Write Headlines that Compel: 4 Tips on how to Make a Good Title
The statisticians estimate that for every 5 to 6 people who read a headline, only 1 of them will read the article or ad itself. If you’re a content marketer, these statistics are frightening, because you could be writing great content and attracting very low readership.
If you want to create content that is effective in selling your product, you need to be the outlier in these statistics, the savvy marketer who bumps up the average. Read on and learn 4 simple steps on how to make a good title - headlines so compelling that readers won’t be able to resist reading on.
1. Make sure you have the basics down
The fundamentals of headline writing seem simple and many of you probably have these down pat, but their importance can't be stated enough. We've divided them into three smaller steps:
A. Make sure your headline describes your article.
In essence, a headline is an invitation. Think of inviting a friend to a party. You’re asking him or her to sacrifice some time in exchange for a benefit, in this case meeting new friends and/or seeing old ones. If the party isn’t enjoyable, your friend might be upset because he or she sacrificed valuable time and didn’t receive the promised benefit. A headline, on the other hand, asks the reader to sacrifice some time in order to learn something new and interesting. If the accompanying content is poor, the reader will understandably be irritated because he or she also sacrificed valuable time and didn’t receive the promised benefit. Therefore, as the writer, you need to be sure that your article fulfills the promise made in the headline. Does the article stay on topic? Would a reader feel misled by the headline?
This can be challenging. If I had titled this article “Make millions from new guide to successful gardening,” I may have gotten a higher readership because on the surface, making millions from gardening sounds far easier and more appealing than writing headlines. However, my readers would feel betrayed after finding an article about headlines sitting beneath the compelling gardening headline.
B. Promise the reader something of value.
Most people naturally approach opportunities with the question “what will I gain from this?” Your headline should thoroughly answer this question. Does your article teach a skill that the reader wouldn’t otherwise have? Does your article provide an interesting case study? Identify what the reader will stand to gain by reading your article and incorporate that into your headline.
C. Balance specifics and suspense
This is the hardest part of writing a good title. In order to keep your reader engaged and primed for the article, you need to specifically tell your reader what he or she is about to read while maintaining enough mystery that he or she still needs to read the article to grasp the content.
Here are some examples of what and what not to write:
"How to Make a Good Title Using Focus Keywords!"
Here, the headline is so specific that the reader will quickly know what the content teaches – that focus keywords help when writing headlines. Then, the reader will feel like he or she doesn't need to read on and your great piece of content will get skipped over, which is bad news. Here is the other extreme:
"A Great Way to Make More Money!"
Here, the reader will have NO idea what he or she is about to read and therefore cannot get excited about it. He or she won't have a clue whether the article is worth reading and that uncertainty often causes the reader to disengage.
Here’s an example of a headline that effectively combines these two rules:
"The Headline Writing Strategy that Will Make You More Money"
Here, the headline is specific enough that the reader can make an educated decision as to whether or not the article applies to him or her, and vague enough that the reader has to read the article to learn what the content teaches. You can find a few more examples of headlines that do a great job of balancing these two elements in Step 2 of this article.
2. Make your headline easy to read.
Not all words and characters are created equal. Some are gentler on the reader's eye and easier for him or her to comprehend, and using more of these will help you create a more appealing headline. Here are some tips:
- Use digits, not written numbers, i.e. “7 Tips for Success” rather than “Seven Tips for Success.” This allows the reader to absorb the same amount of information by reading 1 character instead of 5.
- Use concise words and avoid abbreviations. This way, your words will be far easier for the reader's mind to process.
- Avoid punctuation (question marks, periods) when in the middle of the headline and avoid complicated punctuation (dashes, semicolons) entirely. They interrupt the flow of a headline in the reader's mind. However, commas are fair game.
- Avoid using entirely capital letters, i.e. don’t use “CHECK OUT THIS NEW PRODUCT FOR GETTING RID OF HAIR LOSS!” They're tough on the eyes and they read as though the headline is yelling at the reader.
- Keep your headline short. 70 characters is Google's recommended maximum. This way, your headline won't drag on in the mind of the reader and will also show up in Google's search results in its entirety.
All of these strategies will help to remove layers of visual separation between the reader and the headline. By making your headlines as simple as possible, the reader won't have to dissect words, interpret abbreviations, and work through punctuation, and can instead feel the full punch of your well-written headline.
3. Make sure your headline shows what your article has and others don't.
Chances are, your article isn't the only one on the web that speaks about your topic. In order to engage readers, you need to demonstrate that your article is somehow different from, and hopefully superior to, the other articles in Google's search results.
Before you write your headline, try running a few Google searches using keywords relevant to your article. Look at the articles that come up, particularly their headlines. Use this information to carve out a niche for your article. Ask yourself what you can offer the reader that none of the other articles currently do. Then, make sure to incorporate that into your headline.
For example, if you're writing an article about the fundamentals of Facebook advertising and you realize that no one has written about the strategy of split-testing a sidebar headline, you might title your article "How Split-Testing Can Bring Your Facebook Marketing to the Next Level." Readers will be compelled by the specificity and individuality of your article.
4. Use tried-and-true title templates.
The headline has been an art form for a long, long time and over the years, classic headline templates have been created. Many of these continue to be extremely effective and widely used. Your using them is totally acceptable and even encouraged. Here are 5 favorites:
The How-To – “How to Make Your Video Go Viral in 2 Days”
The promise that a difficult feat can be simply achieved is just too appealing for the reader to ignore.
The List – “5 Steps to Staying Comfortable While Flying”
Similar to The How-To, The List quantifies a difficult process using steps or methods and makes it seem easy and accessible, which is exactly what your reader wants.
The Polite Inquiry – “Do You Make These 5 Tax Mistakes Every Year?”
The possibility that the reader might be making such mistakes is enough to pull him or her into your article. If the reader already knows that this applies to him or her, your headline will sound like a personal calling.
The Dependent Clause – “The Shockingly Effective System for Cutting Down on Calories”
This explicit statement of the article’s topic allows you, the writer, to insert those shockingly effective adjectives early on and draw the reader in, while the no-bull approach allows the reader to instantly decide whether the article is interesting to him or her.
The News Story – “Ohio rancher discovers medical device breakthrough, makes millions.”
This template brings a headline out of the theoretical realm and into the practical while simultaneously appealing to the human desire for stories.
Let’s review the 4 steps:
1. Make sure your fundamentals are in good shape.
- Make sure your headline describes your article. You want your readers to finish your article feeling as though they've been given the reward that they signed up for, not that they’ve been misled.
- Promise something of value. If your reader doesn’t stand to gain anything from reading your article, he or she has no reason to invest any time in it.
- Balance specifics and suspense. Try hard to find the balance between giving your reader an overview of what he or she is about to read and not giving the content away in the headline.
2. Make your headlines visually appealing. If your headline is easy to comprehend, the reader will feel the full emotional effect of what you’ve created.
3. Create a headline that reflects the unique nature of your article. Find an area that similar articles haven't covered, write about it, and own it in your headline.
4. Use tried-and-true headline templates. The pros have worked hard to come up with great headline formulas and there’s no reason for you not to benefit from them.
With these 4 steps, you can transform your already-great content by making sure that it attracts the largest readership possible. Do you have an interesting story about the power of compelling headlines? Any questions about what makes a great headline? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below and let us know what you think of the article, and be sure to subscribe to receive all of our future articles.