Over the last couple of weeks I’ve come across a number of posts surrounding headlines, more specifically how to write a great one.
It seems that any great post, book chapter, advert, campaign appeal, or e-mail begins with a compelling headline. What this means is that an exceptional piece of content may be ignored due to a boring headline.
This came as a huge surprise to me; considering the fact that I usually spend one or two minutes creating the headlines for my posts.
So do headlines play a huge role in the performance of your content? Do your headlines need to be captivating in order for your audience to respond? Should you start spending 20+ minutes carefully crafting a great headline?
These are all the questions floating around in my head (and possibly yours as well).
That is why below I will reveal the power of headlines, so that we can all benefit from increased interest in our content. By the end of this post you should be an expert at creating brilliant headlines.
When you meet someone for the first time, your initial experience will color any following interactions you have with them. If you find them kind and funny, then you’ll probably go out of your way to meet up a second time. Alternatively, if you find them boring and rude, then you’ll avoid them like the plague.
The same goes with headlines; first impressions are extremely vital!!
And in the case of an ad/email/blog post, the first impression comes courtesy of your headline. It therefore goes that if you find the headline boring, complicated, or vague, you’ll move on to better things.
However, if the headline captivates you, chances are that you’ll continue reading on.
While you agree with my explanation above, you might still be questioning the power of a blog headline.
Well, statistics gathered by Copyblogger have shown that while 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, only 2 out of 10 people will read the rest of your content.
These stats are simply staggering. What this means is that only a tiny fraction of the people who come across your content will actually read it.
But what if you can increase this number? Maybe you can get 4 out of 10 people to read your content? That would increase your traffic by 100%. And if you’re selling a product or service, an increase in your traffic translates to an increase in sales.
“The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive. It’s not a rounding error. When we test headlines we see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference. A really excellent headline can make something go viral.” – Peter Koechely (Upworthy Cofounder)
The A-Z of Crafting a Powerful Headline (with some fantastic examples)
A powerful headline has the ability to propel a quality piece of content to a whole new level. However, you have less than 70 characters to work with, and this makes your job even more difficult.
So how can you use a few words to express a powerful message? Well, there are several things to keep in mind when crafting your headline, and we will look at these below.
A: Appeal- Appeal to the curiosity of your reader. You should not reveal the secret sauce/punch/thunder to your content in the headline. Instead, you should create enough intrigue so that people will want to read on. If you give out the punch of your content in the headline, then why does anyone need to continue reading?
Yahoo has mastered the art of this, as they give you just enough information to pique your curiosity, forcing you to click on the article.
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B: Broadcast- Broadcast the benefit that your reader will get from your content. If your headline does not show a benefit, then why would anyone be interested in reading on?
Your headline should not just communicate the surface-level benefit of what you have to offer. Instead, it should convey the main desire of your reader e.g. vanity, increased business growth, enhanced popularity, more money.
It is therefore important to figure out what your customer really wants before you create your headline.
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C: Characters- Check that your headline does not exceed 65 characters; otherwise it will be cut off in the search results.
If you type any keyword into Google or Bing, you will find some results that have 3 dots at the end of the headline; this might dissuade you from clicking on the link because you are not 100% certain that the article is for you.
Therefore when you are crafting a headline, remember to use less than 65 characters for optimum results.
D: Distinctive- Make sure that your headline is distinctive, as you don’t want to have a generic title that echoes another one. In this way you can stand out from the crowd, as opposed to blending in.
E: Emotion- As much as we might hate to admit it, we are guided by our emotions. That is why you need to provide emotional value in your headline, so that the reader can connect with what you are about to offer.
If they feel invested in what they are about to read, then they are bound to respond more positively.
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F: Focus- Focus on crafting a headline that compels your audience to stay and read on, rather than one that pushes them away. By doing this you can ensure that the time and money that you spent on your content will result in great returns.
If you are writing a blog post, your return should be increased traffic and engagement and a reduced bounce rate.
If you are creating an advert, your return should be an increase in sales and revenue.
G: Grammar- Use descriptive grammar in your headlines, especially in relation to adjectives and verbs. Some great adjectives and verbs include: effortless, fear, surprising, hacks, smart, incredible, strange, free, shocking, and fun.
These words elevate the excitement factor of your headline, and push your reader to find out more about what you are offering.
Negative words like stop, no, and without are also received well.
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H: Honesty- Be honest with your headline, and avoid super annoying click-bait titles. Everyone has clicked on one of these titles ‘You won’t believe what this woman did to her child,’ only to find an uninteresting and irrelevant story.
Upworthy, SFGlobe and Buzzfeed tend to be the worst offenders, and that is why I do my best to avoid clicking on their content.
If you get a reputation for crafting click-bait titles, then your readers will lose trust in your content.
I: Idea Generators- Use idea generators to come up with different headline options that you can take advantage of. All you need to do is insert your focus keyword into the search box, and submit it.
In a few seconds you will be presented with different headline options that you can refine and make your own. There are plenty of idea generators out there and a majority of them are free.
J: Jokes- Do not use jokes in your headline, as they only confuse your reader. Adding jokes into your content is fine, because you have enough time and space to explain and clarify your joke. But trying to be clever in your headline will be a mistake.
K: Keywords- Include a keyword into your headline so that it can be optimized for search engines. You might already know how to optimize your content and site for search engines, and this same logic can be applied to your headline.
If the main focus of your content is ‘classic cars’, then make sure that this keyword makes its way to the headline. When people type this keyword into the search engine, your content will come up.
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L: Learn- Learn to use the correct punctuation in your headlines , otherwise your headline will not read well. If your semi-colon, comma, hyphen, or dash is in the wrong place, then your whole headline will not make sense. Correct punctuation is imperative!
M: Musical- Create a headline that is musical to read. Now, I’m not saying that it is mandatory to rhyme words in your headline, but when a headline has a nice rhythm or tempo, it flows well.
N: Numbers- Use numbers in your headline as they stick out from the words. If you need more assurance about the power of numbers, just check out the magazine stand at your local store and see just how many of them have numbers in their headlines.
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O: Offer- Offer your reader something of value. However, you need to ensure that the value you offered in your headline is delivered. Think of it like watching a trailer.
Many of us have seen trailers that show an incredible action sequence, only to find out that the action only lasts for 5 minutes in the entire film. Imagine how disappointed you are after watching this type of movie, and imagine how disappointed your readers will be when they are done with your over-hyped content.
A few months ago, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, met for the ‘Fight of the Century.’ This over-hyped boxing match is now considered one of the most boring matches in recent history. Do you want your brand to be regarded as over-hyped?
P: Personality- Show your personality when crafting a headline. If you are a company that takes prides in your youthful exuberance, then this should reflect in every aspect of your content. The same applies to quirky, somber, witty, corporate, straightforward, warm, personable, and brazen personalities.
Q: Quickly- Quickly get to the point, and avoid any fluff and ambiguity. If you are selling something, then let that be clear. If you are campaigning, then don’t beat around the bush. Do not be ambiguous about what content you are about to present, and then use few words to get to the point.
R: Research- Research and recycle your old content. If you have a piece of evergreen content that has been lost in the archives, take it out, update it with newly researched information, and then use a new and improved headline.
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S: Specific- Be specific with your headline, as no one enjoys a headline that gives no indication of what the content is about. If your headline is vague, then readers won’t be sure whether or not you are presenting something that will be useful to them.
Additionally, by being specific with your headline, you can target your content to your ideal audience.
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T: Test- Test out different variations of your headline so that you can see which one elicits the biggest response. You might ask yourself why sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed have the same content with different titles.
This is because these sites have entered up to 25 titles into a publishing software, and each title is then tested and compared to see which one results in the highest number of clicks.
If you do not want to bother yourself with software, you can test your headlines manually. Just post the same content with different headlines, and see which one has the most favorable response.
U: Urgency- Stress a sense of urgency regarding your content, so that people can feel the need to read what your content immediately. No one wants to be the person missing out on something important!
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V: Vocabulary- Use words that are in your reader’s vocabulary, as you want them to clearly understand what you have to say.
So if your target reader is a techy individual, then you’re words will be complicated, technical, and probably scientific. However, if you are targeting a fashionista, then your vocabulary will include words that evoke style and flare.
W: Why- Ask yourself why your reader should read what you have to offer. What problem of theirs are you solving?
Once you ask this question, then you can craft a headline that answers it. In this way, when a reader sees your headline they won’t hesitate on clicking the link.
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X: X-Factor- Your headline should have that ‘indescribable quality’ which makes it pop amidst a sea of lackluster titles. There is no guide on how to give your headline the X-Factor, but you’ll know when you have attained it.
Y: You and Your- Call out your readers, by addressing them in second person. By using ‘You’ and ‘Your’ in the headline, you can speak directly to your reader and get them to continue reading.
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Z: Zzz’s- Prevent the Zzz’s by keeping your audience awake; you don’t want your reader to tune out. We live in a world of constant excitement, and you need to feed into this emotion when crafting your headline.
Get your readers pumped up for your content or product by crafting an exciting title.
Tools to use when creating a powerful headline
There are several tools that you can use when you want to generate ideas for your headline. Below I will give you two analyzer tools that you can use to measure the quality of your headline. In this way you can refine your original headline, in order to end up with a powerful final option(s).
1. CoSchedule Blog Post Headline Analyzer
Once you enter the headline text into the box, the analyzer will give you a complete analysis of your headline.
This analysis includes a headline score out of 100, a word balance, a headline type, a length analysis, a Google search preview, and even a headline tip.
The word balance analyzes the overall structure, grammar, and readability of your headline, and even breaks down the number of common, uncommon, power, and emotional words you use.
Don’t expect to get 99/100 with this analyzer; instead strive to improve on the headline score of your last post.
2. Advanced Marketing Institute- Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer
Another great tool is the EMV analyzer, which gives you the EMV score of your headline. This allows you to see whether you are reaching your audience in an emotional way, which as we discussed above is very important.
The analyzer works by comparing the number of EMV words in your headline to the overall number of words in your headline. The score will take into account intellectual words, empathetic words, and spiritual words.
Your headline should therefore be geared towards the emotion that affects your audience most deeply. E.g. you shouldn’t be using spiritual or empathetic words to speak to a salesman, but rather intellectual words.
This analysis engine also allows you to choose the category/niche that you are targeting, so that it can give you an accurate analysis.
With the increasing dominance of the headline, it becomes imperative for all of us to invest more time and effort into crafting a great headline. Anything less would be disrespectful.
I do not expect you to employ all 26 tips provided above, unless you are an actual genius who has no limits or boundaries. For the rest of us average folk, I can confidently say that using just one of the aforementioned tips can dramatically change the way our content is viewed.
Your audience wants to be drawn into something that stimulates and excites them, so promise this in your headline and then deliver on it. And if you ever have trouble coming up with a compelling headline, use the 26 tips above in conjunction with Neil Patel’s awesome formula:
Number or Trigger Word + Adjective+ Keyword+ Promise
Before you leave, share this post with your friends and colleagues. Also drop me a comment and let me know if you have used any of these tips to craft your headline, and if you have, what was your outcome? And for more great posts like this, sign up to the Business Broken Down newsletter.
Have a great week, and I’ll see you next Monday.