What’s in a headline? The answer is everything. When you are trying to entice readers into your blog post, those first few words can make or break the content you have so lovingly slaved over.
But when you have spent so long poring over every word of a 3,000 post, the effort required to craft a winning headline may be a step too far.
The harsh truth is, however, that most readers have an attention span of less than the proverbial goldfish and so it’s crucial the headline grabs them by the throat and shakes them into reading the next line.
Taking David Ogilvy’s wisdom to its logical conclusion, then, you need to put 80 per cent of your effort into writing the headline, and just 20 per cent into crafting the copy.
So, what is the magic formula for writing a headline which turns casual browsers into avid readers – and hopefully paying customers?
Here are my top 7 tips on headline writing.
1. HAVE IMPACT
Perceived wisdom is that in this ever-on world of digital snacking, the average reader will make a decision on whether to read on in a matter of three or four seconds. This means you have a very limited window of opportunity to convince them that what you are “selling” is of interest to them. There are a number of ways you can grab someone’s attention.
Try to make your headline “sexy”, maybe using controversy, strong, active language or maybe a little alliteration. You also need to ensure that your headline offers value. Most readers are only “in it for themselves” – they need to know there is a benefit to them of reading on. What will they get out of it? How will reading your content improve their life?
You also need to ensure that your headline offers value. Most readers are only “in it for themselves” – they need to know there is a benefit to them of reading on. What will they get out of it? How will reading your content improve their life?
2. BE INFORMATIVE
It might be tempted to exaggerate or even tell a little white lie in a headline to reel in your readers, but people will not take kindly to such subterfuge and so it is best to always ensure your headline is a true representation of what the content delivers.
Make sure it is crystal clear what your readers will get if they invest their time in reading on. A good way of doing this is to use this simple formula, which you can expand on to suit your story.
NUMBER + ADJECTIVE + RATIONALE + SOLUTION = A WINNING HEADLINE
Numbers are a great way of informing your reader of what kind of time investment they will need to make in your article. They know what they are getting.
Adjectives such as easy, simple, effortless, fun and free let your reader know what other resources they need to invest in your content – eg brain power, money, boredom.
Rationale means the manner in which you are going to deliver these points, eg 3 easy ways, 6 simple tricks, 11 effortless ideas, 10 time-saving tips
Solution is the problem your reader needs helps with, eg write a headline, create an infographic, get followers on social media.
THE 4 U PRINCIPLE OF WRITING A KILLER HEADLINE EVERYTIME
Watch my short video on the 4U principle of Unique, Useful, Urgent and Ultra-specific headlines.
3. IMPROVE YOUR RANKINGS
Consider the “big picture” of what you are trying to achieve with the piece of content you are writing a headline for. If, as is most often the case, the purpose is to drive more traffic to your website, ensuring your headline is doing its job in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) should be one of your priorities.
Ensure it includes the important keyword(s) relating to your article, while still employing the other tactics to make it enticing to readers as popularity also has its own role to play in how many of the search engines rank your site.
4. EXCITE YOUR AUDIENCE
Your readers need to be left in no doubt in those few seconds that your headline holds their attention that your article is a must-read to improve their life or solve their problem. It must convey a sense of anticipation, of a great mystery about to be solved for them. Make a bold promise or ask a question they want an answer to. Ramp up the anticipation by hinting at a revelation, a secret about to be unveiled which will change the world – or at least their lives. The main purpose of your headline, after all, is to entice them to start reading your lovingly written content.
5. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Although you want to use strong language that grabs attention, trying to be too clever could lose you a lot of love. Never use a big word or over-complicate things when keeping it simple will serve your purpose.
Consider what phrases your audience might search for – are they more likely to go down the road of asking Google for “how to make money online” or “the financial benefits of conducting business on the worldwide web”?. That’s an extreme example but I’m sure you get the message.
You should also bear in mind that active language, such as How doing this will get you that… will encourage action, while using negative language can also have a place in a good headline, such as “Are you committing these costly mistakes that are sabotaging your social media success?”
And finally, one more powerful tip is to get that magic word in your headline – YOU.
For example – 11 easy tips you can use today to be better at social media.
By using it you are building a direct relationship with your reader – this content is for them and will benefit them.
TAKE IT AWAY…
There is a lot to think about when writing a headline, but getting it right can be the difference between your post dying on its backside or being shared by thousands on social media. It’s got to be worth the effort to make it as good as it can be. If you are truly dedicated, try coming up with a dozen different headings for every piece of content you create it before settling on your winner.