Wouldn’t you just love to know how to write great headlines over and over again, so that every article, post or content you published was consumed and shared in great numbers, with delight, by your target audience?
According to Eugene Schwartz, one of the greatest copywriters ever to have lived;
‘Your headline has only one job – to stop your prospect and compel him to read the second sentence of your ad’
In this post I’m talking less about ads and more about blog posts but the principle remains the same.
Your headline needs to compel the visitor or searcher to click on your article and read your introduction.
Mr Schwartz goes on to say;
In exactly the same way your second sentence has only one job – to force him to read the third sentence if your ad. And the third sentence – and every additional sentence – has exactly the same job.
And if you’re still reading, then my headline and the sentences I have written have done their job! So far so good! 🙂
But how do we create the perfect headline? How do we stand out from the crowd of both well written and terrible headlines that clog up people’s newsfeeds and search pages?
How do we ensure that our headline is the one that grabs attention, invokes curiosity and speaks directly to our target audience so they can’t help but click to read more?
Well in all honesty, much of it will come from practice and testing and measuring but there are some specific strategies you can employ immediately which will dramatically improve even ordinary headlines without too much effort.
The chances are you already have a semblance of a headline in mind. Perhaps you’re writing about a particular yoga pose, examples of urban photography or as per some of my examples through this post, asian cooking.
The key is to turn your idea into something that grabs attention and does indeed compel readers to click, engage and share.
In this article by Cynthia Marinakos (another Schwartz fan), the two most important considerations to writing great headlines are;
- Mass Desire
- State of Awareness of Your Reader
Mass desire being universal wants and values such as;
- Wanting to be more attractive
- Wanting more money
- Wanting to work less
- Being loved
- Being happy, etc
State of Awareness being – how much does the audience already know about the specific mass desire you’re addressing.
Therefore the first step to writing great headlines is to;
You can’t possibly write compelling, clickable headlines without knowing what it is your audience wants to achieve (desire) and where in their journey they are (state of awareness).
For example a good friend of mine wants to start a blog all about asian cooking.
Her site will target the ‘at home’ cook as opposed to seasoned professionals and will no doubt span the reluctant chef (like me) who just wants to spice up mealtimes occasionally, through to the regular dinner party host known to all their family & friends for their amazing culinary skills.
By tapping into the wants and needs of each of these types of people she’ll be able to craft headlines (and posts) directed at their specific desire and state of awareness.
Headlines that would attract someone like me, might say something like;
- How to Cook a Tasty Chinese Stir Fry in Under 10 Minutes or
- Fast Easy Asian Dishes for Mums who Hate Cooking or
- How to Cook Red Curry Fast with Only 3 Ingredients
These headlines tap into my desires to a) cook & eat asian food (because I love it) and b) cook fast & easy (because I don’t like cooking).
They also tap into my state of awareness as they’re clearly directed at novices/people who aren’t keen on cooking.
Whereas the more experienced home chef would respond better to headlines such as;
- 15 Dim Sum Recipes You Can Make at Home
- The Perfect 5 Course Asian Meal for the Dinner Party Host
- 10 Asian Fusion Dishes for the Home Chef
Before you even start to write your articles, create your content, or devise your awesome headline ask yourself;
- Who is this for?
- What do they want?
- How much do they already know?
Hopefully before you sat down to write your masterpiece you did a little keyword research to make sure you were creating something your ideal audience were looking for.
If not I highly recommend this as a strategy you employ. Even if the world of SEO does not excite you in any way, some basic keyword research will ensure your hard work is found more readily and not just on google either.
All social networks have an element of keyword relevance these days, particularly sites like Pinterest and YouTube, which are search engines in their own right.
It’s a five-minute job at most, (unless you’re engaging in hefty SEO practices), can be done for free and will no doubt result in many more post ideas as you realise the kind of information your audience is looking for.
Here’s how to do some basic keyword research in 5 minutes or less;
A. Start with your focus keyword or phrase. So, using the example of my friends blog about Asian Cooking, one of her focus keyphrases will obviously be ‘asian cooking’.
B. Type your focus keyphrase into Google and get some ideas from the autosuggest.
C. Take note of the ‘people also ask’ & ‘searches related’ to sections of the search engine results page.
D. Add the free chrome extension ‘keywords everywhere’ for more ideas.
E. Take some of your favourites and plug them into the free Ubersuggest keyword tool. This will show search volume and how easy or difficult it is to rank in the search engines. Don’t get too caught up on the numbers, most SEO tools are fairly inaccurate, but they will give you a guide.
What I love about Ubersuggest however, (apart from the fact it’s free), is the ‘Content Ideas’ section.
Here you can get lots of inspiration for potential titles and also see which titles got the most social shares.
Knowing your audience as you do, you’ll be able to glean inspiration from titles already performing well as you craft your own headlines.
Where possible, you’ll want to include what the reader is going to get by reading or consuming your content (tapping into their desire);
- 10 Quick and Easy Beginner Chinese Recipes (benefit – not much cooking & your family thinks you’re a culinary god!)
- 40 Chinese Dinners That are Faster & Healthier Than Takeout (benefit – save money, time and lose weight!)
- How to Write a Blog Post That People Will Actually Read (benefit – recognition, engagement)
- How to Set Personal Goals That Will Change Your Life (benefit – happiness, prosperity, success)
- 7 Steps to Creating SEO Rich Posts That Will Rank No 1 on Google (benefit – significance, bragging rights, oh & traffic of course)
Your headline isn’t just about getting more traffic, increasing engagement or easy cooking, it’s about what those things mean to the consumer.
Your job as a writer is to capture the emotional needs and wants of your audience in both your content and headlines.
The better you can take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires of your readers and channel that into your headline, the greater the chance of them engaging with and consuming your content.
I know, it’s getting a bit deep so let’s lighten it up a bit….
According to Mike Hamers writing for The Write Direction Numbers are like brain candy to the organisational mind.
Just think about your reaction to this post if the headline were;
How to Write a Highly Clickable Headline
How to Write a Highly Clickable Headline (in 8 Easy Steps)
They say an image is worth a thousand words. Adding a number to your headline kind of works the same way. Psychologically, numbers tell us what we’re going to get, without a long-winded explanation.
If I wrote ‘201 Tips for Writing Highly Clickable Headlines’, you would have known instantly this was a long and meaty post which would take some time to work through. You may have skipped, bookmarked for later, scanned the document to look for anything useful, or grabbed a cuppa, put your feet up and set in for a big read, depending on your goals.
‘How to Write a Highly Clickable Headline (in 8 Easy Steps)’, told you it would be a fairly detailed but readable post in a few minutes or more. It also indicated it would give you an easy follow along strategy.
‘How to Write a Highly Clickable Headline’, gives you none of that specificity. You’re not sure what to expect which makes my job as the writer more difficult to meet your expectations.
Along with numbers, buzzwords add to the setting of expectations for the reader.
Buzzwords might include;
- Step by Step
Here are some examples;
- 10 Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle
- 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness
- 15 Ways to Make Money Blogging
- 19 Examples of Brilliant Email Marketing Campaigns
- 10 Basic Ingredients Every Kitchen Must Have for Asian Cooking
- 5 Essential Commands You Can Teach Your Dog
- 7 Secrets to a Winning Mentality
- 21 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2020
- SEO in 2020: The Definitive Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to Pinterest
By reading the headlines you get an instant indication of exactly what to expect when you click on the post, meaning as the reader, if the headline meets your need, you’re far more likely to consume the content and if relevant, share to others.
Adding humour or outrage to your blog post titles will very much depend on your target market.
If you’re speaking to the corporate world and your blog is the latest news in a specific and serious profession, then humour may not work for your audience (although I’m sure would be occasionally welcome).
In the lifestyle business/travel blogger niche (which I am in), going off the beaten track a little with your post headlines is a must!
Author Mark Manson is probably the god of outrageous headlines topping book charts for the last few years with his series;
(Warning! Profanity alert)
He backs his books up with equally outrageous and humorous blog titles such as;
James Altucher (one of my favourite podcasters) is another one for writing headlines that make people stop and read for a second time.
I’m not suggesting you instantly go out and start to add profanities to your blog titles or write contentious articles just for the hell of it unless that’s what you do and what your audience know you for.
But ask yourself how you can make some otherwise fairly mundane headlines a bit more interesting.
Here’s some of mine, read without the bolded the parts and then with;
- How to Become an Influencer (without wearing a bikini)
- How to Start a Life Changing Online Lifestyle Business
- How to Create a 6 Fig Online Course (that people love you for)
- How to Build a Huge Email List of Hot Leads for Your Business
Not particularly outrageous but definitely more interesting with the bolded extras.
Here’s Andrew Warner with 36 more outrageous headlines you can’t help but click, for inspiration.
By now you should have some great ideas for your highly clickable headline. To ensure you get the maximum amount of clicks, however, you do not want half of your headline disappearing off the search results page.
The key to a great headline is that the whole thing is visible on a search.
The length of a headline is unfortunately not based on characters although a rough guide of 60 will get you close.
It is in fact based on pixels. So you may write a 60 character headline which looks like it will fit, but the minute you add capitals to the beginning of each word you may exceed the pixel length which will automatically cut off your last word.
The easiest way to test your headline is to use the Moz Title Tag tool.
Simply paste your desired headline into the preview box and your headline will show up as it would in the google search results.
Please remember that your title tag (the headline that shows up on google) does not necessarily need to be the exact replica of your blog post headline.
When you create your headline for your blog post, WordPress will automatically use that as the title tag which will show in the google search results (this will all be done in the code in the backend).
However, you can have a different blog headline to your title tag using the highly recommended for all bloggers Yoast plugin.
Yoast makes on-page SEO easy for even the most novice bloggers who know nothing about SEO (like moi for instance), by giving recommendations on the number of keywords you should have in your post, adding alt tags to your images, various readability issues and adding your title tag and metadata.
To easily change your title tag (the title that will show in the search results), you simply navigate to the SEO area below your blog post and insert your the ideal headline.
Don’t make it so different that there’s no congruency when people get to the post, but if the headline is a little long for the article you can truncate it for the search results.
I promise this is not an SEO post disguised as a headline post, but the goal here is to ensure our headline is clicked on.
That’s what we’re trying to achieve.
So after you’ve put in the hard work of creating an awesome attention-grabbing title, we want to give it every chance of getting that all-important click.
To do that, adding a quick sentence directly under the headline whether for the google search results or on social media will serve as the icing on the cake for moving people to take action.
Once again Yoast makes this job supremely easy for us with a box dedicated to the meta description which will show on google. All we have to do is fill it in.
Don’t spend too long devising the perfect sentence, as you’ll be testing and measuring as you go. As Neil Patel says in his post – How to Write Compelling Meta Descriptions That’ll Boost Your Rankings, the goal is to master this art so you can do it quickly.
The main thing is to think about what your audience is going to get from reading your post and focus on that.
For example – for this post on writing highly clickable blog post headlines my meta description is;
Catch attention in seconds by writing engaging headlines that people want to click on. Read on to discover how to write a headline in just a few minutes.
First I focus on the outcome you’ll get by putting this skill into practice ‘capture attention in seconds’. Then I add a call to action ‘Read on’. Lastly, I focus on the benefit to you by reading the post ‘how to write a headline in just a few minutes’, while also including my keyphrase – ‘how to write a headline’.
Here are my 3 tips for writing great meta descriptions;
- Be useful – how will your reader benefit from reading your post (tap into their desire!)
- Use your keywords/phrases in the meta description
- Give people a reason to click (state of awareness)
As I said in the introduction, much of writing great headlines, just like writing great articles or creating great content comes down to testing and measuring.
The beautiful thing about the world we live in now is that we get almost instant feedback. As soon as you publish your article google will start to crawl it to begin the ranking procedure, plus you can post on social media to gauge reaction and engagement.
It won’t take you long to know whether you have a winner or not.
The most important thing is that you don’t give up after one try.
If you post an article and no-one reads it, change the headline, change the image, change the meta description.
Post about it using multiple headlines, and multiple descriptions until one of them catches hold.
If you’re confident your content meets the need of your audience and you’ve spent the time creating it then don’t let it sit there. Work your backside off until it starts to get read!
If all else fails, the clever tech gods have once again got you covered.
There are a series of headline generators online which allow you to add in your keywords/phrases, click a button and get a huge list of (in some cases) tested and proven headlines.
Here are some of the best;
Sumo.com is my personal favourite allowing you to choose the ‘type’ of headline you’d like to create, ie., Numbered Lists, How to, Explanatory, etc.
Just type in your keywords as outlined on the left of the page and it generates all sorts of headline ideas to give you some inspiration.
Inbound Now is simply a page of headline ideas you can add your keywords to. Great for those ‘writers block’ days.
You will have to leave your email address to use The Hoth’s headline generator, but it will keep churning out ideas everytime you click on the ‘generate more ideas’ button.
Other Headline Generators;
Lastly here are 101 Blog Post Headline Formulas You Can Swipe and Deploy from the folks over at jeffbullas.com.
Arguably the headline is the most important part of your article.
If a reader is not attracted to click by the title of the piece, then no matter how awesome the content is, it won’t get consumed.
Add to that the google and social media algorithms fire up when content is engaged with. Low click-through rates will result in less reach and impressions across the platforms.
It will pay dividends to spend some time on your headlines and ensure you’re getting your message and amazing content out into a world that surely needs it!