A blog post’s headline is its shop front — the more enticing it is, the likelier you are to convert one–time visitors into long–time readers. Of course, the quality of your shop floor (i.e. the content of your post) is of vital importance too (and we’ll get onto that later).
Writing headlines is arguably more of an art than a science and the success (or failure) of any given headline can be down to a number of factors. When learning to write compelling headlines the key is to understand that your continued experience in writing your own headlines and observing how they perform is arguably more valuable than most of advice you can find on the Internet.
As such, this chapter focuses on the key fundamentals of writing good headlines — the real learning will be in how often and consistently you implement my suggestions.
Write the Headline Last
You will find many qualified individuals telling you to write your headline first, but I disagree with that approach. Why? Because you are far more likely to think of a compelling headline during the writing process or after you have finished the post. Why waste your time trying to think of the perfect headline upfront when your subconscious can work on your behalf whilst you are writing the post?
Having said that, you should draft a headline up front so that you understand what your blog post is actually aiming to deliver — especially if you have a particular keyword focus for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) purposes. However, you shouldn’t look to spend more than a minute or two on it up front. In fact, if you’re drawing from the list you produced as part of the Action Step in the previous chapter, you should already have a readymade draft headline.
Know Your Audience
Writing a well–crafted headline that appeals to the wrong demographic is not only pointless and counter–productive, it can also be damaging to a blog’s reputation.
A headline should reflect:
- the type of reader that your blog currently entertains, and/or
- the type of reader that you intend to attract.
For instance, sensationalistic headlines are all very well and good for celebrity gossip blogs, but would they be attractive to retirees?
Put some consideration towards the demographic breakdown of your readers — their age, sex, income, marital status, education, nationality, and so on. Use a free service like Quantcast to discover the demographic breakdown of a blog you are working on or ask the client for their opinion.
Make a Promise
Most good headlines offer a promise of positive resolution.
It doesn’t matter if it is a guarantee of near–instant weight loss or a solution for insomnia; there’s nothing like a promise to tempt someone into reading more.
The promise can be overt: How to Throw a Curveball in 5 Easy Steps. Alternatively, the promise can be implied: How My Post Got Shared 1,000 Times suggests that the reader will learn how to create an equally share–worthy post of their own. Either way, the reader feels that they will benefit from reading the post, which is by far the most important ingredient of an effective headline.
However, the most important part of making a promise in a headline is knowing that you are able to deliver on it. Writing headline checks that your content can’t cash is a recipe for disaster.
Refer to the Key Headline Factors
In crafting the kind of headline that is going to attract interest, you need to touch upon one or more of the following key factors:
- Urgency: 1 Facebook Tactic You Must Adopt Today!
- Speed: 5 Quick Ways to Burn 500 Calories
- Ease: How I Built a Successful Blog Without Breaking a Sweat
- Desirability: How to Become Hollywood Beautiful
- Intrigue: From Broke to Millionaire in Six Months [Interview]
- Controversy: Why Everything You Know About Exercise is Wrong
- Outlandishness: What Clowns Can Teach You About Entertaining Dinner Guests
You will note that many of these factors (if not all of them) can overlap, which is certainly not a bad thing. Here’s how you might edit two of the above headlines to combine the factors for greater effect:
- 1 Method for Exploding Facebook Likes That You Must Adopt Today! (desirability and urgency)
- How to Become Hollywood Beautiful in 1 Hour (desirability and speed)
If you compare the above headlines with the originals, you will note that they seem far more compelling. That is the power of combining factors.
In theory, the more of these factors you can fit into one headline, the better. Having said that, two or possibly three at most is advisable in order for a headline not to become overly complex or contrived.
Finally, ensure that your headlines always seem credible. If they come across as too controversial or too outlandish, or simply promise something that cannot be true, your post (and perhaps the blog’s reputation) will suffer.
When crafting headlines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is your final consideration. You write for humans first and then consider how you might optimize the headline for SEO.
Having said that, the primary keywords relating to the article are best included at the beginning of the headline. It has been argued persuasively that Google values words closer to the beginning of a headline more than those towards the end. There are circumstances under which you can optimize a headline for SEO without it having an undue effect on its readability. Here’s an example:
- Non–optimized: 7 Things You Need to Know About Raw Foods
- Optimized: Raw Foods: 7 Things You Need to Know
In the optimized version of the headline, the primary keyword relating to the article (“Raw Foods”) has been moved to the beginning of the headline, without the readability of the headline being compromised.
Finally, as a rule of thumb, try to keep your headline’s character count under 65 (including spaces). If you go beyond that, Google may truncate or even edit your headline.
Seek Out Headline Inspiration
Headlines are everywhere. They are one of the primary forms of media communication — whether it’s a radio advert, the front page of a magazine, or a flyer that lands on your doorstep.
So pay close attention to all of the headlines that you see. It doesn’t matter how the headline is delivered — they all have the potential to teach you a lesson and make you a better headline writer.
What is vitally important is that you seek to understand the reasoning behind them. Try to figure out why the author chose that particular headline. When it comes to seeking inspiration, you shouldn’t just copy what you see — you should understand why the headline works.
Pick out the top five posts from the list you put together in the last section’s Action Step and create three headline ideas for each post. Write down your reasoning for why each headline would perform well and give each one a three star rating. You now have headlines for each of your next five posts!