Want to become a headline ninja? Read on, as this blog post gives you nine ways to master the way of the headline.
On average, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
I mean, it’s verging on miraculous you’re still reading now. Damn, I must be good…
But seriously, it’s no wonder convincing people to read on is such a slog now.
In this internet age of ours, the overproduction of – let’s face it, mostly redundant – content that gets force-fed to us on a daily basis has turned many of us right off even considering trusting an article to be worth our time.
And given that it’s highly unlikely anyone’s going to switch the whole world wide web off anytime soon, it seems we’re stuck this way for the foreseeable future.
Still reading huh? Nice 🙂 But what I’m really trying to say is this:
Ignore the headline at your peril.
They wield the power to make or break an entire campaign.
So, how do you get on the right side of the fearsome beast that is headline copy? Here are a few techniques:
1. Strip it down
Headlines are brief, and every word counts for something.
Make sure you pay close attention to each of the words you choose, so they convey the meaning you want with just the right amount of gravitas.
The master himself, John Carlton, explains this really well here:
And remember, a short headline isn’t a bad headline:
So tip one, check that every word in your headline contributes something worthwhile. If not, axe it.
No fluff. No flab. No dead weight.
2. Make it unique
If your headline is just like everyone else’s, people will scroll past it without a second glance.
Wherever possible, try to bring your headline to life with something stand-out.
It’s something our CEO, Jody, is renowned for when it comes to the subject lines he uses in his own marketing emails.
In the past, they’ve included everything from “How my mum cured her customer problem” to “Sorry…I forgot” and even… *drum roll please*…
“I’m into necrophilia, bestiality and sadism…”
(It’s not as bad as you think, trust us)
Skip to 0:46 in this video from TLP to discover more about how to make your headlines truly unique.
3. Make it as clear as possible
*Disclaimer: This rule applies on any occasion you’re writing a headline BUT for when you’re going for something completely outlandish like the headlines discussed in the previous point; they’re all about curiosity*
Sure, a clever headline is better than a dull one but when crafting a headline, seek clarity first.
A good way to make sure your headlines are clear is to always make the strongest point first.
After all, the first few words play a big role in capturing someone’s attention. As Nick Usborne says, you live or die by the first five words of your headlines.
Nail these and your click-through rate will thank you.
Also for clarity’s sake, make sure your headline does one of two things: address a problem your audience is facing or tell them an irresistible benefit they’ll get from reading on.
If your content doesn’t have anything good to offer, why should anyone give it their time?
So spell out the benefit of reading your article loud and clear, upfront.
4. Elicit emotion
The best headlines work like cliffhangers.
They pique the audience’s desire and get them excited about what’s coming next.
This emotional response – tied together with curiosity – is what a great headline is all about.
To achieve an emotional response from your audiences, it’s essential you understand what drives them.
This of course goes back to a much deeper exercise in ideal customer analysis.
But for now, consider this:
What is the main thing that drags your reader down on a daily basis?
And what’s the end-goal they’re really after when they turn to your business for help?
Once you’re there, here’s a handy tool you can use to measure your headline’s emotional score from the Advanced Marketing Institute. Go ahead, give it a try and let us know how yours fared.
5. Convey a sense of urgency
It’s not enough to tell someone they should really read this thing you’ve written.
You need to get across why they have to read it NOW.
With a lack of urgency, comes a lack of action and in a world of constantly refreshing newsfeeds, you simply can’t afford for someone to decide they’ll “come back to it later”.
For some quick tips on building urgency into your headlines, tune in at the 2 minute mark to this video from Lynda.com.
6. Put a number in them
Our brains are attracted to numbers.
So using them in your headlines works to get more readers. Simple.
Just ask Jonah Peretti.
He’s the guy responsible for starting Buzzfeed, and wasting approximately 2.8 hours of every professional’s time each day for the past 3 years…
Nearly every Buzzfeed article is a “Listicle” who’s headline begins with a number.
7. Include a “How To”
The how-to headline appeals to the DIY-lover living in all of us, as well as the need most of us have to improve ourselves or our lives in some way.
The secret here is to focus on one need in your audience (and then make damn sure your article shows readers a way to fulfill it).
Just be careful to ensure your “How-To” headline sells the wider benefit rather than the process itself.
For example, if you plan to tell someone how to put a picture up on the wall using your product (a drill), say something like:
“How To Brighten Your Day With A Photo”
“How To Use The XYZ Drill Properly”.
Make sense? Cool.
8. Remember SEO
I hate to break it to you, but long gone are the days when you could afford to be naive and just focus on crafting the best content possible, spending days on end coming up with sparkling adjectives without worrying about obscure things like keywords, optimization and spider algorithms.
If you’re not writing for Google, you’re not going to reach your readers.
This article from Mashable will give you a decent starting point if SEO when it comes to your headlines is drawing a blank.
And here are just some of the tools you can use to check on how well your headline is likely to perform, courtesy of Jeff Bullas.
9. Practice Makes Perfect
You only get better at something by doing it. A lot.
Why was Kobe Bryant so good at basketball?
Talent is overrated. Practice is everything.
It’s no different with writing headlines. And we can’t lie, often we still struggle with them.
You’ve just got to jot down all your ideas as they come to you and work on it again, and again, and again.
Was that helpful? Hope so.
Take time to apply some or all of these steps when you’re next coming up with a headline to see what a difference it makes to the success of your content marketing.
Let us know. We’d love to hear.