A powerful headline is more than a sexy phrase or sentence. It’s the hardest working collection of words in your entire blog post or article. Think of your headline as the gateway to your article.
But, before we get into what goes into writing a powerful headline. I’d like to offer some advice: Write your blog post first and save the headline for later.
An easy way to vapor-lock your brain with writer’s block is to obsess on the headline before writing your article. If you’re uncomfortable writing a blog post without something up top pretending to be a headline, then go ahead and write a placeholder. Even something silly, like “The Blog Post about Writing Headlines,” will do just fine.
Direct response copywriters (people who sell using only persuasive words on the page) usually leave the headline for last, because they know that nothing else they wrote matters if the reader never gets past the headline. So it needs to be perfect. In fact, many of these same copywriters force themselves to write more than 100 headlines before selecting the one they believe will most likely succeed (assuming they can’t perform an A/B split test, which is hard to do with a blog post).
Am I suggesting you write 100 blog post headlines? No, but you get the point (I hope). Now, back to the basics of what every strong headline needs.
Put Your Topic In Your Headline (Yeah, it’s that simple)
Otherwise, what’s the point? This is the promise or contract you make with your potential reader, as in “Here’s a blog post about writing headlines.” That potential reader will reasonably assume that they will see an article about writing headlines if they click the link.
If you attempt to be cute and serve up an article that isn’t about writing headlines, then your reader will feel deceived, leave your site immediately, never share your content, never subscribe and—most importantly—never become a customer.
Ideally, your headline should incorporate the primary keyword phrase that relates to your topic. Including your primary keyword phrase isn’t always possible, but give it a shot.
Remember, your headline is often the first—and sometimes only—piece of content a potential reader will see in search engine results or on social media. So make your topic obvious.
Use Specifics To Strengthen Your Promise and Draw Them In
Okay, you now have your topic, but are you providing enough specifics so your potential reader can decide if they want to spend time with your content?
What title sounds more appealing to you?
Some Thoughts about Blog Post Headlines
How to Write Kick-Ass Blog Headlines
“How to” implies useful, actionable information, as opposed to philosophical musings about the nature of headlines.
Even better (if my blog post was structured this way):
8 Tips for Writing Kick-Ass Blog Headlines
In copywriting, specific numbers are your friend. “8 Tips” elaborates on your promise to provide useful information about writing headlines by the very fact you are giving your reader 8 tips.
Specificity builds credibility.
A weaker headline would be the vague and non-committal “Some Tips for Writing Kick-Ass Blog Headlines.”
Grab Attention With Sexy Headlines
Now, more than ever, your content is competing against a tsunami of content, all fighting for your audience’s eyeballs.
The sexier you make your headline, the more people will read and share it. Strangely enough, people will often share a piece of content with a sexy title without even reading it first, simply because the headline sounds cool or provocative.
So, what makes a headline sexy?
The best headlines
- Offer something desirable. (The Complete Formula For Creating Killer Offers)
- Tease, arousing curiosity. (Double Your Traffic With This 5-Minute Trick)
- Provoke, shock and challenge—and sometimes piss people off. (Content Marketing Is Dead)
- Play against expectations. (Triple Your Leads By Writing Fewer Blog Posts)
- Play off familiar or popular subjects. (Inbound Marketing’s Hogwarts Is Now In Session)
- Use edgy language. (Why Your Blog Posts Suck)
- Have fun and generate smiles. (Never Post Content While Drunk: A True Story)
- NEVER, EVER use weak language, make vague promises or evoke a bored “so what?” response.
If you want examples of sexy headlines, check out the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine and The National Enquirer. You might not be a fan of these publications, but the story headlines jump out at you.
Keep It Tight And Punch It Up
Cut all excess verbiage, use strong, active verbs when possible, and employ visual, compelling words that jump off the page.
Here’s my first stab at one of the sample headlines I used above:
The 5-Minute Trick You Can Use to Double Your Traffic
“Can Use” is a weak verb choice, especially when I have a perfectly good verb available with “Double.”
A little cutting and mixing yields:
Double Your Website Traffic With This 5-Minute Trick
It’s shorter and I managed to incorporate a better keyword phrase of “Website Traffic.”
Deliver on Your Promise
Finally, make sure your blog post delivers on the promise of your headline. Never over-promise on your headline and under-deliver on your blog post itself.
Your blog post should be relevant to your headline and contain everything promised by the headline.
Fail to deliver, and you’ve lost a reader, an advocate, and possibly a customer.
Don’t Let Google Slash Your Headline
Back in my days as a direct response (DR) copywriter, before SEO and Tweets chopped headlines into bite-sized morsels, a headline could run several lines long. One of veteran DR copywriter John Carlton’s most successful headlines from a golf info product website has 28 words and more than 170 characters:
Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks and Slices… And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!
But, Google, Bing, Yahoo and the other search engines now cut off page titles at 70 characters (your headline for a blog post would usually be your page title).
If John Carlton’s monster classic were a blog post headline, it would appear in the search engine results as
Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your
That’s it. All the impact is gone—gutted. So limit your blog post headlines to 70 characters or less.
Writing headlines is a topic I’ve barely begun to touch with this blog post and I plan to visit it again in future posts. (In other words, it’s bedtime for me.)
Please share your favorite headline resources in the comments below.