In the advertising world, it’s commonly agreed that the headline is responsible for about 90% of an ad’s effectiveness. Same thing in the book world. The title does nearly all the heavy lifting. And, it’s no different in newspapers and social media, especially places like twitter where all you’ve to sell the click is the headline. Or digg.com, where a brief glance at the headline makes or breaks your shot at hitting the front page.
Your headlines can either launch you…or bury you.
Which makes you wonder. Why do so many bloggers spend so much time on the body of a post, then punt when it comes time to create the headline?
So, how do you write headlines that rock?
Here are 7 things that’ll help make your headlines sing, pull, lure and lull. One big picture and 6 a bit more under the radar…
First, SEO Optimize Your Headlines.
Let’s talk about SEO first, because that’s the, how do I say this, suckier part of writing headlines at least for me. In fact, it’s the part I bailed on for most of my blogging career, until I realized how critical it was in driving search engine traffic to my blog.
Simply put, search engines are looking for the most relevant answers to their search queries. How they determine relevance is a complex, ever-evolving formula, but what IS clear is that the title of your post plays a significant role.
So, if someone is searching for “clubs for balding molecular biologists,” there’s a good chance that a post with a headline that closely matches that search term will end up well ranked and send traffic (at least the 3 people and 1 cat that search for this term).
What’s the takeaway?
Use google’s free eternal keyword tool to search on a ton of different keywords and phrases to determine which ones are both relevant to your target readership and have decent search volume, but aren’t hyper-competitive (this will all be in the reports). You can also check out SEOBook’s keyword tool or the even the Scribe WordPress plugin. Then, see if you can integrate those keywords and phrases into your headlines…WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A BOT!
But Remember, SEO Is Just The Beginning…
Back in 1932, legendary copywriter, John Caples, wrote a book called Tested Advertising Methods. It quickly became the bible of direct response copywriters and the coolest thing is, it’s as relevant today as it was back then. Because, headlines and copy are fundamentally about appealing to human nature and, while the human condition evolves, human nature has stayed largely the same for thousands of years.
We still respond to the same basic triggers.
Caples shared three critical elements that make for high impact headlines:
- Curiosity—Craft your headlines to create a sense of intrigue, an incomplete thought or a questions that just has to be answered.
- News—Either report news with your post or piggyback your topic onto breaking news that’s relevant to the interests of the reader, and
- Self Interest—Speak to the desires, fears, needs and emotional triggers of your reader. Ask, “what’s in it for them?”
These same principles can be used to guide your quest to create compelling headlines. The ones that stop people in their tracks and get your content passed around in social media and social bookmarking/voting sites like crazy.
And, while you’re at it, why not go for the headline triple-threat—combine all three elements in one headline…and you may very well have a slam dunk.
Some examples include:
- Are Your Sleep Habits Making You Fat Nasty and Dumb?
- Why Entrepreneurs Should Eat Their Young
- Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb
- They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started to Play (ad written by Caples).
- How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise
- How I Burn 600 Calories a Day Blogging
- How to Make Exercise More Fun Than Sex
- Headless Body in Topless Bar (1983 NY Post Headline)
Three more considerations:
- Numbers – One of the thing that makes a headline, copy or story memorable is how concrete it is. Copywriters have known this for years. More recently, the Heath brothers proclaimed it one of the critical elements that makes a message memorable in their bestseller, Made To Stick. And, one of the easier ways to make content more concrete is to add numbers. So, in a headline, rather than saying, “Here’s How to Get The Lead Out and Feel More Energized,” you might say, “7 Tips to Double Your Energy in 7 Minutes.” BTW – copywriting and internet marketing lore says the number 7 always converts better than any other, but I’ve never found the research to prove it or known anyone who’s actually tested it.
- Presuppositions – This is an NLP terms that also means “assumed facts.” I love to write headlines that presuppose the reader is experiencing something, then speak to that presupposition. Doing this draws the reader in much more effectively. So, for example, the headline, “Top 10 Ways to Unbake Your Brain” assumes that your brain is already baked and that you’re looking for a way out. With a world filled with pervasive stress, this is a pretty safe assumption. Then, I build on the presupposition by providing 10 solutions to the assumed pain (self interest), and implying that this is new information (news), but holding back the strategies (curiosity).
- Overriding Purpose of Headlines—Let’s add one last element to Caples’ list of three compelling headline qualities. And, that’s what legendary copywriter, Joe Sugarman, defined as the essential purpose of the headline:
- To get peoples’ attention, then
- To get them to read the next line
Wrapping it all up…
We’re left with a pretty interesting and fun challenge—how to create headlines that are appealing to search engines while also triggering the human emotions and behaviors that make readers stop cold, read the headline, then be irresistibly compelled to dive into the post.
Meet that challenge and your life as a blogger just got a whole lot easier.
So, what do YOU think?
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