Write headline for your articles as if your life depended on it, which in a way it does! My first and greatest boss, David Ogilvy, used to tell us: “95% of people read only the headline. The rest may read the body copy”. He was, of course, talking of advertisements which were short anyway. But what he said then applies to 2000-word content even now, especially in these times of information overload and people with the attention span of a less than a goldfish!
Every day, businesses, organizations, and individuals publish 2 million blog posts collectively. That’s a ton of content. It’s also a ton of competition. Hardly any reader will have the time or bandwidth to make it past your headline. That’s a truth we all have to face. Furthermore, if a headline doesn’t grab them, they’ll dash out at speed in search of juicier content. Some marketers – especially those with Content Writing Expertise – say headlines can influence traffic by as much as 500 percent. That is to say, if you currently drive 10,000 unique users to your website per day, a terrific headline may get you 50,000 visitors instead. But what are these kinds of headlines that do the trick? Read on …
Sounding bold and authoritative is the first thing a great headline could do!
1. Use unique power words in your headline
Have you noticed that even synonyms of the same word have a different energy to them? For example, take the word “run”. Its synonyms could be “spurt”, “race”, “jog”, amble”, “speed”, or “rush”. If you were to use a sentence with the word “run”, you could easily change the word “run” with another synonym. Like this: “Run fast or you’ll miss the bus” can become “Rush fast or you’ll miss the bus”. But is the energy in the word “run” and the word “rush” quite the same? No, it isn’t!
That’s what makes the maximum difference in a blog post headline. It’s the quality of energy that you infuse into the headline – into the adjectives, adverbs and verbs – that entirely change the quality of verve in the headline. When you change the energy in a sentence you are able to impel action differently.
So, the moral of the story is to try many different variations of the words you use in your headline, to see which synonym gives you the exact kind of energy you want to create. It’s not always that you want to create “pushing energy”. You may want to create a “pulling energy” or a “lulling energy” or a “peaceful energy” or even a “brain-resetting energy” that provokes people to stop and think.
One of the best sources of power and energy-rich words for you to find is from the Power Thesaurus. Every synonym there is filled with some degree of heightened energy of one kind or another. See how to use a better word in your headline than the words that first strike you.
2. Make a bold statement in your headline
Being tentative about your blog post or article somehow telepathically makes itself felt to your readers. Your ambivalence, or even your slight disinterest in your topic of writing, will somehow communicate itself to your audiences. That’s why it pays to think hard about your subject first, and take an angle of it that really fills you with motivation and empowers you to make some bold statements on your topic, notably right in the headline.
Don’t hesitate about your stance, take a position of strength and conviction, and make a bold and brave statement. It may or may not align with the popular trends and moods, but it will stamp you as an authority with a definite point of view. If you are proved wrong by others, good for them. Take that on your chin, and then defend or alter your stance as you feel fit. But while others can argue with you after you’ve written your piece, you cannot afford to second-guess your own position or dither before you’ve written your piece.
Whatever you have to say, say it without holding back. The world respects authenticity. The important word here is not “authenticity”. It is “respect”.
Pulling on the readers’ emotions is the second thing a great headline could do!
3. Twang the emotions in your headline
Consider the word “emotion”. It is actually about “motion” or “motivation to action”. Unlike what most of us think, that rational justifications are what make people act, it is emotions – even without justifications – that drive people to act. Thoughts and intellectual rationalizations, in fact, hold people back from taking action swiftly. They ponder, they wonder, they think … but they postpone action.
If your headline must make people want to click on them, then your emotional quotient in the headline has to be high. What do we mean by this? The meaning is that the headline has to evoke either fear or pain or happiness or joy. It has evoke some emotional reaction.
Consider this example: One headline option is to say: “10 reasons why your blogging may fail to produce results for your business!” Not bad … but not good. Instead consider this: “10 reasons why your blogging may make you look like a failure in business!” Now where does it poke you hard? Your tender ego? That was the whole aim!
4. Use humor carefully in your headline
Let’s face it, not every one of us content-marketers has a genuinely funny streak. Humor is a bit of a dangerous ploy to use in headlines for two reasons: one, if you aren’t naturally blessed with humor-genes, your humor can fall flat on its face and make you look silly; two, the reader isn’t always in a humor-seeking mood. He may be seriously searching for something online, and the last thing he may want to click on is something that sounds flimsy-whimsy in the middle of other titles of blog posts that are nailing the topic he needs.
There is one more thing to consider. Humor is a bit of an authority-eroder. You can be a bit tongue-in-cheek if the occasion warrants, or introduce a cartoon (maybe) in the content just to lighten the article, but if you otherwise write serious-toned stuff and try to interject humor in the headline of one or two pieces of content, it will stick out like a sore thumb. Humor has a way of eating into the seriousness of your topic, and the authoritative projection of your brand.
Also steer clear of puns, rhymes, alliterations with words, and other childishness. I was once asked if wry British humor is okay in a headline, because the British have a way of saying funny-ish things with a serious face. I thought about it for a bit and replied that it could be okay. Try it, it may work if you are able to write while holding your upper lip stiff like the British do enviably well!
Heightening the need to act is the third thing a great headline could do!
5. Create a sense of “compulsion” not “urgency” in your headline
A lot of online “headline generator tools” use the formula of “creating urgency” to churn out title-ideas for blog posts. If you like using these tools, by all means go ahead. But, please realize that everybody else is also using these headline generators, and they are all writing headlines to the same set formulas. Want to be one of them? Who can stop you?
The other way to write “act-now” headlines is to try to understand what “compulsion creation” really means. Then use that psychology in your headlines. The dictionary defines “compulsion” as “an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way”. So when you want to create a compulsion in someone to act, you have to first decide which way you want him to act. Then compel him to do just what you want him to do.
You don’t just want him to click your headline do you? You want him to do more than that – you want him to read your piece, imbibe its teachings, get a good image of you, get to trust you more … there’s a lot more you want, beyond that headline click. So if you know exactly what you want to compel your reader to do, say that!
To understand the compulsion psychology you have to see why compulsion arises in people. It’s not the urgency you create, it’s the urgency they feel with some pain in their lives crying out to be solved. They have to be hurting in some way, to feel compelled to act when they see a potential solution.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you have a headline: “Learn how to get 70 backlinks within the next 60 seconds!” Will it get a click on the headline? Perhaps! Because you’ve said “60 seconds” and made it sound easy-peasy, a lazy reader may be inclined to click on the headline to see how much less work he has to do.
But if, instead, your headline said “Learn how to get 70 backlinks that can raise your Google rankings in the next 1 week”, is anybody going to think: “Gosh! 60 seconds is less time than 1 week so let me click the first headline and not the second one!” If you have thought through your strategy to meet the customer’s pain-point, and the customer’s pain-point is that he is unable to get Google rankings, then he will click the second headline, because it promises to solve a problem (a compulsion), instead of just promising speed or urgency.
6. Use FOMO + OTO in your headline
FOMO is a beautiful acronym for content-marketers to be aware of. It works, that’s why it was invented, especially by ecommerce marketers. FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”. It’s not an empty idea – it’s full of human understanding.
People love to belong to something – a cause, a group, a movement, a trend, an inner circle … when they feel they may get left out, it really hurts egos. They tell themselves “It’s gone, it’s lost, I’ve lost, the deal was too good, I do this to myself every time, life is unfair …” and then out pours a lot of self-pity and remorse. To avoid feeling this way (like being cheated out of life) people have learnt to feel the fear of missing out.
FOMO usually is used along with OTO (one-time-only) – another psychological pressure-tactic. That’s why headlines that suggest things like “This offer is one-time only and can be missed if not acted on in the next two hours” is very ego-nagging for most people. It’s also why a lot of people end up taking actions they regret later, when they realize that they fell for the old “there’s not enough to go around, and time is running out” trick.
Since we marketers all know that FOMO + OTO does work, we tend to use it so often, and for such paltry things, that we don’t see we may be devaluing what is good marketing currency. Use FOMO + OTO smartly, without sounding like a used-car salesman. Don’t use FOMO or OTO in a headline to sell something small, within an unreasonably small time limit. Use FOMO and OTO where it can help to build authority.
For example, you could have a near-decent headline for a blog post that says: “10 technologies to master before 2020 brings you opportunities to lead in these areas!”
Matching the readers’ wavelength is the fourth thing a great headline can do!
7. Use simple rationale in your headline
Okay, here’s the thing. The average online consumer has the readership skills of a fifth-to-seventh-grade school-goer, says research. A lot of serious content marketers set store by what are known as the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests. According to Wikipedia, these tests are designed to indicate “how difficult a passage in English is to understand”. There are two tests, the Flesch Reading Ease, and the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level.
Yoast SEO (the ultimate SEO plugin) calculates if your blog content is ideal for most readers online. According to Yoast: “Usually, a reading ease score of 60-70 is considered acceptable/normal for web copy (i.e. easily understood by 13-15-year-old students)”. So there goes your idea of an authoritative headline full of high-sounding language. You’ll not find many takers for the rest of the copy, if the headline itself takes a lot out of the rather simple mind of your average reader!
Writing simply is an art. It’s actually a lot harder than writing bombast. It means writing with empathy for the wavelength of the reader. It means you have to climb off your high horse, and speak the language of ease for the reader. Great teachers are those who learn how to teach complex subjects to simple-minded students. Great writers too have to be like that. If you want your content to provide value to the reader, the first elementary value has to be “understand-ability”.
I like using the Hemingway App for a final run-through of my articles and headlines, because Hemingway (named after the famous author Ernest Hemingway) shows you not just spelling and grammar mistakes, but also where you have used overly difficult language. It even suggests alternative ways to rewrite sentences – and in the final analysis it shows the grade your writing is suited for (see the graphic below).
I find the Hemmingway App ideal for trying out both body copy as well as alternative headlines. I put them all (all my headline variations) in the text field, one below the other, and see what Hemingway has to say about which variation sounds more readable.
8. Address the reader as “you” in your headline
There are no two opinions on this subject: every worthy content-marketer swears that the word “you” must be used in headlines to directly address the reader and instantly bond with him. I can quote many top sources on this topic, and they all, to a man and woman, say that the word “you” is among the most popular headline words in the world of content marketing.
Kevan Lee of Buffer has a table of most popular words, where if you knock of the first 4 articles and prepositions, the word “you” has amazing popularity. See Kevan’s table below:
Image courtesy: Buffer
Writtent also advocate liberal usage of the word “you” in headline saying :”Using the word “you” and “your” in titles and headlines is effective because it implies that the information conveyed in the article or blog post pertains to directly to the reader.In short, it suggests that the article or blog is directly applicable to the reader.”
And finally, it appears there’s something even more potent in a headline than the word “you”. It’s the words “are you”. Bill Goss writing in his article “The 10 Most Effective Headline Words Of All Time” says: “The are you headline format is an effective one because it’s open ended and makes you think. Some examples of this powerful headline word in action: Are You Guilty Of This Web Design Faux Pas? Are You A Born Entrepreneur? Are You Missing Out On This Digital Goldrush?”
So … are you still reading this article? If yes, my headline’s done it!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Writing Expertise”:
- How To Create Truly Original Content – And Not Be A Copycat!
- Learn To Write Content Like A Pro With Force And Authority!
- Writing content for customers versus writing for influencer outreach!
- Content Engagement Vs. Content Consistency Vs. Content Variety!
- How To Help Your Customer Cut Out The Noise And Hear Only You!