Why Bad Headlines Kill Content Marketing Efforts

A great headline can generate new traffic for your website over time, so spending the time to craft an amazing headline is like investing in the future of your business.  On the other hand, a bad headline can drive traffic away.

I found some surprising headline stats on the PR Genie blog.  Headlines follow the classic “80/20” rule which dictates that if 100 people read your headline, only 20 of them will go on to read the rest of the story. Most surprising is how many people share links without ever clicking through. Bit.ly, the online short link generation company, found using tracking data that 90% of people who share your content do so based only on the headline and never actually read the article.

In this post I will go over some tips on how to write a headline that your readers will want to click on, share, and hopefully go on to read your content.

Start With the Headline

Most writers leave writing their headline until after they’ve finished writing the content. However, it’s a better practice to start by writing your headline first, even if it’s just a working title that can change later. Jeff Goins says it best:

Too often the headline is the most neglected part of writing an article. People just gloss over it without taking much time to consider it. In their minds, it’s the cherry on top.

No, friends; it’s not. The headline is the sundae

Another great practice in headline-writing is to write as many as you can think of and then narrow it down. You can also try some A/B testing once you have your headlines narrowed down to two or three.

What Should Be In the Headline

Include Benefits

Just as you have a target market for your products and services, you should have a target audience for each blog post or article you create. Leevi Romanik from the Entrepreneur’s Journey states the goal of your headline is not to appeal to everyone on the Internet. The goal is to get as much of your target audience as possible to read your article.

The benefits of reading your article should be outlined clearly in the headline. The benefits should also be specific. For example, here’s an example headline from Forbes contributor Jason DeMers:

“How to Write for Social Media and Double Your Click-Through Rates in Thirty Days”

When someone reads this title, they will know exactly what to expect from reading the article so they will be more drawn to click and read through.

Be Emotional/Tell a Story

DeMers also points out that creating a headline that resonates emotionally with readers will help increase effectiveness.  One way to do this is to use your headline to tell a story.  If you can create a unique story that explains your business, it can be what sets you apart from your competition.  Also, your story can help you create that special element, or “hook” as DeMers calls it, for your headline.

Choosing the Headline Length

A rule of thumb for headlines is they should only be about 70 characters.  However, headlines with 60 characters or less are best for search engine optimization because headlines longer than that will be cut off in search results.  To optimize for search engines, headlines should also include at least one keyword.

Trying to cram all the elements of an effective headline into 60 or 70 characters can really inhibit your creativity.  An Outbrain study on headlines actually showed that headlines around 100 characters in length got the highest click-through rates, whereas headlines with less than 60 characters performed worse.  A good strategy to follow for your own headlines can be found in your site’s analytics.  Find out the headline length on your most popular posts to determine the character limit for your headlines.

Avoid Pushy Headlines

It’s a good idea to write posts for your audience to give them advice and help them solve their problems.  However, be very careful when you write your headlines that you’re not coming off as “pushy” to your readers.  Studies have shown that “pushy” headlines receive up to 20% less clicks than “non-pushy” headlines.  A headline is typically considered pushy if it includes words like “you” or “your” and tells readers what to do by saying things like “must” or “should.”

People Are Drawn To the Negative

Another study by Outbrain found that readers really like negative superlatives.  Headlines with negative superlatives like “worst” received 63% higher click-through rates compared to titles using positive superlatives like “best.”  With this in mind, you can think about retooling some of your content to fit into an article with a negative headline.  For example, instead of writing a how-to guide on best practices, you could write about the worst practices instead.  You could counter each point with the best practice and still get your message across, but you’ll have content and a headline that is more compelling to readers.

Conclusion

The main goal for your headline is to entice your reader to find out what comes next. Thanks to a number of studies, we have a much better understanding of the types of headlines readers respond to the most. There are even headline formulas available online. The best way to write headlines for your specific audience is to have a deep understanding of their needs and wants. More importantly, you should be able to explain how you can help your customer in a unique and compelling way. Once you have this figured out, try out lots of headlines and measure the results. In no time at all, you’ll understand the types of headlines your customers respond to most and you can use this knowledge to drive your content and maybe even your business offerings.

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