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How To Write Compelling (Yet True!) Headlines

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Crafting the perfect blog post is no easy thing to do. Between optimising for SEO and writing posts that not only engage but convert your readers, blogging can feel a little like swimming through a minefield in shark-infested seas. But there’s one element of blogging that is not only utterly vital to the success of all those other aspects, it can guide you through the murky waters of the blogosphere and ensure you evade those pesky sharks.

What is this magical shark-repelling trick that holds the key to blogging success?

Every time you pen a blog post, make sure you write a truly compelling headline and deliver on everything it promises.

This may seem obvious but a surprising number of people don’t put much effort into their headlines, or fundamentally misunderstand what makes headlines compelling and effective.

So exactly how do you write compelling headlines that people will happily click?

Why Writing Compelling Headlines Is So Important

Great headlines aren’t just essential to blogging, they are arguably the most important element of any piece of copy. From newsletters to web pages, reports and articles to sales copy and adverts, without a good headline, nobody is going to click.

If they don’t click, it doesn’t matter how amazing your copy is, how perfectly you have crafted your words, nobody will ever seen them.

Having a fabulous headline for your copy makes it impossible to ignore.

Consider how much content exists online in 2017. That amount is only going to keep snowballing. There’s so much of it, we’re often overwhelmed by it, and take any excuse we can find to ignore, delete, or dismiss the digital content we see.

You have one second, maybe two, to convince people you’re worthy of their attention. It’s a snap decision people make in an instant, will they read, or move on?

People are busy, stressed, and frequently overwhelmed or burnt out. They aren’t looking for excuses to read your stuff, they’re looking for reasons to ignore it.

They have to, or they’d drown in that vast ocean of blogs, ads, videos, emails, memes and podcasts.

An amazing headline removes a lot of those excuses, not only leaving readers no reason to ignore your content, but providing them with a compelling reason to click through and take a look.

To write compelling headlines is to distinguish yourself as a writer worth reading, in a world overrun by mediocre content.

The Great Headline Hack

I’m a huge fan of growth hacks and anything that gets the job done better and faster. When it comes to writing brilliant headlines there is one hack that does both exceptionally well: CoSchedule’s free headline analyser.

Before we get into the intricacies of crafting compelling headlines, let me walk you through this nifty little system (which I use when writing all of my own headlines).

As you can see from the video this is a really easy-to-use application that is absolutely packed with features. Simply type in your headline, hit enter, and wait for your score to appear.

The score works on an easy traffic light system: red means your headline is terrible (sorry!), amber means it’s okay but you can do better, anything green is good.

This gives you an instant visual assessment of your headline, and you can simply settle for making the light green. If you want to be really effective, see how high you can push that number up. The closer you get to 100, the nearer your headline is to perfection, but anything 70+ is a green.

Keep scrolling below the scoreboard and you’ll find lots of tools to help you improve that score:

  • Your word balance, which is divided into common, uncommon, emotional and power words.
  • Your headline type based on structure, and beneath that is analysis of the length. This gives you both your character count and your word count.
  • An at-a-glance view of what people who are skimming will read: the first and last three words.
  • An analysis of the keywords included in your headline, and the overall sentiment it shows (positive, negative, neutral).
  • Previews of what your headline will look like on SERPs and in email inboxes.

If there’s a more comprehensive way of improving your headlines than @CoSchedule’s analyser, I’ve yet to find it. It’s fast, easy, very effective and FREE!

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What Is A Deceptive Headline And Why Is It So Bad?

We’ve covered the problems that occur when your headlines aren’t compelling and people fail to click on them. But there’s another danger lurking in the treacherous ocean of the blogosphere, worse than readers failing to click through to your content:

Deceptive Headlines.

The internet is rife with deceptive headlines, and they will do you far more damage than an unremarkable headline everyone ignores.

Picture the scene: you’re floating in that ocean in a nice little boat, and decide you want some of those sharks to come closer. So you pitch a bucket of chum into the water and for good measure add a bucket of blood.

The sharks come swarming, but when they reach you all that chum mysteriously disappears.

You’re left floating in the midst of a swarming team of sharks, angry that you baited them with the promise of food, and failed to follow through.

And they’re hungry.

Deceptive headlines are enticing, captivating headlines that draw readers in and compel them to click by making a promise. The problem is, your content fails to deliver. A bad headline will simply be ignored. A deceptive headline will leave you with droves of very angry people.

When you’re writing your headlines, it’s important to make them compelling, but it’s equally (if not more!) important to ensure the promise they carry matches your content.

You have to deliver.

If you’ve ever clicked on a link on Facebook promising some scandalous celebrity gossip involving Brangelina, only to find yourself reading about erectile dysfunction drugs and penile enlargements (true story!), you’ve experienced deceptive headlines and the annoyance that follows!

Write Perfect Headlines With SPECTR

Isn’t it great when acronyms perfectly spell out a relevant word? This one isn’t quite that perfect, but at least it’s easy to remember! It’s very James Bond, and you can’t beat a bit of Daniel Craig…

But better than evoking everyone’s favourite spy, SPECTR makes the six key elements of great headlines easy to remember:

Succinct

Keeping your headlines short and to the point will not only maximise the chance of them getting read, it will ensure they work in all settings. SERPs and email headlines both have limits on how much will actually be visible to people. The shorter your headline the better.

Powerful

If you’re keeping your headlines short every word has to count. Filling your headlines with power words that carry a lot of emotion will help you ensure they do. Words like ‘free’, ‘easy’, ‘amazing’ and (ironically) ‘powerful’ pack a big, effective punch. Adjectives like ‘fun’ and ‘clever’ will also help you spice things up a bit.

Exciting

Your headlines need to be exciting to your reader. Aim to amuse them, pique their curiosity, or even make them angry. Whatever you do, don’t be dull!

Clear

Clarity is essential in your headline. Make sure it’s crystal clear exactly who your content is for, what it’s about, and what it will achieve for people. The first can easily be achieved by adding something that literally describes the target audience, such as ‘for entrepreneurs’, but it can be a little more subtle. If you’re using your ideal client’s language, and writing about topics they care about, you don’t need to explicitly state something is for them; the words will tell them.

Targeted

Part of that clarity is helping people find your content. Use your keywords in your headline as prominently as possible, ideally in the first and/or last three words. For more on how to do this, check out my guide on SEO for blogging.

Relevant

And finally, make sure you’re writing headlines that are both compelling and relevant, not deceptive headlines. If your content doesn’t match your headline and deliver on any promises, you’re going to alienate readers.

Types Of Headline

There are a lot of different types of headlines, and some are far more effective than others. You should vary them as much as possible, but there are a few types that are so compelling you’re likely to use them over and above the others.

That’s fine, just mix them up a bit so you don’t have the same formula repeated over and over.

List posts (i.e. 5 Ways To Ensure You Have A Consistent Online Brand) are the most effective structure for your headlines.

 

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Following that try out headlines that:

 

Question posts (i.e. Is SEO Worth The Investment For Small Businesses?) can also be effective, but are best reserved for posts that actually answer a direct question, like an FAQ or client inquiry.

If you’re really sneaky, you can combine two of these highly effective formats – this works really well with number and How To posts (i.e. 10 Growth Markers: What They Mean And How To Use Them).

Clickbait_ How To Write Compelling (Yet True!) Headlinese - Audience Headline PreferencesThe most popular types based on research from Moz

It’s important to note that two of the most effective forms of headline are not actually the go-to options people use most often. List headlines and How To headlines are usually the top picks, swiftly followed by Question headlines, which are effective, but of the five most effective forms, rank lowest.

Here’s a rundown of how these three popular forms work. If you want some handy templates to help you write your own compelling versions of each of the three most commonly used forms, check out my free Headline Swipe Files, and read on…

List Posts

Headlines that include a number are more popular than ones that don’t. I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation of why, but the research is clear: people prefer number headlines. There are a few ways to incorporate numbers into your titles, but list posts are the most popular and most common.

Lists are incredibly readable and extremely useful. They’re an excellent way of providing value to your readers, while simultaneously being immediately obvious in their value. If you’re interested in the topic, you know from the first character in the headline that you will be reading a list directly relevant to your area of interest.

This effectively ensures your headline is completely clear and highly targeted. In fact, most readers view list post headlines as the easiest to understand. As a result they are read more often than other forms of headlines.

‘How To’ Headlines

The ‘how to’ headline is a staple. It’s another extremely clear headline with a built-in, tangible benefit. To really nail a ‘How To’ headline, use the following super simple formula:

Clickbait_ How To Write Compelling (Yet True!) Headlines - How To Headline Formula

The action you add describes the thing you’re teaching people to do, while the benefit indicates why they should want to do it. It’s worth noting that this formula can be really simple to use, for example:

How To Write The Perfect Blog Posts For Easy Conversions

The action is writing the perfect blog post, the benefit is easily converting your readers.

But sometimes it’s a little more complicated. For example…

How To Write Compelling (Yet True!) Headlines

Here the benefit is wrapped up in a bit of an enigma, and peppered through the title, rather than placed directly at the end. The words ‘Yet True!’ are provocative and enticing. If you don’t know what it means, it’s intriguing, and the benefit is solving the mystery. If you do know what it means, then you know you need to avoid making a promise that turns out to be untrue; the benefit is not only writing a compelling headline, but one that delivers on your promise (thus avoiding deception).

If you’re worried the second way of doing it is over-complicated and people will miss the point, don’t.

You’re reading this, so clearly it works!

The complicated way is very useful for two reasons:

  1. It allows you to add variety to your ‘how to’ headlines by starting them with something other than ‘how to’. If you use this formula a lot (and you should!) your blog feed will rapidly start to look very repetitive, especially if your main variation is having a lot of number posts (which, again, you should!).
  2. It acknowledges the intelligence and sophistication of your reader, and sounds less patronising. With the best will in the world, ‘how to’ headlines that follow the first formula can sound simplistic even when the concept behind them is complex. This can give the impression your post isn’t going to be detailed or carry great value. It can also come across as a little condescending; as if you’re teaching people to suck eggs.

The topic of your content will usually dictate which formula works best for you. Very detailed actions are usually best suited to the simple version, as they carry enough complexity to avoid sounding simple or patronising. Actions that are dictated by the benefit they provide are generally best suited to the second form. By that, I mean that the benefit is a part of the action you take, rather than a consequence of it.

Writing a headline that is both compelling and true is the action you take in this post, but it is also the benefit, so the headline for this post is split.

Question Headlines

There are two forms of question headlines:

  1. Total Questions
  2. Hook And Reel Questions

A total question is a question that forms the whole of your headline and is both direct and relatively simple. For example:

Is SEO Worth The Investment For Small Businesses?

This type of question is easily written and frequently comes from genuine questions asked by clients, or that you need to explain in order to demonstrate the value of your product or service. They’re extremely useful for SEO as people frequently search for questions they need answering, rather than the keywords you would use when crafting a list or how to headline.

They can also be tricky to make truly compelling.

This is evidenced best by running them through CoSchedule’s headline analyser, which frequently rates them as amber, and often brands them in red:

It's Difficult To Write A Compelling Question Headline That Scores Well

You can address this by using power words and emotional words to boost the effectiveness of your headline and make it more compelling. Oddly, making the question longer generally makes it a lot more effective, and it is extremely short questions that tend to be the least effective. For example, adding the power word ‘supercharge’ to ‘what is content marketing?’ and expanding it a little boosts the score from a measly red 53 to respectable green 70:

Make Question Headlines Longer To Improve Readability And Make Them More Effective

One way to make your question longer and pack in the power and emotion is to use the the Hook and Reel formula. This provides a genuine hook to bait your reader, followed by the question to reel them in. Make a statement that piques their interest, causes controversy, goes against the grain, is simply surprising, or offers completely new information.

The hook gets them interested, the question demonstrates you’re about to explain it all.

 

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The Shortcut To Perfectly Compelling Headlines

If you want to know more about writing amazing headlines, I’ve created a free headline swipe file for you. This will help you figure out the best headline types for you, and write your own perfect versions of each. Just download the templates and head over to CoSchedule’s analyser, you’ll have written a bucket load of shiny green headlines in no time… Enjoy!

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