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 Analyze Your Competition’s Social Media

SocialMediaCompetitive analysis is a necessary component of any marketing plan. If your brand has a presence on social media, which it most likely does, you can benefit from analyzing your competitors on social media as well. Gaining insight into your competitors’ social media strategies can help you create benchmarks to guide and measure your social media strategy. This knowledge will allow you to do a number of things, such as choose the right social networks for your audience and use social media more effectively to enhance your brand. Also, a social media competitive analysis can help you find opportunities your competitors may have missed which will enable you to create a loyal community for your brand online.

Here’s how you can conduct a social media competitive analysis in six steps:

1. Identify competitors

As you probably already know, the first step of your competitive analysis is to identify who your competitors are. At this point, compile a list of your competitors but don’t start searching for their social pages yet. You’ll want complete Step 2 before you delve into the details of their social media strategies

2. Determine what you want to find out

Before you begin, you should first determine a specific objective or question you want answered for your competitive analysis. Some examples of objectives are:

  • Should our company use Pinterest?
  • Do we need to grow our social following?
  • How are we performing compared to our competitors on our social media sites?

Setting an objective will help guide your competitive analysis and keep you focused as you gather information.

3. Start a spreadsheet and identify networks

Take your list of competitors and place them on a spreadsheet. For a comprehensive analysis, go through each competitor one by one and find all of their social media profiles. Or if only one or a few social media sites are relevant to your objective, search for your competitors only on those sites. Indicate on your spreadsheet whether or not your competitors have a presence on each of the sites you want to analyze.

4. Determine what you will analyze and for how long

Once you have your objective set and have found where your competitors have profiles, you can determine what aspects you want to analyze for each specific site. Also, you will save yourself a lot of headaches by determining the length of time you’ll use as you perform your analysis. For example, instead of just tracking posts, you’ll want to track posts per week or posts per month.

5. Gather data

The specific data you track will vary from site to site. It will also depend on the objectives you’ve set. Included below are some areas you’ll most likely want to focus on, but this is not a comprehensive list. I have broken down the type of data you’ll be looking at into two parts: Followers/engagement and Content.

Followers/engagement:

Track followers

One of the first aspects you’ll most likely want to find out is the number of fans and followers your competitors have for each network. Finding the number of fans and followers is a quick way to see an overall snapshot of your competitors’ popularity on social media. Remember to also track their fan to follower ratios (# of people they follow/# of people who follow them).

Track engagement

To get an idea of how engaged your competition’s followers are, see how many reposts, shares, likes and comments each of their posts receive. Again, you should use the timeframe you’ve determined to compile this data. Divide the number of posts by the number of shares, etc. for that timeframe to determine the average engagement per post for that specific timeframe.

Track growth

If possible, gather data on your competitors for the previous timeframe. For example, if you’re analyzing comments/shares per month, look at the previous month’s data. Then find the percentage change month over month to determine the growth rate of your competitors. This will help you create a benchmark for your own social media campaigns.

Content:

Track posts

Find out how active your competitors are on social media by tracking the number of posts they make in your specified timeframe. Be sure to break the posts down into categories. For example, on Twitter you would want to separately track tweets, retweets, replies and favorites. It’s also important to record what types of content they are posting. Are they using a lot of photo or video content? Do they ask lots of questions? Do they do contents and giveaways?

Analyze blog & website

Remember that blogs and websites are also pieces of overall social media strategy. You’ll want to find out if your competitors have blogs. You should also take a deeper look into their blogs to see if they’re using Google Authorship on their posts. Are your competitors using FASS (fast action social sharing) Buttons in their posts? How many comments do their posts receive on average in your given timeframe and how many posts are made? Do your competitors link to their social media profiles from their website? How many of their web pages have links to their social media profiles? As you can see, there is a ton of information you can learn about your competitors’ social media efforts from their website and blog, so don’t skip this step.

Analyze paid media

Even though you most likely won’t be able to find out how much your competitors are paying for social media ads, you should include paid social media efforts in your analysis. Finding out whether or not your competitors are using paid advertisements on social media will give you a good understanding on whether or not paying for social media would be a good fit for your brand.

Analyze brand

Have a look at the images and logos used across each of your competitors’ social media profiles. How are they branding themselves? Is the look and feel of each site consistent? Can you see differences in each site that hint at how it is being used by the brand? What is the voice of the brand? Is it the company’s voice or a specific person?

6. Analyze overall efforts

Now that you’ve thoroughly analyzed your competitors’ followers, engagement, content and brand on social media, you should add a component to your spreadsheet where you can reflect on your findings of each competitor’s overall efforts on social media. What do they do really well? What are they doing differently? Or what are they doing really poorly? You should also determine how your brand compares to your competition on each individual component and overall. Once you’ve completed all of these steps, you should be able to go back to your original objective and reevaluate your own social media strategy.

Conclusion

Understanding how your competition is utilizing social media is an extremely effective way for you to position your brand to stand out. You won’t attract a loyal following by simply maintaining the status quo on social media and following along with what everyone else is doing. Having a thorough understanding of your competition will enable you to brainstorm new ideas to improve on the things they are doing well and to keep your fans engaged. You’ll also be able to more accurately benchmark and measure your campaigns. If you continually follow up on your competitive analysis about once a month, you’ll be able to stay ahead of your competition and make the most of your social media efforts.

Read more

I used these articles as references to write this post. Give them a read to learn more about how you can conduct a social media competitive analysis.

Step-By-Step: How to Do a Competitive Analysis on Social Media – Christopher Tompkins

How to Conduct a Social Media Competitive Analysis – Ashley Stuart

How to Do a Social Media Competitive Analysis – John Cade

Do you have any tips on how to conduct a social media competitive analysis?  Leave your comments below.

What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?

What Really Makes a Successful Social Media Strategy

IMG_1393 (2)As someone relatively new to the social media marketing field, I am always seeking out the advice of experts. Luckily in this field, social media experts are constantly sharing their knowledge on Twitter, Google+ and everywhere else on the Internet. And I’ll admit it, I love an article that promises to teach me “How To Be Awesome at Social Media In 4 Easy Steps” or will tell me “7 Things Everyone Who’s Anyone In Social Media Already Knows About So You Really Need To Know Now.” I really am a moth to a flame when I see a title with a numbered list – I can’t resist clicking.

My predictable and often time-wasting love of numbered lists (hello, everything on Buzzfeed) is what led me to click on Chris Brogan’s article, “4 Bullet Points For More Social Media Mastery.” Now I’m pretty embarrassed to say this, but I took this article seriously for much longer than I should have. Just read the article and you’ll understand my embarrassment. I was eating up all of Brogan’s tips, beginning to feel more and more like someone in-the-know as I finished each bullet point. Maybe I was even getting a little bit smug.

It wasn’t until I got all the way to bullet point #3 where Brogan lays out the “action plan” (also meant to poke fun at all these types of articles) that I finally got the joke. Especially when I read this paragraph:

“Mashable. Lots of people like Mashable. Just share that. Also, retweet pretty much anything said by the following: @guykawasaki, @chrisbrogan, @garyvee, @marismith, and pick a few of YOUR favorite social media guru/master/ninja/rockstars. In fact, just set your accounts up to auto-tweet their stuff. Faster that way.”

Everything mentioned in that paragraph would be a sure way to annoy all your followers, which Brogan and any savvy social media marketer is well aware of.  (And even I know that saying you’re a social media guru, master, ninja or rockstar is the quickest way to discredit yourself as being any of those aforementioned things.)

Getting Started With Strategy

While Brogan’s article wasn’t “serious,” it seriously got me thinking about what really makes a successful social media strategy (which I’m sure was Brogan’s true intent). So I did a quick Google search for “social media strategy” which returned a cool 450,000,000 results. Not wanting to stray too far from my pattern, I clicked on “3 Steps to an Effective Social Media Strategy” by Amy Porterfield. I’d like to paraphrase what I learned from her article because her approach is simple and it’s a process with proven results. Here we go:

1) Assessment

Get a clear understanding of your audience’s needs and wants by simply asking them. There are many ways of doing this for free or very little money (Survey Monkey, Google Docs). Then decide what you’d like to accomplish through your social media efforts and narrow your goals to only one. Porterfield states that social media goals are usually these three things: awareness, sales or loyalty. Again, you should only focus on one.

Another important part of the assessment process is for the team to identify the driving force of the brand’s social media presence.  Porterfield references what Jay Baer calls your “One Thing” that stands behind every message you communicate to your customer.  It’s what makes you stand out and what makes your brand special.

The last part of the assessment stage is formulating the tactical social media plan. This includes scheduling, editorial calendars, contingency planning, etc. The plan should be as detailed as possible.

2) Implementation

The implementation stage is when you will put your plan to work. No plan should be written in stone, especially in the fast-paced world of social media. It’s important to be flexible and make tweaks as you go along as well as keep an eye out for new opportunities.

Also, the implementation stage is no time to be shy. Embrace your social media presence and promote it. Add links to your company website and to your email signatures. Don’t make your pages difficult for your community to find.

3) Measurement

Get back together with your team a few months after you’ve implemented your social media strategy. Use the analytics and reporting tools available to you to go over the numbers and see what’s been working and what hasn’t. Schedule time to collaborate and come up with new creative ideas on how to connect with your audience. Then start the process again.

The Core of a Successful Social Media Strategy

With so many people out there claiming to be experts and an almost overwhelming amount of information and new tools and platforms, it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that we need to know it all. Of course it’s our job to be knowledgeable about current social media trends, but what we really need to be an expert in is our customer. That’s why the customer’s values and how we meet their needs is always at the core of a successful social media strategy.

What do you think makes a successful social media strategy? Have any tips on how to stay ahead of social media trends? Leave your comments below.