Whether you’re in the content marketing game or just want to gain a few more readers on your personal blog, headlines are everything. The tone and content of your headline can mean the difference between a potential reader or customer clicking or not clicking. It can even influence how a person will read your content.
According to Copyblogger, while 8 out of 10 people may read your headline copy, only 2 out of every 10 people will actually read your article. See the importance of writing a clickable headline?
But what exactly makes a headline clickable? According to Melanie Duncan, good headlines follow the “Easy 4 U” formula:
The following guide will touch on each of these ‘Us’, and demonstrate their practical application. We’ll also discuss how to strike the balance between making your headline search engine-friendly and human-friendly.
How to Write Clickworthy Headlines in 7 Easy Steps
From marketing headlines that convert to eye-catching blog headlines, read on to find out how you can create the best headlines for your content.
1. Think about your target audience or customer
Before you start brainstorming headlines, take the time to think about who it is you’re targeting.
What are they looking for? What are their pain points? How will your content solve their problems? By knowing your audience inside and out, you can make your headlines irresistible by incorporating their wants (or their fears!).
2. Opt for simplicity over creativity
Your headline should outline exactly what your content about. This may seem at odds with what you’ve experienced. After all, newspaper headlines often feature a clever pun or a joke.
This may work in print media, but it isn’t good for search engine results or your SEO. In the context of a newspaper article warning residents to be wary of wayward local otters, the headline Otter Devastation is eye-catching and hilarious. However, in the context of directing people to your website and ranking in search engines, it’s less effective.
That kind of title tells Google nothing about what your piece is about. It isn’t descriptive and doesn’t contain any keywords. Outlets that tend to get away with this are print or online magazines that already have a dedicated readership. And, for good or ill, it’s something we’re seeing less and less of in the Internet age.
This is not to say you can’t be creative at all. But your headline should be specific and should outline exactly what your piece of content offers.
If you don’t want to compromise, you can opt for two titles: an SEO title (which is what the search engines will see) and an article title (which is what readers on your site will see). If you’re a WordPress user, a plugin like Yoast SEO will make this easy. See these two headlines from Slate as an example:
Article Title: Deliverance
SEO Title: U.S. Postal Service: Will It Survive?
3. Zero in on stand-out elements of your piece (but make sure it’s accurate)
It should go without saying that clickbait, or rather, subtly misleading headlines, are a big no-no. They might get you those initial clicks, but readers are likely to bounce once they realize the content doesn’t match the title. It certainly won’t build positive associations with your brand.
Furthermore, a 2014 study by the University of Western Australia found that factual articles with misleading headlines affect a reader’s ability to accurately recall details from the article.
Creating an alluring but inaccurate headline may get you initial clicks and shares, but it ultimately could cost you.
4. Accept that people love numbers and lists
You may be rolling your eyes at this, but the fact of the matter is listicles aren’t going anywhere. People love when things are broken down into numbers.
There are a few psychological reasons for this. In this noisy Internet age of information overload, a list can appear less taxing on the brain. It communicates exactly what you’re getting, it feels definitive, and it makes an article more digestible and easy to scan.
As a result, people are more inclined to click on titles with numbers. Accept it and capitalize on it. There’s a reason why Buzzfeed was the king of viral Internet content for so long.
5. Watch your language
The kind of language you use in your headline will shape your potential reader’s expectations. This goes right back to the first point: who are you targeting, what problems do they have, and what is your solution?
Don’t be afraid of being a bit bossy in your approach, either. In marketing writing as a whole, using a call-to-action is the most effective way of prompting users to take the desired action. For example, “Buy now!” or “subscribe now!”. Sprinkle your headlines with persuasive words, as well as words likely to elicit an emotional response.
Putting It All Together
Let’s say your content is all about picking apples. Here are a few approaches you can take:
1. Promise value to your readers
You want your readers to both recognize that you’re solving a problem and that it will be easy if they follow your advice. Using certain words and phrases to suggest the value of your content will inform readers that they will walk away from your article having learned something new. Including a timeframe is never a bad idea either. For example:
- How to pick apples
- The definitive guide to picking apples
- Apple picking 101
- Become an apple picking expert in minutes
- Master apple picking in three easy steps
- Easy apple picking for beginners
2. Be positive and don’t be scared of embellishment
Within reason, of course. Don’t promise that your article will cure disease and solve world hunger, but there’s no harm in playing up your content. This is also a good opportunity to create urgency.
- Don’t miss out on these great apple picking tips
- 4 incredible apple picking strategies
- 5 steps to picking the best apples of your life
3. Don’t be afraid to go a little negative
This approach also creates urgency, because readers won’t want to miss out.
- Don’t pick apples without reading this guide first
- 7 common lies about apple picking
- Why you should never pick apples like this
4. Take a data-driven approach
If your content features cool stats and statistics, use them to make your headline stand out.
- 4 great apple picking techniques backed by science
- 75% of experts say this is the best way to pick apples
- 7 unbelievable facts about apple picking
Still Unsure Where to Begin?
A study from Conductor that tested the kind of headlines that resonated with people had the following results:
- 36% of people preferred headlines featuring a number
- 21% of people preferred headlines that addressed the reader directly
- 17% of people preferred a “how-to” headline
- 15% of people preferred a normal headline
- 11% of people preferred a headline with a question
When in doubt, include a number, get personal, and tell your audience “how to”!
This headline-writing cheatsheet from Hubspot is also a great resource for clickable word combinations.
Brevity is Key
People have short attention spans these days. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Otherwise, they won’t read your headline.
But how short is too short and how long is too long?
It’s hard to really give a catch-all number, because guidelines differ between various social media channels and search engines. According to CoSchedule, a good rule of thumb is to hover around 50-70 characters and aim for approximately six words.
Meanwhile, research from Outbrain showed that post titles of between 16-18 words had the best engagement.
A good rule of thumb is that if you’re focused more on SEO, shorter is better, while for social media you can afford to go a little longer.
Use a Headline Analyzer Tool
Headline analyzer tools aren’t perfect, but they can serve as a great reference point if you’re just starting out in headline writing. It’s impossible for a single headline to hit every base we just mentioned, but it should hit as many as possible. A headline analyzer tool will assess your headline based on certain criteria, telling you where it works and where it doesn’t.
For example, CoShedule’s Headline Analyzer grades your headline on a variety of aspects, from word balance (types of words used, grammar, readability) to headline type, headline length, and use of keywords. If your score is high, you’ll know you’re on the right track. (it gave the title of this blog post a score of 80—not too shabby!)
Creating clickable headlines isn’t rocket science, but it does require some thought. While there’s no guaranteed winning formula, following the tips in this article will set you off on the right path.
Ultimately, experimentation is key. Try different kinds of headlines. Do A/B testing. Soon it will become clear what kind of headlines resonate with your target audience.
And if you’ve found a winning formula for your own headlines, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!