How to Write Killer Headlines
We’re awash with mediocre content. So how can you make your article stand out from the humdrum SEO fodder that has become the scourge of the Internet? Well, a good start is by writing a headline that grabs people by the danglies and refuses to let go until they have read every…last…word…
Your headline is your salesman. Your headline should make people stop in their tracks. Your headline should be irresistible. Your headline should scream ‘C’mon, read me baby!’ Yet very often, after going to great lengths creating an incredible piece of content, we treat the headline as a throwaway afterthought. It’s a common and costly mistake. David Ogilvy sums it up best:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
So how can you write the headlines that will capture those clicks and boost your conversions? Here are some top tips.
1. Keep it simple
Get to the point – fast! Long, rambling headlines will not persuade anyone to click through. Your headline needs to quickly and concisely tell people what they can expect to find in the content. If you mess around, try to sound clever, make a joke or fail to get to the heart of the matter, your target audience are far less likely to click because they have no idea what to expect.
Take a look at the title of this article, for example. It gets straight to the point, it promises to solve a problem, and you know exactly what to expect from the content.
2. Start with a working title, and improve it
If you’re struggling to come up with a headline for a piece of content you’re working on, start with the most basic title you can think of. For this article, that might have been ‘How To Write Good Headlines’. While that’s certainly concise and to the point, it’s not powerful or catchy enough to capture any clicks.
Look at ways you can improve the title based on what you already have. Think about who it’s aimed at and try to tailor it specifically to their needs. Try to come up with different ways you can phrase the headline, and always aim to be as specific as possible. So instead of ‘How To Write Good Headlines’, you might end up with, ‘5 Ways To Write Great Headlines That Convert’. It’s still concise, it’s much catchier, and it’s far less generic than the original effort. Start with a basic outline and build from there to come up with your ideal headline.
3. Use powerful vocabulary
You’ll have noticed that in the last example, we upgraded the word ‘Good’ to ‘Great’. The use of persuasive, impactful vocabulary is critical when writing a catchy headline. If you’ve taken a look at our other article, ’21 Words That Sell’, you’ll already be well aware of some of the most powerful words you can use online – here are just a few that are perfect for using in your headlines:
Try to make sure that none of the words you use in your headline are boring. ‘Good’ is a pretty boring word. ‘Great’ is slightly better – but how about ‘incredible’ or ‘amazing’?
4. Use numbers
There’s something about using numbers in headlines that just works. This style of headline has become popular in recent years, with Buzzfeed-esque titles that we just can’t resist clicking on. But newspapers and magazines were using numbers in titles long before that – and you should be too. Browse any magazine rack at your local store and you’ll see endless articles promising ‘7 Ways To Lose Weight This Season’ or ‘4 Celebrity Fashion Fails You Don’t Want To Miss’.
If you’re going to use numbers in your headline, there are a few guidelines you should follow. First – write up the content, then add the number into the headline. Many people would be tempted to go straight for ’10 Tips…’, but this can come across as inauthentic and contrived. Odd numbers tend to feel more genuine for some strange reason so don’t worry about shoehorning in extra tips or sections just to bring your content up to a nice, round number.
5. Try to optimize – but don’t compromise
Obviously, when writing up headlines, you’ll have one eye on optimizing for search and social. However, this shouldn’t be the main focus of your headline. Titles written purely for SEO purposes rarely convert well – it can make your headlines sound strange and forced. The main takeaway here is that if you can optimize for search and social by adding in a keyword that doesn’t sound inauthentic, that’s great! But don’t try to force it the expense of your catchy title.
6. Measure your results
When you’ve written up a few articles with strong headlines, make sure you measure their success. See which title templates garnered the most clicks, and also check the bounce rates (this might show that your users felt misled by certain titles and didn’t find the content they were looking for). Using analytics and learning from them will help you to improve – so eventually, all of your titles will be dynamic and catchy enough to convert.