One thing I love about content marketing is that it’s a quality over quantity effort. This focus on the quality of our content includes everything from the big picture of a website down to, say, the headline of one little blog post.
Earlier this year we shared data on how to easily create clickable titles. I’m going to build on that today with a refresher on creating quality titles that are both captivating and honest.
Clickable, Not Clickbait
Let’s quickly revisit the main takeaways of Carrie’s post on writing clickable titles (link in the intro):
- Headlines often have opening and closing phrases, such as “X Reasons Why …” and “… In the World.” Look at the data on which phrases get the most social media engagement to create catchy title templates like “X Reasons Why You Need to Do Y Right Now” and “A is the Best B in the World.”
- Articles with numbered lists (listicles) should be titled accordingly. Multiples of five are well received, though once the list is longer than 20 items engagement declines significantly.
- Titles with between 60 and 100 characters (about 17 words) get the most engagement.
- Happy stories and headlines that give a sense of surprise, anticipation, joy and trust fare better on social media than do fear-inducing stories and headlines that give a sense of anger, fear, disgust or sadness.
Clickable titles do not equal clickbait. As Carrie said, if you provide what the title promises, you’re not baiting anyone. And good content always does what it says it’s going to.
The truth is, the most formulaic headlines containing the trendiest buzzwords can certainly be delivered on within the body of the content. And they get the clicks that lead to that great content. But maybe you don’t want to sound formulaic or trendy because it doesn’t suit your brand’s voice or tone or speak to your target market. If this is the case, your headlines are going to take a little more work.
Next, I’ll expand on the ideas of clickable headlines and think about how to make those titles even more captivating.
Up Your Headline Game
A good, honest headline comes down to one thing: Clearly telling specific readers how they’ll benefit from the content. Bonus points if you can make it concise and compelling.
Really though, those are bonus points you can’t afford to pass up. Millions of blog posts are written every day, and tens of thousands of links are shared on Facebook alone every 60 seconds. The competition is fierce.
To help you up your headline game, we like these tips from Sprout Social and Authority Labs:
- Be open to some hype and hyperbole. Sprout Social gives the example of a title promising “The Greatest Marketing Growth Hack of All Time (Hint: Cupcakes).” Assuming the tips are stellar, it’s alright to use such strong language and add the allure of cupcakes.
- Incorporate “power” words. In addition to the must-read vibe a “How To …” or “Why You Need…” can add, throw in some extremes like always, never, tragic or fortune. Exclusive, secret or new are compelling but should only be used if they’re undoubtedly true.
- Make a personal connection. Speak to readers directly with a second person “you” or make a firm statement of experience with the first-person “I.”
- Use controversial topics or causes to fuel a headline. Of course, the point isn’t to pick a fight or name-call, but if your audience likes to rally this can be a way to grab attention.
- Keep keywords second to clarity (stuffing them into headline is both awkward and bad for SEO). When you do include them, do so near the beginning of a title to support SEO.
- Consider how tweetable your headlines are. I mentioned earlier that 17 words can make a great headline. Just be mindful that Twitter has a 280 character limit for tweets, and you want to leave room for @ mentions, hashtags, etc.
We’ll add a few of our own to that list:
- Hold off on the title until you’ve written the meat of the content. Some articles shift during writing, and the main points change. Also, the headline is sure to reflect what’s in the content, and you don’t spend time clinging to a title that isn’t the best direction for the topic.
- Search your keywords on Answer the Public. You might find a question of phrase that makes the perfect headline on its own.
- Create more than one headline and have your colleagues weigh in on them (or use a headline analyzing tool) during the editing process. If possible, test more than one headline with A/B testing on your site and in your email campaigns.
When to Write Your Headlines
In the spirit of walking the talk of the above list, I’ll tell you that I didn’t even consider creating the title for this blog until reaching this point of the content body. And the one I wrote then isn’t the one you see up top – a proof point of the importance of having colleagues weigh in when you can.
Most likely, your first title idea won’t be the best one. Make sure those editing your content include the headline in the editing process and let you know if it’s vague, boring, too long, too short … Then look at the content you wrote and distill what is says to your audience into an informative and appealing phrase.
As an example, I’m remembering the story of Julia Child and the editor of her famous first cookbook:
Child and her editor long debated the title of her French cookbook for the American market. Potential titles included “French Cooking for the American Kitchen” and “Method in Cuisine Madness.” While that first one is clear enough, it isn’t nearly as compelling as “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The two women finally agreed on a title that truly described the now timeless collection of recipes.
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Do you love or hate creating headlines? What are your best tactics? Tell me about it in the comments!
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