Before you pen your next blog post, stop what you’re doing and read these writing tips for more clickable and shareable content.
It’s fairly easy to argue that the headline is more important than the article. It’s not always true, of course, but when most people only read about 50% of your content, drawing them in with a strong, attention-grabbing headline is a must.
It’s easy to leave the headline as an afterthought, but it’s what gets you noticed. Amid millions of articles, tips, advice and blog posts out there, you need to stand out and get in front of your audience in an interesting, unique and confronting way.
But the art of the headline is a difficult one to master, and it often takes even experienced writers years to understand how to construct one effectively. To help you in your quest for excellent content, we’ve got a few headline tips to get you started.
1. Keep the headline to 6 words
Your audience is lazy. They like to have loads of content available to them, but they can’t be bothered actually reading all of it. It’s reason the inverted pyramid exists in news writing, and why a former editor told me to “write as though you are targeting a bunch of fidgeting 12-year-olds, rather than educated adults”.
You want to draw people in as fast as possible, and a succinct headline is the best way to do that. Keeping it to six words isn’t a hard and fast rule (sometimes longer headlines can work in your favour, depending on the content and platform you are writing for) but it’s a decent guideline to make sure you don’t waffle on.
2. Tap into your audience’s insecurities
Don’t feel bad about this – the news media has been doing it for decades. For some reason, the human race responds better to negativity. I’m not sure whether it’s because we like being miserable or because we have a morbid fascination with things that are bad and wrong (or both.) All I know is that it works.
For example, these are taken from a mix of the BBC and CNN’s homepages this morning:
Hiring? Avoid the friend zone
Google doesn’t care about your alma mater
China’s growth set to be slowest since ‘09
The worst place on earth
Negative headlines work best (i.e. get more clicks) when they inform and alert. Think about how you can use words like “no”, “stop”, “can’t” and “without” in your headlines or sub-headlines for added impact.
3. Track keywords
Let’s all take a moment to praise the development of analytics!
With the ability to track and follow the traffic your articles are generating, it’s very easy nowadays to pinpoint (over time) the types of articles and headlines that work well for you, and the ones that don’t.
At a previous job, we worked out pretty quickly that our audience liked to read about money; headlines with the keywords “money”, “salary”, “cash” and “pay” got significantly more clickthroughs.
It highly depends on your audience. If you’re writing for parents and mothers, words like “baby” and “childcare” might be some of your top keywords, while for a restaurant words like “menu” or “food” could be gold.
4. Make sure the headline matches the article
It’s easy to get caught up in writing the most attention-grabbing headline, only to end up with something that is actually misleading and over-inflated.
If you’ve managed to pull someone in to click on your article, don’t send them running and rolling their eyes when they realise they’ve been duped by clickbait. I personally dislike it when an article claims to have 7 unbelievable ways to [insert promise here] – especially when the tips are actually quite believable. Useful? Yes. Unbelievable? No.
The same applies for “amazing” and “incredible”. Unless it really is amazing, try to be a bit more creative.
5. Use numbers
99 things to do in New Zealand works so much better than Ninety-nine things to do in New Zealand.
Using a number is easier on the eye, and it stands out from the rest of the sentence. As we’ve already established, people are lazy – they want to read the most interesting articles in the most efficient way possible. Numbers and lists will do this for them.
6. Use a trigger word
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The trigger words are a must for viral content. People read blogs not only to look for information, but to find answers to questions they didn’t even know they needed answers to.
Using the ‘how, what, when where, why’ method indicates immediately to a reader that they are likely to learn something by clicking on your post.
7. To question or not to question?
Struggling to get ahead at work?
Looking for your dream home?
Are you missing this vital ingredient in your PR strategy?
The question headline can be incredibly effective when targeted at the right audience you know are looking for answers. It can sometimes sound a bit advertorial, but the power of the question should not be undermined.
8. Create a formula that works for you
I once read a formula for the perfect headline which went something like:
Number/trigger word + interesting adjective + keyword = PERFECT HEADLINE
So, say you want to write about how to peel an orange (because, why wouldn’t you?) start by thinking about the formula. Instead of “How to peel an orange” you might end up with:
12 effortless ways to peel an orange
How to peel an orange in less than 30 seconds
or (in question form)
Is your orange peeling technique out of date?
It can often add an extra impact to include an assurance or guarantee in your headline. It could be to do with time (hence the “in less than 30 seconds” in this example) or something more substantial like, “How to peel an orange like a professional chef”.
Go forth and be viral! But if you need some help crafting, planning and putting a strategy around your content to drive business leads, feel free to get in touch with Rebecca at [email protected]