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.

How To Naturally Build Links Without Guest Blogging

LinkWhen I was a digital marketing intern over the summer, I spent weeks sorting through client link profiles trying to rid them of “bad links.”  Many of the sites I looked into barely had any “good links” to speak of.  This experience made me realize how important it is for companies to take control of their link profiles.  However, “link building” can be a touchy subject in SEO as it is often associated with less-than-honest marketing tactics.  Marketers have taken to calling it “natural link building” to avoid being associated with pre-Penguin link spammers.  Although “link building” carries a stigma to some extent, it is still an extremely important part of successful digital marketing strategy.

In this post, I share some creative ways to gain more “good” links for your website (without being shady, of course).  And in case you’re wondering about the title, guest blogging is not on the list because everyone is already doing it.

How Does Hummingbird Affect Link Building

Before we talk about how to naturally build links, we of course need to discuss Google.  As we know, Google is constantly changing its algorithm to make search results more relevant for the end user.  According to Nate Dame at Search Engine Land, the Hummingbird update is a new search engine rather than just an algorithm update that is forcing marketers to focus even more on linking to quality content.  Read more about the update in Dame’s Hummingbird article.

Make a Consistent Effort

It is important to make natural link building a constant part of your strategy instead of a sporadic effort for two reasons.  First, you want to make sure that your company stays relevant.  To do this, you should be putting effort into your content strategy and providing value to your customers on a regular basis so they will return to your site.  Second, you will set off red flags if you have sudden spikes in linking activity with long periods of nothing in between.  That will make it more likely that your link building efforts will end up being penalized and hurt you in the long run instead of help you.

Have a Presence on Google+

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Google+ is an important factor in search rankings.  And now Google+ posts are even showing up in search results, which means it’s absolutely necessary for your company to post content on Google+.  Get more tips on getting Google+ shares and other scalable link building tactics from Jason Acidre on the Moz Blog.

Reclaim Links

According to Acidre, reclaiming links is “probably the oldest trick in the book of white-hat link building.”   You can reclaim links by using tools like Open Site Explorer to locate all the links to your site that are no longer working or are linking to the wrong version of your page.  Some of your broken links may just require a simple fix.  Other links might need a 301 redirect, which is a bit more time consuming but doing this will not only improve your link profile, it will also improve the user experience on your site.  (No one likes being directed to a page that no longer exists.)

Another way to reclaim your links is to find out who is talking about you on the web by using tools like Google Trends or browser alerts.  Search for reputable sites with strong PageRank that are mentioning you.  If these sites aren’t already linking to you in their content, you can get in touch with the site to ask them to kindly link back to you in the content.  Emma North wrote a great post on how to reclaim links and more creative link building techniques for the Koozai blog that you should check out.

User-Generated Content Sites

The method I came across in my research that I liked best is utilizing user-generated content sites.  These sites rank highly in search results, especially for long-tail keywords.  My favorite UGC site is SlideShare, but Pinterest and YouTube are also up there.  What I like best about SlideShare is that it’s a great forum for you to be able to repurpose your content and get more use out of it.  You can easily make a SlideShare presentation out of a popular blog post or video you have created, for example.  The goal of using UGC sites in your natural link building strategy is to provide something that is useful to your audience and matches the long-tail keywords they search for.

You might also take a popular news story and figure out a way to relate it to your industry.  For example, digital strategists Kristian Henschel and Julian Cole used Lindsay Lohan, a very popular figure in the tabloids, as inspiration for a SlideShare presentation.  They created “A Digital Strategy for Lindsay Lohan,” which to date has received 71,792 total views, 131 embeds and 24,626 embedded views.  Finding a fun and creative way to demonstrate their knowledge of digital strategy really excited Henschel and Cole’s audience and inspired them to share and link back to the content.  This also brings up the importance of linking to your website through all your UGC site efforts so you receive the full benefits for your link profile.

Conclusion

Natural link building can sound like an intimidating and complicated process.  However, the more I read about “natural link building,” the more I see that it is simply content marketing with an emphasis on promoting your content and building relationships.  Create great content that your customers and others in your industry find useful, make sure to place it where they can find it, and they will naturally want to link and share.

If you have more natural link building tips, share your comments below.