According to David Ogilvy, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. To engage and convert blog traffic, you need headlines that are punchy and creative but also honest and informative. Sometimes, you need to forget what you learned at marketing college. The modern digital consumer is tech-savvy and street smart; it is not so easy to pull the wool over their eyes. (For a lighthearted look at digital marketing, go here.)
1. Dump the old hard-sell lingo
An ebook published by HubSpot and Outbrain, titled “Data-Driven Strategies for Writing Effective Titles & Headlines”, turns conventional headline composition on its head and suggests that some words traditionally favoured by marketing copywriters for headlines can actually decrease headline click-through rates (CTR).
Some headline words and phrases that decrease CTR:
- Superlatives like “best” and “always”
- Deception words like “easy", “cure”, “magic”, “secret” and “free”
- Words that create a sense of urgency like “now” and “need”
- Instructional words like “how to”
The takeaway from this is that consumers respond better to clarity, honesty and a clear indication of what a blog is all about before they click. They don’t like to be hounded. They are used to, when searching on Google, looking for content signals like "Watch" for videos and "View" for images. Words that increase headline CTRs include "photos" and bracketed clarifications, e.g. [Infographic].
2. Describe how the user benefits
Users decide within seconds whether your blog is worth reading by assessing the headline and deciding whether you are offering them something of value, e.g. “Top 10 free website builders to create your own applications and make extra money”.
3. Instant potted knowledge
The Listicle content model has made the concept of publishing lists and useful, bite-sized chunks of information a popular way to engage digital audiences who have a short attention span. Listicle-type articles can be compared to traditional coffee table books in the days of yore that published easy-to-digest, instant, potted knowledge. It is an indicator of your age if you can remember referencing the Grant Medical Dictionary to diagnose your headaches.
Incidentally, lists with odd numbers perform better than lists with even ones. Interestingly, rjmetrics research found that lists with 25 entries garnered the most views.
4. Use a proven formulaProfessional copywriters often admit they use tried and tested formulas to generate their headlines. Some examples:
- How to headline - How to [Achieve a Desired Outcome]
- Proven methods headline - [Number] Proven [Actions/Ways] to [Achieve Desired Result]
- Lessons learned headline - [Number] Lessons I Learned When/From [Experience]
- Celebrity headline - How to [Achieve Desired Outcome] Like [Celebrity]
Writer Jeff Goines provides the ultimate actionable, yet simple, headline formula:
Number / Trigger + Adjective + Target Keyword + Promise – e.g. 25 fun ways to make money today without doing any work
5. Harness website technology and social media
The leaders in clickbait marketing tactics (like Upworthy, a website publishing viral content) have learned the value of building websites for optimal ease of sharing and subscribing to social networks and email lists. The more you connect and the easier you make it for your followers to connect, the more hits your blogs will get. It is, quite simply, a numbers game.
6. Don’t always follow the rules
Ripenn scraped 2,616 headlines from four different sites that have mastered the art of writing clicky titles and compiled a list of how their headlines consistently go viral:
- Leverage common ground, e.g. a current event or music that is top of the charts – “Olympic Ice Dancing Routine Matches Up Flawlessly With Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love” (Buzzfeed)
- Don’t always follow the rules – “At First, I Felt Sorry For The People Who Live In This Tiny House. Then I Looked Closer…Now I’m Jealous.” (ViralNova)
- Morbid curiosity is an effective lure – “This Guy’s Wife Got Cancer, So He Did Something The Last 3 Photos Destroyed Me.” (ViralNova)
- Don’t be afraid of getting emotional – (see above)
- They know how to call people to action discreetly – “The Most Creative Drinking And Driving PSA I’ve Ever Seen” (Upworthy)
- Make bold claims – “10 Pictures That Prove Bruno Mars Is Actually Powerline From “A Goofy Movie” (Buzzfeed)
- Speak like a human being, not a marketer – “Why Are You Single?” (Buzzfeed)
7. Put in the writing time
Answering the question "How to write Irresistible headlines to double your traffic", posed by Mary Jaksch, Chief Editor of Write to Done, SEO of Smart Blogger Jon Morrow hummed and hawed a bit and concluded: "For me personally, it’s not uncommon for me to work on just the headline for two hours or more. That’s not the entire post. That’s just the headline."
Where to next?
After much head scratching and scribbling, you have finally created a winning headline. But is it? You can test how effective it is on social media using buffer.