In Improve Your Writing, Writing Great Headlines, Writing Tips

newsboyIn this age of information saturation, your headline, title or subject line is your first and possibly only chance to get a potential reader’s attention. It can make or break your article, blog post or email by flagging what lies ahead as too tempting to resist.

We talked previously about how the average person’s attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s at only eight seconds. Your information may be incredibly useful or interesting, but if no one reads it, your effort has failed.

The prevailing wisdom is that 8 out of 10 people will read your headline but only 2 of 10 will read the rest. If you write a great headline, you have a higher chance at getting people to read on. And strong headlines help your pieces rank in search engines and get shared on social media.

I’m often asked what the secret to great headlines is, so to break it down, here are five tips for winning headlines. Some of them may surprise you.

  • Be specific and unique – Your headline should address the exact topic you are covering. By being specific, you communicate clearly why the reader will benefit from reading further whether that’s gaining knowledge or just a good laugh. For example: “How to craft a perfect Vietnamese-style coffee using a Phin filter” vs “Good coffee tastes great.” One way to check if it’s too broad is to ask yourself if your headline would work on any other article than the one you have written. If so, try again.
  • Be honest – Don’t hype your subject. Use superlatives but do so sparingly. Your credibility with your reader depends on it, and your headline sets the standard for your readers’ expectations and your own trustworthiness. Don’t promise something you aren’t going to deliver. So while you may get lots of readers to click on an article headlined “The only secret you need to know to make $1 million in the next five minutes,” you shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t follow through. There’s a lot of clickbait online these days and you don’t want to be lumped in with that sort of low-quality content.
  • Make adjectives work for you – Adjectives are levers for emotions, and readers are much more interested when they are emotionally invested. It’s time to tap into your inner poet and break out of the content rut. When is the last time words like exquisite, essential, odd, profound, effortless or meticulous appeared in one of your titles?
  • Rely on proven techniques – Everything has been data crunched these days including attributes of headlines that perform well.
    1. Use numbers and especially odd numbers. According to this piece you can more double click rate by adding a number to a headline. And using an odd number had a 20% higher click through rate.
    2. Content service Outbrain found that titles with eight words performed 21% better than average
    3. Questions intrigue readers. Ending a headline with a question mark performed better. Ending with three exclamation points !!! received double the clicks, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you are writing a fan piece on Nick Jonas.
    4. Headlines with the words, “ebook,” “how,” “infographic” and “template” perform better, but don’t contort your title to cram them in.
  • Use psychology – Certain strategies are backed by human psychology. These include surprise, curiosity, negative superlatives like worst, the phrase “how to,” bringing in the audience by using “you,” Author Jeff Goins suggests a formula for headlines – Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise. An example of the result is “How you can effortlessly sell your home in less than 24 hours.”

If you are feeling stuck, check out Portent’s Title Maker for ideas. It’s a free tool where you put in keywords or subject and get some suggestions. And if you are really struggling or crunched for time, get in touch with me here for some one-on-one advice.

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