Okay, okay, okay! We get it… you want our click!
But, do you deserve it?
If we didn’t have to actually deliver on what our headline promises, content marketing would be a doddle. Though, finding something on Google would be a nightmare – the black hat SEO brigade would be out in full force.
In reality, if your page doesn’t deliver the promise made in the headline (or SERPs for that matter), you’re not doing it right! You’ll also find yourself in the company of irrelevant results on page 3.
We all know about the importance of headlines but we’d be lying if we said it was easy. With content marketing becoming so intensely competitive, you need an edge. The demand for content isn’t growing, though the amount of content being produced is. So, we thought we’d share a little advice and guidance on this – while also attempting some hilarious headline themed banter in the process. Here’s how to write a headline and of course, how not to…
…in other words, the ultimate guide to the best tips for amazing stuff (obviously)!
Bad Headlines Can Make or Break Your Content
If you’re weighing up the pros and cons of taking your brand’s content strategy down the same route as clickbait YouTube conspiracy videos, we can offer some clarification… Don’t!
8 out of 10 people will read your headline, only 2 out of 10 will actually read the rest of your article.
Whether you use clickbait to lie to searchers or simply bore us to sleep with your unimaginative title, a headline can actually prevent people from clicking. Here’s some damage you could see as the result of poor headlines.
Lack of Traffic
If your headline is boring, too descriptive or not informative enough, it’ll damage your traffic. You need to give searchers a reason to actually click on your article. Even if you’ve got the best content on the internet, you need to entice clicks.
Let’s face it, unless you’re writing blogs for the likes of Buzzfeed or LadBible, you probably want your content to rank. This means you’re going to need to optimise your headline for a particular keyword or search term. If you don’t do this, you’ve got very little chance of ranking. More about this later…
Loss of Trust
If you use an unrelated or misleading clickbait headline, users will learn to distrust your content in future – it only takes one bad experience to ruin searcher trust.
Moreover, Google will notice your suspiciously high bounce rate. This will tell them your content isn’t delivering an answer to the search query. If you managed to rank, it won’t last long.
To the 1% who read a blog from start to finish (hello Mum), you’re probably wondering what’s happening. To the other 99% who skim through online articles, we’ve just caught your attention. Unfortunately, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed – there’s no free beer here!
It hurts, doesn’t it? That’s how your readers feel when they Google a search term, click on your article and don’t get the page they were hoping for.
Moreover, this illustrates another crucial point (we’re clever like that). Don’t just focus on your main headline. Your H2s and H3s are also important. People skim articles, top-notch headings will grab and keep their attention.
Headline Clichés to Avoid (You Won’t Believe Number 4)
A bad headline can make a great article seem underwhelming or even a little dodgy. Here are some clichés that could devalue your content.
‘The Ultimate Guide…’ or ‘The Definitive Guide…’
This has become a massively overused title. We’ve even used it ourselves a few times (but let’s pretend we didn’t tell you that).
You shouldn’t claim something to be an ‘ultimate guide’ unless it’s all-encompassing. For example, if you’re writing about social media image sizes (totally nailed that internal link), there’s a clear quantifiable amount of information to cover. If you know you’ve included everything, by all means call it an ‘ultimate guide’.
Having said that, even if you do include every piece of information on a topic, it might be worth trying something a little more original.
Best Tips for…
Are you actually offering us the best tips here or are you throwing the kitchen sink at this blog in an attempt to rank number 1? 10x content is great for ranking but don’t act like you’ve curated the best advice around when in reality you’re adding everything you can possibly find about a subject.
‘Amazing’, ‘Spectacular’, ‘Awesome’
Is it really though?
Adjectives like this are empty. You’re not communicating anything special. As a brand, you don’t get to choose whether something’s amazing or awesome – that’s up to your audience.
Above all, ‘amazing’ just isn’t amazing anymore.
Like with everything, adjectives aren’t all bad. If you reach deeper into your vocabulary for something original, adjectives can be an evocative and engaging addition to your title.
Keep reading on and you’ll find an amazing, spectacular and awesome section about adjectives!
The Holy Grail of bad headlines.
This really is a fine balance. We need to work with a bit of clickbait to actually entice readers. Having said this, using it excessively can be seriously off-putting.
All content creators should give Reddit’s /r/SavedYouAClick a look. Here users take enjoyment from spoiling clickbait headlines. This is a place you don’t want to see your article shared.
Here are a few examples:
- The one McDonald’s dish you should NEVER order according to ex-employees | Filet-O-Fish
- You will never guess which Netflix show is most binge-watched in Canada | Trailer Park Boys
- Reality check: Was Hilary Clinton photographed with Osama Bin-Laden? | No
- What happened when Luis Suarez asked Lionel Messi to take a free kick | He let him take it
- Has Wetherspoons really banned staff from wearing poppies? | No
- What would happen if you never stopped eating? | You would die
- Robin Williams’ final net worth will bring you to tears | $150 million
By all means make your headlines irresistible, but does the world really need another Buzzfeed?
The 9 Rules of Headline Writing
Okay, so we’ve been slandering bad headlines for long enough. Now for a bit of positivity.
If you stick to these 9 rules of headline writing, you’ll be on the right track.
Oh and by the way, these aren’t applicable to every headline or blog article. Whatever you do, ensure your title is relevant to your article.
9. Make It About the Reader
Why are you writing content? Usually, your answer to this question should relate back to helping your reader. So make your headline personal by talking to them directly.
This is where the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ come into play. In a study by Buffer into the most popular words in viral headlines, both ‘you’ and ‘your’ ranked among some of the highest.
This resonates how important it is for your headlines to talk directly to the reader. Engage users with your content from their very first touchpoint.
Or as Buffer writes: “make content about the reader, not about the writer”.
8. Actually Have Something to Say
As your Nan used to say, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.
It’s that simple. If you’re offering something unique or add value to the reader, you won’t need to rely on cheap clickbait tactics.
Let your content speak for itself.
7. Don’t Be Boring
For some writers, this can be quite a battle!
We see plenty of blogs written in textbook English. We admire the proficiency of your knowledge but damn it’s boring to read. The best writers aren’t afraid to bend the rules in a bid to inject a little personality.
This is critical for headline writing. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules and play around. Try something new. Do whatever it takes to avoid being boring!
6. Be Specific
You may think an element of ambiguity is important if you want clicks. Though if you’re being too ambiguous, it can leave people scratching their head about what your article is actually about. It breeds a feeling of disinterest.
When people make a particular query, they want a specific answer. If your article is all about answering a question or offering niche information, make that known.
5. Know Your Audience
What does your audience care about?
If you know your audience well enough, you’ll understand which headlines will encourage clicks.
Does your audience look for something descriptive and informative or will their interest be piqued by a more emotive approach?
4. Include Numbers
Every copywriter and their dog writes list articles but there’s a good reason for that. They work! Lists get clicks.
Neil Patel writes that headlines with numbers generate 73% more social shares and engagement. That’s an outrageous stat which proves why lists should be included in your content strategy.
All in all, this is because list content is easier to digest and skim read. Remember, time is money!
Titles with odd numbers get 20% more clicks than those with even numbers. Beyond this, psychologists claim the number 7 is the most favourable digit for the majority of people.
3. Keep It Under 65 Characters
If your headline’s longer than 65 characters it’ll be cut off in the SERPs. It also helps to keep your headlines short and sweet!
2. For Heaven’s Sake, Do Some Keyword Research!
If you’re writing a headline (or any content for that matter) before researching keywords, you’re doing it wrong!
What are you targeting?
Long-tail search terms are often easier to rank for than generic keywords. Whatever strategy you choose, you need to ensure these relevant keywords fit naturally into your headline – preferably towards the start.
As with any optimisation, you need to ensure the user experience comes first. A perfectly optimised article which ranks first is pointless if it’s an uncomfortable read.
1. Try, Test & Analyse
When it comes to headline writing advice, a lot of the guidance is pretty generic. A rule may apply to one brand but not another.
For instance, if you’re writing blogs about celebrity culture for teenagers, clickbait is a solid tactic to pursue. If however, you’re writing a piece about the evolving anatomy of ducks, it’s probably not the right approach to take.
The best way to gauge whether your headlines will deliver is to test them out. Try something new and measure the analytics. See whether the number of clicks and bounce rate goes up or down. Just try not to damage your brand’s reputation in the process.
Headline Conventions That Actually Work
We’re weirdly predictable creatures! This means, if you incorporate a little psychology into your headline writing, you’ll have an even better chance of creating an irresistible title.
In an article about writing the perfect blog post, Buffer highlight eight headline strategies that will get clicks. These conventions are based on appealing to our psychology and making your posts as enticing as they possibly can be. Be warned though, this is far from a ‘one size fits all’ scenario. Stick to the rules above and don’t go down the route of clickbait:
- Surprise – ‘This is not a perfect blog post (but it could have been)’
- Questions – ‘Do you know how to create the perfect blog post?’
- Curiosity – ‘They thought the perfect blog wasn’t possible, until they read this’
- Negatives – ‘Never write a boring blog post again’
- How to – ‘How to create the perfect blog post’
- Numbers – ’10 tips for creating a perfect blog post’
- Audience referencing – ‘For people on the verge of writing the perfect blog post’
- Specificity – ‘The 6-part process to doubling traffic to your blog’
The Best Adjectives to Use in Your Headlines
The use of adjectives in headlines is the topic of a somewhat turbulent discussion. In our opinion, some adjectives are overused, empty and meaningless. Having said this, there are plenty of publishers who have studied adjective use in their titles and come up with a list of the most successful. Below, Econsultancy highlight the top adjectives used in their 100 best performing articles:
You’ll see from this list that some adjectives mentioned are evocative and imaginative whereas some appear a little less exciting. We actually far prefer the adjective use in Econsultancy’s headline ’10 bitchin’ tips for writing irresistible headlines’. When it comes to adding adjectives to your title, be as creative as possible. Don’t adhere to the conventions of others.
Get Someone Else to Do It!
Psst… that ‘someone else’ is us!
We’re experts in content marketing. If you want to boost your brand’s online presence, we can make that happen. We also know how to write a cool headline or two! Find out more about our digital marketing services here.