your content because they see the question that they want answered-- and they presume your content will answer it.

As the writer, questions can help you identify the purpose of the post and keep your writing on message. The big takeaway should be the answer to the headline’s question. The headline indicates the main point you want to make in your post.

How To Do It

There’s an art to creating powerful headline questions. They should be interesting, relevant, and specific. Your objective is to hook the reader based on what they want to know. It should be clear that the answer is contained within the post.

Avoid yes or no questions, as these leave little room for explanation. These questions, with simple finite answers, give the reader little cause to click your link. Take for instance the following example: “Does red make you hungrier?” There’s only one answer to this question: yes or no. The reader has little incentive to find out why.

A more specific question could pull them in. “Why does red make you look fatter?” This question requires more explanation and lends itself to a broader range of information. The reader desires an answer to this question because of their existing curiosity about the topic. This headline promises to satisfy that curiosity and provide a new perspective.

Why should you use a question in section titles?

Using questions in your section titles helps you organize your thoughts as you write. You’ve gathered all the information… but how do you present it? Framing these titles as questions gives you a natural structure to hit all of the points you want to make in the piece.

This writing device also helps your readers navigate the post easily. Like lists, questions help your audience quickly identify the information they’re looking for. Additionally, questions create visually appealing layouts that allow the readers’ eyes to glide over the post easily.

How should you not use question marks?

While using questions is a mostly beneficial practice, there are a few ways they can fail you.

  • Don’t ask questions that you can’t or won’t answer: If you haven’t done the research or your piece doesn’t fully answer the question, the question isn’t worth asking. Only ask questions that help establish you as a thought leader and give your audience added value.
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions: Readers won’t feel drawn to the piece, and there won’t be a payoff for those who choose to dive in. Even if you don’t immediately answer the question, make sure you do address it in a way that the reader feels satisfied.

  • Avoid obvious questions: “Do you want more sales?” Likely every person reading the piece wants more sales—and they’ve seen that same question a million times. “How does content marketing influence sales?” is more direct, specific, answerable, and intriguing.

  • Don’t ask too many questions. You should ask no more than three key questions in your post. Too many questions, and it’s too long and hard to follow. Too few questions and you may not be addressing all the points you’ve raised in the reader’s mind. Questions should all tie back to the main question posed by your headline.

  • Don’t ask questions that the reader doesn’t care about. Only ask questions that appeal to your audience. Self-serving questions waste your reader’s time and lead to low engagement.

Your turn

Take a previous blog post you’ve written that didn’t perform as well as expected. Rework it and make it question-based.

  • What do your readers want to know most? Start with a headlining question that explicitly asks the question your readers are curious about.

  • What questions stem from this topic? What section headers would grab their attention, help them navigate, and frame the piece to get to a definitive answer?

  • Turn every section header into a question. Does the body of text below the header answer the question specifically and thoroughly? Do you need to remove irrelevant parts? Should you add more explanation? Should you add additional question headers?

How do these questions boost your content? Repost the piece and track the new metrics.

How did you do? Share this post with your results!

 

Allison Hess