Ever wonder why news sites have lists of articles with not much more than a headlines and image? It’s because a headline and image are all it should take to entice someone to read further. In a matter of seconds you can decide whether content looks interesting based on what the headline says or how it makes you feel.
It’s why you can’t resist opening articles from Buzzfeed but you can easily overlook a scientific article. The former is completely tapped into what makes people click while the latter has foregone best practices in favour of traditional academic writing—which doesn’t work for most audiences on the web.
Nothing against science content. I’m a huge science nerd, but most aren’t. If you’re having trouble getting clicks on your content or you have a really high bounce rate (people leaving your website after only visiting one page), it could be because your headlines need some love.
Consider these two examples:
“Technology startup gains attention with Kickstarter campaign”
“Find out how this scrappy startup went viral with their Kickstarter campaign”
Which one do you prefer?
While they could describe the same article, I’d be much more likely to click on the second one even though it’s a touch long. Here’s why:
- It starts with a call-to-action: “find out”. Immediately I want to know what there is to find out.
- If I owned a scrappy startup too, I’d love to find out how someone like me went viral. Since most Kickstarter campaigns come from startup, the headline speaks directly to the audience.
- Viral is one of those words that grabs attention, especially from those who are trying to gain traction for their scrappy startup.
Here’s what’s wrong with the first headline.
- It’s boring. A bajillion tech startups have gained attention through Kickstarter campaigns (and good for them!). What makes this one special? Why do I care?
Three different headline styles to try
There are far more than three headlines styles in existence, but here are three to start with:
The SEO-friendly headline
These headlines are straightforward and contain a keyword phrase that someone would search for in Google. These work particularly well if you want to increase your organic search traffic (traffic from Google search). Here are a few examples:
“How to write persuasive headlines” (see what I did there?)
“Fun European backpacking vacations for 20-somethings”
“Increase your conversion rate with this one strategy”
Since the internet is a content-heavy place, if you’re going to implement this strategy go for long-tail keyword phrases, or those that are closer to a full sentence. You can search for long-tail keyword phrases using a tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Think of how you search for content on Google and write headlines that work those phrases in.
Emotional headlines hit you “right in the feels”. They excite you, make you curious, or make you angry. They encourage you to click to find out more.
Emotional headlines use what are known as power words. These are words like “empower”, “surprising”, “corrupt”, and “breaking”. You feel something when you read or say them. SumoMe has an excellent list of 355+ power words to try out.
Headlines with numbers
We love statistics and lists! I’ve tested many headlines out and the headlines with numbers in them often perform better. One reason for this is that numbers provide something concrete. Often headlines can be abstract, but a number anchors the headline. A number is something we can understand.
You may have heard of listicles: “10 ways to lose weight this spring”, “Improve your chess game with these 3 strategies”, “25 times your teacher showed you he’s smarter than you”. They’re effective. You know what you’re going to get with these articles, but you’re still intrigued as to what new information you’ll learn or what you’ll read that reinforces something you already know.
I’ve seen sites that overuse the listicle style and it gets old after a while; however, I definitely recommend peppering your blog with them.
Avoid writing click bait
Have you ever clicked on a great headline only to end up on a spammy ad site? People are getting more accustomed to click bait, so it’s best to avoid writing this style of headlines if you want to build trust with your audience.
Click bait headlines are sensationalist. They definitely make use of power words, but they overextend the truth and are typically along the lines of “You won’t guess what happened next…”, only to lead you to a fake celebrity news story. Or, they tap into a common fear. If you want to use fear-based marketing you’re free to, but eventually you’ll wear your audience out or you’ll find you draw the wrong crowd.
Try different headlines styles and use your analytics to understand which ones get more pickup on social media, email, etc. Try writing 10 draft headlines for every piece of content you publish and choosing the best one. This will help you get into the practice of writing better headlines instead of just typing in the first thing that comes to mind when you’re hurriedly publishing articles.