I’m about to write over 1000 words on why writing a powerful headline is so important. I’ll be giving you a lot of advice on how you can be successful in writing a great headline, as well as what to avoid when writing a headline. But all these words won’t even get noticed if I haven’t done everything right to create a headline that you, the reader, will click. I see you made it this far, so thank you!
The Importance of a Great Headline
It’s a little infuriating to think of all the insightful, entertaining, and helpful content that goes unseen every day, simply because a handful of words failed to capture a reader’s attention. However, consider the following and you may begin to understand why capturing users is so difficult. A Day in the Life of the Internet shows that over 2 million blog posts are published daily. That’s just about 1,900 posts every minute. Add that to the 145 billion emails and 500 million tweets sent daily and the 5.92 billion Google searches and you can start to see why users are so picky about the information they choose to view.
Here are a few more statistics that stress the importance of creating headlines that entice people to click through to your content.
- 80% of readers never make it past the headline.
- Traffic can vary by as much as 500% based on the headline.
- 59% of links shared on social media are not clicked on. People are making the decision to share based on the headline alone.
The Relationship Between Headlines & SEO
The first step in getting a user to choose your content is to make sure it appears in the results when a user performs a search. No headline, no matter how perfect, will get clicks if it’s never seen. To give your content the best chances of being found, you need to optimize your headline and the copy within.
Keyword Driven Content
The best piece of advice that I can give for optimizing your content writing is that every piece of content you create, whether a blog post, a web page, or a video, needs to be keyword driven. Through the extensive keyword research your SEO team can provide, you can gain insight into what phrases and questions users are typing into online searches that would be appropriate for your business or industry.
Sarah Burke, writing for Spokal, explains that keyword research fills in the blanks of who, what, where, when, and how: how your audience searches for terms, what questions they’re asking in relation to your industry, who they’re looking for answers from, when they most need these answers, and where they find these answers. Optimize your content by including an assigned focus keyword in these key areas:
- SEO title
- Meta description
- Body of your content
- Alt tags
Another key component of content optimization is making sure your headline is the proper length. It’s a good idea to keep the headline under 70 characters. By limiting the number of characters, you ensure that the entire headline shows up when listed on the Google search results page. If it’s too long, Google will cut it off and place an ellipsis at the end. When your headline is cut off, the reader doesn’t get the full understanding of what your article is about and might skip over it.
As an example, take a look at the headlines from a Google search results page screenshot below.
“Attention Grabbing Headlines That….” What?? We may never know.
So how can you maximize your headline and make the most impact with those 70 characters? A study by the Nielsen Norman Group found that people typically consume the first 11 characters of a headline. KISSmetrics mentions that people consume only the first 3 and the last 3 words in headlines. Take advantage of these “hot zones” and make sure you incorporate your focus keywords in the front of your headline. This way, users will recognize their search term immediately and see the connection between your content and the information they want to find.
Building the Best Headlines
There is more that goes into writing a great headline than incorporating a keyword and calling it a day. In fact, it’s recommended that 50% of your writing time go towards generating headline ideas (yep, it’s that important!). So here are a few building blocks you can use to create a headline that resonates with readers.
Use “All the Best Words”
One of the best online tools I found for writing headlines is the Co-Analyzer Headline Tool. They score your headline (mine scored a 79!) based on several criteria, including length and sentiment, but what they put the strongest focus on is your word choice. Headlines that succeed in search rankings, impact readers, and bring traffic to your site, all have certain critical elements that have been proven to get results. A single word can have a huge impact on whether or not an article is read. Therefore, a good balance of word types in your headline is important. Ideal word types include:
Common words make up the basic structure of headlines. Examples: there, your, and, but, from, get
Uncommon words give the title substance. Examples: actually, something, really, better
Emotional words are proven to drive clicks and shares because they generally stir an emotional response in the reader. Examples: painful, delightful, breathtaking, unusual, ultimate
Powerful words really grab the reader’s attention and trigger an action. Examples: unlimited, remarkable, controversial, guaranteed
Experiment with Different Kinds of Headlines
The type of headline you write also makes a big difference in the number of clicks it receives. There are certain headline types that appeal to audiences more than others and, therefore, are clicked on more frequently. Conductor’s survey on headline preferences reveals what resonates with readers the most.
When headlines include a number, they tend to stand out. A numbers headline also provides the reader with a better idea of what to expect in the article. But most of all, readers are inherent scanners. In fact, as a writer, you have less than 15 seconds to hook your reader before they lose focus. Numbered lists make it easy for readers to scan the information you have provided.
Address Your Readers
When you speak to your audience directly, especially in the headline, they feel as though they are invested in your content. As human beings, we tend to be concerned with our self-interest and this type of headline tells the reader what’s in it for them.
As readers, we tend to have a natural curiosity about a multitude of things. We want our questions answered and our problems solved. How to… headlines entice readers to continue reading so they can find out how to accomplish whatever the headline is hinting at.
It’s become more common for users to type an exact question directly into the search bar. These are referred to as “know” informational queries. When your headline mirrors the same question that a user searched for, it can instill confidence that they’ll find the information they need within.
Beware the Pitfalls of Writing Headlines
Great Headlines Should be Authentic
In an effort to save time, or maybe even break out of the box, you may feel the impulse to use on of the many “headline generator” tools that can be found online. You plug in your article topic or focus keyword, and using a template system, they spit out headline suggestions. But a lot of times, the results can seem a little “off.” For every (somewhat) successful headline that is generated, you’re just as likely to get a dud response.
Here’s why content generators can’t do all the leg work for you. Humans possess certain traits that artificial intelligence (AI) will never have. Wisdom and experience go a long way when it comes to portraying a company’s brand to their target audience. While AI can acquire information about a topic, it is unable to make any sort of personal connection. Artificial intelligence also falls short because it takes information and simply regurgitates it, leaving curiosity and creativity out of the equation.
Where I think the benefit of a headline generator lies, is in helping content writers brainstorm ideas for articles or providing direction for a topic that they hadn’t thought of previously. But, I would caution against using their headline suggestions word-for-word.
We’ve all seen “those” articles as we scroll through our social feeds… “What Happens Next Will Blow Your Mind! #17 is Amazing! See Why She Bursts Into Tears!” That, my friends, is click-bait, and while these tempting titles might get you the user clicks you want, you need be sure your content delivers what was promised and offers something of substance (#17 better be the best content you’ve ever delivered) or users will quickly bounce from your site, and, likely, won’t return again. Avoid these pandering headlines. There are better ways to craft good titles that people will want to click on.
15 Templates for a Writing a Great Headline
Need a little inspiration to get your creative juices flowing? Here are some simple examples that you can easily modify to write a great headline for your business or industry.
# Things You Need to Know About __________________
The # Best ________________
# Top Industry Trends to Watch This Year
# Amazing Tips to Help You ______________________
# Signs You Need to Update Your ___________________
How To __________ Every Day Without Fail!
How To ____________ in # Simple Steps
How To Be a Successful __________________
How To Deliver Top-Notch __________________
How To Change the Way You ________________
Do you Know About ____________? You Should!
Are You Ready To _________________ ?
Should You Still Be _______________? The Answer May Surprise You!
Looking for the Best Advice on _______________? You Found It!
When Is the Best Time to ____________________?