The Art And Science of Great Headlines

Posted on Posted in Search Marketing

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 will click to read the rest. A good headline can make all the difference.

  • Top 5 Tips To Make Readers Click
  • Top 5 Pitfalls: How you’re sabotaging yourself
  • Click Count Case studies: Before-and-after traffic analyses
  • Beat the Competition: Why you’re not showing up on Google and how to fix it
  • Headline Q&A

TOP 5 TIPS TO MAKE READERS CLICK

(Do #1) Make Bold Statements — Speak with Authority and Clarity

You are an expert. Write like one. Set readers up for a strong authoritative piece. Keep it simple.
Examples:
– Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good For Him.
– The Next Financial Crisis Will Be Hellish, and It’s On Its Way
– Happy Birthday Bill Gates! You Made Steve Jobs Possible

(Do #2) Be Conversational

Think relaxed, informal, even sharp. Leave readers wondering: “And then what…?”
Examples:
– Whirlpool: 5000 Jobs Going Down the Drain
– Bankrupt And Broke, Americans Still Want It All
– Demand Media’s Bold New Strategy for eHow: Suck Less

(Do #3) Be Unexpected, Contrarian (but follow thru in post)

Examples:
– Think Like a Woman and Make More Money
– Manufacturing Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, and That’s OK
– Steve Jobs Had No Business Being Successful When He Returned to Apple

WARNING! Don’t use this style headline if you can’t back it up

(Do #4) Use Active, Muscular Words

Why be weak when you can be strong? Active voice, strong words are way more interesting
Examples:
– Market Roars Approval Of Berlusconi’s Swan Song
– Buy It Like Buffett
Original: 5 Undervalued “Quality” Stocks That Reflect Track Record of Buffett’s Portfolio
– Dell Snaps Up SonicWall, Grows Still Less Like Apple

(Do #5) Keep Eyes and Ears on News

Examples:
– The 147 Companies That Control Everything
– The Largest U.S. Companies With Big European Exposure
– Michael Jackson Death Doctor Can Deduct His Legal Fees

TOP 5 PITFALLS: HOW YOU’RE SABOTAGING YOURSELF

(Don’t #1) Don’t Be Vague or Elusive or Too General (keep it simple)

Examples:
– Yen Pin
– Tibaldi Pens For Bentley
– Iniquity, Irresponsibility, and/or Incentives?
– Intel May Go Where Apple Hesitates To Tread
Rewrite: Intel May Build “Virtual Cable Operator” Before Apple Does

(Don’t #2) Don’t Be Clever At The Expense Of Clarity

Examples:
– Social Media Switches Me Off
– Volunteer Coders Set to Hack Children in Need
– Woops…There Seems to Be Some Contagion This Morning

(Don’t #3) Don’t Curse, Use Extreme Punctuation (!!!), Unnecessary Superlatives, VS., Yes/No/Yep

Examples:
– Yep, Hiring Remains Chilly in October
– The New SAP Store for Mobile Apps: Yep, It’s Kind of a Big Deal.
– “Exciting Things Out of McMoran for 2012 That Are Mind Blowing,” PXP’s Jim Flores

(Don’t #4) Don’t Write Overly Long Headlines

Examples:
– What Are Examples of Things In The Common Knowledge About History That Historians Almost Universally Consider Incorrect?
– How Pharmaceutical Companies Can Help Take The ‘Neglected’ Out Of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
– The Climate Debate Is Over. Let’s Tap Markets to Save the Trees, the Planet, and Ourselves

(Don’t #5: Don’t Use Jargon or SAT Words

Examples:
– Steve Jobs’ Deification Serves As A Basic And Fundamental Human Need
– Citigroup Stockholder Wins Expungement Even Though Customer Pays a Settlement
– Belgian Study Supports Use of FFR to Guide Therapy in Intermediate LAD Lesions

BEAT THE COMPETITION: WHY YOU’RE NOT SHOWING UP ON GOOGLE AND HOW TO FIX IT

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

– What search queries will readers use to find your article?
– Use these keywords, be descriptive (Don’t #3 – don’t be vague)
– Don’t try to trick (don’t stuff keywords / false advertise)
– Follow DOs & DON’Ts to improve SEO

Before You Press Publish, Ask Yourself…

– Would this headline be a Most Popular?
– Do I really want to read this?
– How about my community or my competitors?
– Would I retweet or post this on any other social media site based on headline alone?
– If others are blogging about this topic, is my headline different enough to stand out?

HEADLINE Q&A

Questions

– What is the thought on using a question mark in the headline? Is this good?
– Are numbers in a headline as magical on the Web as they are in magazine covers? In other words is “15 Top Widget Deals” stronger than “Top Widget Deals?“
– Do first three words in title make a difference in SEO?
– Do articles get a lot of traffic because of the story content or the headline?
– Does the lede have to reflect the hed in any arbitrary sense?

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