Headlines aren’t just your reader’s first impression, more often than not they’re also the last. That’s why writing an excellent headline isn’t just a matter of attracting attention to your content, it’s also a matter of turning casual content browsers into engaged content readers. Without a catchy headline to help create that transformation, the rest of your content may never get a chance to be heard.
It’s been estimated that if 80% of people read a headline somewhere in their browser, only a quarter of them will go on to read the associated article. A similar study found a more than 500% difference in traffic for the same content produced under alternate headlines. Simply put, that means that headlines are often the deciding factor in determining how effective your content can be.
Creating compelling content is all about helping your reader take each individual step, from sentence to sentence, before you finally reveal your call to action. On that quest, your headline is the very first step you take, and in many ways, your best opportunity to beat the odds and maximize the portion of that 80% who spot your headline and decide to read on. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about creating your own highly clickable headlines, from the SEO tricks of the trade to some simple templates you can follow to get you started in the right direction.
Write Your Headline First
Anytime you’re developing content for an audience on the Internet, it’s generally a good idea to start with the general idea of what you’re going to write and craft an amazing headline before you’ve created even a single sentence of actual content. After all, your headline is an opportunity to tell your reader what it is that they’ll get out of reading what it is you have to say.
If you can’t craft a headline that can steal the attention of your reader, any content that follows may as well be invisible for the countless individuals who you couldn’t appeal to. Moreover, starting with your headline first is a good way to keep your content focused and structured, because in many ways your headline is a promise for what is to follow.
Copy Your Peers
If you’ve ever sought headline inspiration in advertisements you’ve stumbled across or from the magazines that you read, you’re off to a great start. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the example set by others, and taking headlines that have proven effective for others and adopting them to your own purposes is one of the simplest yet most successful ways to write great headlines. But copying isn’t enough. Correctly adopting a headline to suit the needs of your own content demands an understanding why that headline works.
SEO and Headlines
The importance of keyword use in headlines has been a long debated issue in the world of SEO. Some have argued that keywords are crucial to headlines for the purposes of ranking your content, because keywords are how search engines will identify what it is you’re dealing with. Others have argued that writing for people first and foremost precludes the need for keyword research for headlines, since the best content will rise to the top of a SERP based on its merits.
The truth is that keywords really are important, but not simply because search engines like them. Keywords are important because they give you deep insight into your demographic, and can help you mirror the language of your reader in order to catch their attention. When someone does a search, they’re generally looking to match their own phraseology with a result in the SERP in order to connect them to exactly what they’re trying to find. Anytime you’re able to speak the language of your reader, you’ll inevitably collect more retweets, bookmarks, shares, and ultimately more traffic.
The most important thing you can do in any headline is to emphasize the benefits of reading your article. When someone scans through a set of headlines, they employ an attention filter that aggressively discards content that’s peripheral to their interests while actively seeking out the most relevant content. Overcoming that attention filter means making clear the benefits your content has to offer upfront.
As an added bonus, focusing on benefits tends to produce more engaging headlines. Consider Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s no wonder that Dale sold over 15 million copies, because the name itself is little more than a list of the two benefits you’re supposed to get out of reading his book.
Results Over Process
Consider these two headlines: “How to Travel Canada for Only $60”, and “How to Save When Traveling by Bus in Canada.” Although both headlines could be used for the same article and both emphasize benefits, most people will agree that the first headline is more engaging. Readers are drawn by the results you can offer, not the process that gets you there, because the results are typically the most exciting part of a story.
List Posts and BuzzFeed
Any discussion about writing great headlines would be remiss without mentioning BuzzFeed. If you haven’t been, BuzzFeed is a social entertainment site that circulates its content almost exclusively with headlines that are patently clickbait. Although the BuzzFeed may be little more than an entertaining way to waste a few minutes online, because the site is almost entirely powered by attention grabbing headlines, it’s the first place you should check out anytime you’re struggling with headline writer’s block.
And it should come as no surprise that BuzzFeed articles tend to follow the rule of emphasizing benefits. From “27 Clever Ways to Use Everyday Stuff In The Kitchen” to “12 Eye-Opening Pictures of Bald Celebrities With Hair”, BuzzFeed headlines are exemplary because they tell you precisely what you should expect to get out of reading an article.
Practice Makes Perfect
Writing a great headline is no small part of writing effective content, and nobody becomes a master overnight. Like any aspect of content creation, writing a great headline involves a thorough understanding of your intended audience and a content that can deliver on all the promises you make. But with constant practice and due diligence for tracking engagement metrics, anyone can begin to remove the uncertain elements of headline writing and replace them with proven strategies.