Originally published on sproutsocial on August 18, 2015 By Dominique Jackson
You can have the best content in the world, but it doesn’t mean much if nobody clicks through to read it. Whether you’re crafting blog posts or Tweets, you need a strong headline to pull people in and entice them to read more.
On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will continue on to read the rest. Your title could mean the difference between having your content read by the masses or having a blog full of amazing articles that get overlooked because they have weak headlines.
The Job of Your Headline
Before you start writing your title, it’s important to know what a headline is supposed to do.
Think of your headline as the appointment setter in sales. The only thing an appointment setter has to do is make initial contact and get the lead to commit to walking into the door. After that, their job is done and it’s up to the sales team to keep them there and eventually make them a customer.
When it comes to your blog post, the job of your headline is to get people to read the first sentence of your article. If your headline achieves that goal, it has done its job. After that, its up to your content to keep the reader engaged and stick around.
When you look at it from that perspective, it’s easier to understand why headline writing is so important. If that’s not convincing enough, Upworthy, the king of mouthwatering headlines, has seen as much as a 500% change in traffic just from changing a headline.
How can you avoid writing boring headlines that don’t drive people to take the next step and read your entire article? Follow these five amazing headline writing tips to pull readers in and grab their attention. These tips are specifically for blog posts, but a lot of the same concepts can be applied to other types of content like social media posts or email marketing.
1. Use Numbers
“Cheating on Your Diet Without Feeling Guilty”
“10 Ways to Cheat on Your Diet Without Feeling Guilty”
The power of numbers cannot be conveyed enough. It’s the reason why list posts get shared so much. Using numbers in your headlines creates curiosity right away. In the example above, you know you’re going to get 10 different tips. Logically, your next thought is what are the tips? You feel compelled to click through to see the entire list.
A study by Conductor on different types of headlines found that titles with numbers were the most effective by far.
Magazines have perfected the art of using numbers in headlines. Look at any fitness or health magazine and you’ll see a “top 10 ways to get abs” list or “5 super foods guaranteed to give you energy.” How many numbers can you count on this one cover of Men’s Health Magazine?
2. Be Very Specific
“How To Extend Your Phone’s Battery Life”
“5 Tips to Extend Your iPhone’s Battery Life by 50%”
The more specific you can get with your headline, the better. The main job of your headline is to get people to read the first sentence of your article, but you also want to make sure you’re sending qualified traffic to your posts.
When your headlines are clear and leave little room for misinterpretation, you have a smaller chance of people exiting out because they didn’t find what they were expecting. This is the problem with clickbait headlines, which we’ll talk about a little later.
In the example above, the first headline is pretty vague. Five people could click through to that article all expecting different things.
With the second headline we’ve helped qualify the reader because it:
1. Tells you how many techniques you’ll learn
2. Tells you what specific type of phone the tips are for
3. Sets your expectations by letting you know how much battery life you can save
Laser target your content and know exactly who it’s meant for. Then start crafting your headline around that.
3. Use Adjectives
“The Renter’s Guide to Choosing Furniture”
“The Quick Guide to Choosing Comfy Furniture for Renters”
Being descriptive can pay dividends when it comes to writing headlines. This is similar to tip No. 2, but the emphasis is on using what we like to call amplifier words. An amplifier word is essentially an adjective that boosts the impact of the message you’re trying to convey.
In our example, the first headline is short, to the point and specific. However, it lacks the spunk and dynamics of the second headline. The second headline isn’t just a guide, it’s a quick guide. Time is something that most people don’t have a lot of. By implying that your guide is a quick read, you’ll be more likely to pull in readers. Putting in the comfy part lets potential renters know that the guide is going to emphasize comfort and not just any old type of furniture.
Coming up with adjectives and using descriptive language can be a bit difficult. Especially if you want to avoid the standard words like cool or good. Luckily, there are tools that can help you out. If you’re struggling to come up with an adjective to describe a word you want to use in your headline, plug it into this tool from Word Generator and it’ll give you some suggestions. Keep in mind that the suggestions are random so you’ll have to go generate a few different words to find a good match, but it’s a great place to start.
You can also use some of these popular options from Econsultancy that have proven to work in headlines:
4. Are You Asking Questions?
“How to Meet Your Perfect Match Online”
“Tired of Bad Online Dates? 5 Tips to Find Your Soulmate”
Asking questions in your headlines gives people a chance to immediately resonate with your content. When most people read a question, they start to answer it in their head. You can spark up emotions in the reader by asking a question with an obvious answer.
For instance, in our example the article is about online dating. People who have had bad experiences with online dating are going to relate to the post right away and feel pulled in. We’ve found a pain point, created a rhetorical question around it and incorporated it into the headline. The second part of this headline formula that makes it even stronger is the tagline. After asking the question, we let you know we’re going to give you solutions.
You can easily apply the same technique to your content.
Let’s say you’re a dentist that wants to create a blog post about flossing. Instead of a generic headline like “10 Reasons Why You Should Floss,” you could use a question that touches on a specific pain point like “Do Your Gums Bleed When You Brush Your Teeth? Floss!”
It’s a three-step formula:
1. Find a pain point of your reader
2. Ask a rhetorical question that invokes an emotional response
3. Hint at the solution
5. Use the Second Person POV
“5 Reasons Bosses Fire Employees”
“5 Signs You’re About to Be Fired”
Using words like “you” and “your” makes readers feel like you’re speaking directly to them. You’re essentially calling them out. Writing is all about building a connection with the reader, even if there’s thousands of people reading the exact same article.
Someone reading your headline should feel like the article is tailor made for them. That’s what writing from the second person POV does.
Imagine you are an employee worried that you may lose your job. In our examples, the first headline is pretty general and doesn’t necessarily speak out to you. The second one calls you out. You want to know what the signs are so you can look out for them when you go to work tomorrow. See the difference?
6. Make a Promise
“10 Simple Vegan Recipes”
“10 Delicious Vegan Recipes You Can Make in Under 20 Minutes”
You have to be careful with this technique. Setting unrealistic goals is an easy way to make readers feel mislead and duped. Include a benefit that the reader will get after clicking through and reading your content, but don’t oversell.
Promises are effective because you’re telling your reader what they’ll get if they choose to click your headline.
In our example, the first headline just tells you what the content is about. But the second one gives you a benefit by letting you know that the recipes actually taste good and don’t require a lot of time to make. So people who are on the fence about the taste of vegan food will be more likely to give the content a try, and people who are pressed for time will find it even more relevant.
You also don’t have to make a guarantee in your headline. Aspirational titles can be an effective way to spark intrigue. For instance, “How I Grew My Email List by 100% in 30 Days.” When someone reads that headline, they’ll aspire to reach similar goals and grow their email list too. In order to find out what they need to do to reach that goal, they know they’ll have to read your post.
With this technique, the headline should tell the “what” and the actual content explains the “how.” A headline of “I Grew My Email list 100% by Using a Pop-up Subscribe Form” most likely wouldn’t get as many clicks because there’s no mystery left.
7. Create a Sense of Urgency
“11 Crucial Social Media Statistics”
Creating a sense of urgency in your headlines stops people from waiting until later to read your article. You want people to read your blog post as soon as they see the headline, because otherwise they’ll forget all about it. When you put some type of time restraint in your headline, it tells people that what you’re sharing is extremely urgent and important.
The retail and e-commerce industries have been using this technique for decades with one-day sales and special holiday deals. That sense of urgency pulls people in to take action right now instead of tomorrow. Even though a blog post is different from selling a product, you can still use the same concepts.
One formula that tends to do well is giving the consequences of not reading your article within the headline:
- If You’re Eating These 5 Foods, Kiss Your Flat Stomach Goodbye! (The consequence is gaining weight)
- The 4 Techniques Your Competition Is Using to Steal Your Customers (The consequence is losing customers)
Bonus Tip: Split Test
When a piece of content doesn’t perform as well as you’d like, most people will do things like try to promote it more on social media, change the content or just take it as a loss and move on to the next blog post. But what if the real reason people aren’t reading your content is because the headline isn’t pulling them in? This is where A/B Testing or split testing your headline writing comes in.
Split testing your headline means that you’ll use different variations of a headline for the exact same piece of content and see which one performs the best. We mentioned the amazing improvements Upworthy saw when it tested its headlines, but that’s not the only proof that split testing works. A case study from VWO showed an 89.97% increase in sales from split testing a headline.
It’s easy to assume that a blog post isn’t getting traffic because you aren’t promoting it enough. But sometimes changing up the headline can make a big impact on getting your content read.
Clickbait headlines are sensationalized titles aimed at pulling readers in to read the full story. They’re a highly debated subject in marketing because they’re effective but they oversell the content a lot of the time. You’ve probably seen them on social media and entertainment blogs. Sites like Viral Nova really helped make them popular.
So should you use them? The short answer is probably not. Even though the goal of your headline is to get people through the door, you also don’t want to mislead them with puffed up headlines that don’t deliver.
Instead, a good way to make use of some of the things that make clickbait headlines work is to include some level of curiosity into your headline. Some of the tips we’ve given you do just that. You can create intrigue without creating unnecessary buildup in your headline.
Try These Proven Headline Formulas
Why reinvent the wheel? If you’re new to headline writing or if copywriting just isn’t your strong point, these proven formulas will give you a great place to start:
- Who else wants [blank]?
- The Secret of [blank]
- Here is a Method That is Helping [blank] to [blank]
- Little Known Ways to [blank]
- Get Rid of [problem] Once and For All
- Here’s a Quick Way to [solve a problem]
- Now You Can Have [something desirable] [great circumstance]
- [Do something] like [world-class example]
- Have a [or] Build a [blank] You Can Be Proud Of
- What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank]
If you want to start getting more eyes on your content, start devoting more time to writing your headlines. Put these tips and tactics in motion to craft an intriguing and compelling headline for your next blog post.