Headlines are arguably the single-most important element of any piece of content. A captivating headline is the way of how to get people to care about your stuff amidst the avalanche of content we face each day, And all experienced content marketers know that this can be challenging. To succeed you have to learn some prime principles. And after having learned them, practise is all that is needed to master the skill.
1. WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE READER?
Obviously, the headline must give the reader a reason to read your content. Ask yourself what’s in it for them and how you can let them know about it. The benefit must be clear, simple and direct.
2. DON’T DISAPPOINT THE READER
Describing what the content is about is important since the reader otherwise will be disappointed when the content is not about what she expected. This might sound obvious but is not for every writer. Since click-through rate is so important, it might seem attractive to use cheap tricks to get the reader to click, but it you fool the reader once she might not come back. We all hate click-baiting headlines leading you to content not living up to what you expected. Make sure your visitors won’t be disappointed. That said, there’s a very fine line between genuinely compelling content that pulls the right levers in our brains, and the sensationalist crap published by tabloids in a brazen attempt to get you to click through.
3. LEVERAGE EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS
Much of the headlines we click on are popular because they appeal to people’s emotions – just look at a lot of the fake news we saw throughout the election in the US. Even if a lot of it was trash, it leveraged emotional triggers that made people click on it.
Pushing emotional buttons is an effective technique when creating engaging headlines. Of course, this is dependent on the type of content you produce and who your audience is.
Emotions that make online content go viral are:
- Awe (25%)
- Laughter (17%)
- Amusement (15%)
- Joy (14%)
- Anger (6%)
- Empathy (6%)
- Surprise (3%)
- Others (14%)
4. USE SUPERLATIVES
One way to write a headline that appeals to the readers emotions is to use superlatives. A study by Outbrain found that the average click-through rate on headlines containing negative superlatives (“never” or “worst,” for example) performed 63% better than those containing positives (like “always” or “best”).
In fact, headlines containing positive superlatives performed 29% worse than those without any superlatives. One reason is that the overuse of superlatives (such as best, fastest or cheapest) in marketing has led to them being ignored, or worse still, disbelieved.
Negative terms are more likely to be viewed as authentic and genuine.
Example: 9 things you should never say when asking for a raise
5. MAKE THE READER CURIOUS
The curiosity gap is a theory that leverages the reader’s curiosity to make them click through from an irresistible headline to the actual content. By creating a curiosity gap, you’re teasing your reader with a hint of what’s to come, without giving it all away. Put another way, headlines have to be specific enough to entice the reader, but not so specific that the reader doesn’t need to click through.
The curiosity gap is usually used to compel people to click on a post they see on Twitter, an ad on Facebook or a marketing email in their inbox.
6. WHEN AND WHEN NOT TO USE QUESTIONS IN THE HEADLINE
One way to awake curiosity is to use a question in the headline. Headlines with questions can be effective, provided you compose them the right way. Rightly used, the question creates curiosity and tension. The reader will want to know the answer, so they’ll read the article to find out. The golden rule is never to ask a question that your reader can answer “no“ to. If your reader answers no to your question they will not click.
Likewise, if you answer the question in the headline, there is no need for people to read the article. They already know the answer.
7. USE NUMBERS
Headlines including numbers increase click-through rates. Numbers reach directly into our unconscious and say “this message is important”. It also make the content appearing easy to consume.
Through my career I have discovered the following:
- Digits work better than numbers that are spelled-out as words. Numerals stand out better and take less space.
- My gut feeling says that odd numbers generally perform better than even numbers as they appear less conveniently packaged than even numbers.
- Some writers I have talked to say that the number 7 works best in headlines.
8. OPTIMIZE AND SPEND MORE TIME ON YOUR HEADLINES
If you want to drive traffic you’ve got to put in a lot of work when it comes to your headlines. Sites as Upworthy and BuzzFeed didn’t become phenomenally popular by accident. They early understood the importance of working hard on the headlines. Actually, every writer at Upworthy has to come up with 25 headlines for every piece of content they publish before they publish it. They think that by creating a lot of variants the writer start thinking outside of the box and create the best one.
9. RESPECT YOUR AUDIENCE
Click-baitings prime task is to drive traffic. But if you also care about time spent on your content and other engagement metrics you need to respect your audience.
Don’t use, what can be understood as cheap tricks. Deliver what you promise in the headline. If you disappoint your audience it can harm your brand.
10. ADDRESS THE READER DIRECTLY
Complicated language does not belong in your headline. and always address the reader directly.
Remember also to not use too many words in your headline. Analysis shows that headlines with eight words in it performs best. If you plan to distribute your content in a Strossle widget, make sure it doesn’t consist of more than 30-40 characters since there is a risk of the headline being cut of if it is longer.
11. USE KEYWORDS WITH HIGH SEARCH VOLUME
The ambitious writer makes sure your headline targets a specific keyword with significant search volume since it proves that people are actively looking for information related to the topic.
There are plenty of tools you can use to find high-volume keywords to use in your headlines. Try: https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/ and Keywordtool.io. Answerthepublic.com is also useful for inspiration.
Don’t forget the low volume keywords though. Keywords with high search volume brings with it a competition which is going to be much steeper and means that your content will have to be much more amazing to rank. And remember that relevance between keywords and the message in your content is the most important factor.
Also check if your competitors have written any articles or run ads around the same topic you are planning to cover. Compare your headline to theirs and see how it is ranked. How can you make your headline better?
Want to know more? Strossle works with a vast number of publications and brands. We analyse performance across Europe in real time, 24/7. Here you can find the 10 best performing Native Ads we distributed In 2017.
Anna Holmquist, Country Manager Strossle Sweden