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What 6 Ingredients Do You Need to Write Superior Headlines?

June 7, 2017
What 6 Ingredients Do You Need to Write Great Headlines?

When you create content, which part is used the most often?

The headline, right? It’s the first touch point a reader has with your content whether it’s in an RSS feed, on social media, or anywhere else.

If you want to grab the ever-dwindling attention of readers online, you need to have great headlines.

Today’s post is from Jeda Pearl, who’s my very own trusted partner in editing and writing. She’s one of the best I’ve worked with, so I’m thrilled to have her sharing her tips on my blog.

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Headlines can make or break your content. And they’re vital for SEO.

Writers can spend hours agonizing over perfecting headlines, but you don’t have time for that – you’ve got a business to run!

Unless you’ve got a copywriter on call, you’ll have to come up with great content headlines fast.

So if you’re wondering what makes a headline great, and how you can write your own click-worthy headlines which convert, you’re in the right place. In fact, you should probably bookmark this post to refer to the next time you’re editing content, or trying to come up with an irresistible headline.

I’ve analyzed thousands of words worth of research and statistics from leading copywriters, bloggers and content marketing industry specialists and discovered there are just 6 key ingredients which go into producing great headlines.

What makes a headline great?

When you look at both digital and offline content, headlines come in many forms, for example:

  • Post headlines/titles (e.g. blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.)
  • Article sub-headings (e.g. blog posts, web pages, magazines)
  • Email subject lines
  • Title tags
  • News/paper headlines (print, TV, online)
  • Advert headlines (e.g. glossy magazines, Facebook ads, etc.)
  • Sales page headlines
  • Web page titles
  • Web copy headings
  • Taglines
  • Call-To-Actions (CTAs)

Depending on your marketing activities, you may not use all the above headline types, but the important thing to know is every single headline you write has a certain goal.

They serve many functions – to encourage you to stay on the page, continue reading, open that email, share online, create brand awareness, start a movement, click through to the next point on the customer journey…  

But the PURPOSE of your headline is not what you think.

The reason a headline exists is to offer the promise of something more.

The content which follows is where you deliver on that promise. (That’s why click-bait headlines are as frustrating as they are disappointing.)

And, while each headline above has its own nuances, all great headlines compel action.

If you can’t persuade a reader to take action, your headline isn’t doing its job.twitter icon

But you don’t need a marketing PhD to write great headlines. It turns out there are six key ingredients for writing headlines which compel action.

I’ll get to those key ingredients in a moment. First, I want to quickly explain why headlines are so important, especially for your web content, like blog posts and web pages.

Why are great headlines important for SEO?

User experience is the most important factor with SEO.

Why?

Because search engines put their users first.

Google’s #1 mission statement is: “Focus on the user and all else will follow”, which they go on to explain as providing “relevant content” with “the best user experience possible”.

When dealing with headlines, you need to remember that search engines are looking for content relevant to their users and your headline helps a person decide if your content is relevant to them.

Once your reader clicks through, using sub-headings improves the readability of your content, enabling people who scan find what they’re looking for faster, while breaking up copy into digestible chunks.

Using keywords and related topic phrases in your title tags, as well as in your headlines and sub-headings, helps both users and search engines determine content relevancy.

But don’t keyword stuff – that will hurt your SEO!

I’ll show you below the difference between keyword-stuffing a headline versus an SEO-friendly one.

Before you start work on your headline, get down the bones:

  • Make notes
  • Use a “working” draft headline
  • Write your first (crappy) draft of content
  • Take a break (of a day or two)
  • Work on the headlines while editing & polishing

For this article, I’m going to concentrate on blog post headlines, because blogging is a vital part of your inbound marketing strategy.

The 6 key ingredients for crafting irresistible headlines

Once you understand the main elements to build a headline which converts, you can get on with delivering a great experience to your clients!

Before we start on the 6 ingredients, the most important thing to remember is:

Don’t give everything away in your headline – give them a reason to act.twitter icon

1 | How to make your headlines intriguing

There are different ways you can catch the attention of your ideal client – different angles you can take to generate intrigue or spark their curiosity. You don’t need to use all the angles below – what I like to call “Curiosity Sparks”. Get your working title down and choose two or three of the following Curiosity Sparks to enhance it.

Under each Curiosity Spark I write a sample headline, so Imagine I’m crazy about avocados because of their nutritional benefits and I have a food blog. My working title is: Why I love the superfood avocado.

BTW This first ingredient is the longest but, as you’ll see below, it lists words you can work with – the other five ingredient points are much shorter {promise}!

Mysterious: How can you be secretive, revealing? Think suspense, cliff-hangers, detective stories.

Words you can use: Discover, Proof, Hidden, Key, Confidential, Exposed, Insider, Puzzle, Revealing, Camouflaged, Forbidden, Myths.

Little-known facts about avocados your nutritionist isn’t telling you

Tempting: How can you indulge the senses, like taste or touch? Can you use sensual or playful language?

Words you can use: Tasty, Juicy, Fascinating, Irresistible, Delicious, Beautiful, Recipes, Ingredients, Need, Thrilling, Naughty, Magnetic, Gorgeous, Wild.

Delicious recipes to make your kids fall in love with avocados

Explanatory: As we evolve our business and life, we want to find out how to do things in a smarter or quicker way, why certain things happen and what we can do about it. How can you explain your topic (in an interesting way, of course)?

Words you can use:

  • Ways, When, What, Your, How, Why, Who;
  • Clever, Trustworthy, Real, Secure, Authentic;
  • Use, Start, Get, Keep, Difference;
  • Exercise, Method, Tips, Tactic, Insights, Tools, Rules, Practical, Template, Guide, DIY.

7 ways to eat your daily avocado (and why they’re so good for you)

Unexpected: How can you surprise your ideal reader? Can you find an unusual angle, or bring out your quirky, unpredictable side?

Words you can use: Shocking, Strange, Random, Controversial, Outrageous, Inventive, Weird, Dare, Brazen, Refreshing

Strange reasons to love avocados (+ 7 recipes)

Cautionary: Use this one with caution (no joke)! Recent studies by HubSpot and CoSchedule have shown more people respond to positive headlines than negative ones. However, other data disputes this!

These kinds of phrases can work well for sales page sub-headings and email subject lines, especially towards the end of a launch. They can also work when teamed with a desired result. So, how can you evoke genuine warning, fear, urgency or scarcity?

Words you can use (mild – severe): Don’t, Never, Avoid, Stop, Last, End, Can’t, Useless, Scary, Lies, Roadblocks, Quit, Risk, Less, Miss, Unhealthy, Useless, Critical, Alarming; Hate, Danger, Nightmare, Nasty, Brutal, Appalling.

Are you missing this delicious superfood from your diet?

Transformation: Where you can commiserate or talk through your experience – what lessons or results can you share?

Words you can use:

  • Mistakes, Ordeal, Fail, Before, Crisis;
  • Master, Improve, Overcome, After, Turn, Success, Change, Courageous.

28 days later: guess what this small but mighty superfood can do for you

Marvel: How can you share wonder, admiration, ease? Maybe you can evoke hope, or illustrate your fiery passion on a subject? One caveat: be careful when using superlatives – depending on your audience, some words can sound spammy if the market is over-saturated with them already and you MUST be able to deliver on your headline’s promise.

Words you can use:

  • Finally, Ultimate, Only, Essential, Free, Beginner’s, Advanced, Everything, Powerful, New, Latest, Experts (list/interview);
  • Amazing, Incredible, Epic, Spectacular, Brilliant, Awesome, Outstanding, Super, Astonishing, Remarkable, Unique, Stunning, Unique, Stand Out, Legendary;
  • Best, Most, Quickest, Funniest, Top, Easiest, Perfect, Unparalleled;
  • Ease, Simple, Love, Faster, Cure, Better, Effective, Bliss, Efficient, Direct.

10 astounding reasons why avocados are MORE than a superfood

2 | How to ensure you’re writing compelling headlines

Here’s one simple question you can use: What’s in it for them?

Focus on your ideal client and their desires, interests and pain points. Here are some Qs to ask yourself to come at this question from different aspects:

  • What is the desired result? What solution am I promising?
  • How can I make this headline persuasive, captivating or fascinating? How can I turn it into a “need-to-know” proposition?
  • How can I keep it on-brand while ensuring it’s meaningful, purposeful & worthwhile to my ideal reader?
    For example, is your brand messaging:

    • Fun, entertaining, playful; or
    • Serious, ambitious, savvy; or
    • Profound, philosophical, reflective; or
    • Approachable, supportive, reliable.

3 | Fact or fiction – is my headline accurate?

People are scanning content all day – you do need to stand out with compelling and intriguing content, but your headlines must have a level of readability. Nonsensical gibberish won’t cut it! Your headline should make sense when it stands on its own.

If you can’t back up your headline with content which delivers, you’ll annoy readers fast.twitter icon

Unless provocative is a core brand message for you, of course.

Headline Accuracy Checklist:

» Makes sense / plausible
» Tangible & concrete
» Clear & concise
» Factual

BTW You can still be accurate and provocative and use a superlative.

However… there’s one exception to this rule: email subject lines. You can be ultra-mysterious sometimes, for example only using the first half of the headline:

“Dazed & Confused? This will help” / “{Confession} Truth revealed inside…”

That’s the great thing about writing – there are always fun ways to test what works for your business and, at times, break the rules!

4 | Does my headline demonstrate how useful my content is?

Are you communicating in a way which demonstrates the helpfulness of your content – how can you show you’re addressing a pain point (without giving it all away)?

Remember: give them a reason to take action and find out more. That means hinting at the solution/answer you’re providing in your content.

Let’s go back to the tasty Why I love the superfood avocado working headline, and frame it as being useful to the reader (ideal client).

Instead of writing Why I love avocados and why you should love this superfood too, I’ll make it more concise + focused towards the ideal reader:

Great food blogger headline examples

Those two titles rate a 62 on CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer – a great free tool to help you perfect your headlines. That’s not bad! But we can still improve on these headlines – I’ll show you how below.

5 | Use emotive language in your headlines

Powerful, strong, emotional language will speak to the heart of your ideal client/reader and help them decide if your content is worth their time.

You’re competing with family and friends for precious space in your ideal client life – it’s a privilege. When you earn their trust, using your genuine passion and emotional intelligence, it can help your ideal client relate to you on a deeper level.

Many of the intriguing words above (in point #1) are packed with power and emotion. Let’s try some out on our avocado headline:

Let’s try some emotive words & phrases out on the Headline Analyzer (highlighted below):

 

Headline Examples with Emotion Words

 

These are all very bold promises! How you deliver on your promise matters.

6 | Make your headlines more specific to your ideal client

Using distinguishing words or phrases to help your headlines stand out, also qualify prospects because the words are more specifically targeted to your ideal client.

By this point, you’ll find you’ve already got headlines that are pretty specific. If not, here are some ways you can be more specific:

  • Use direct language, for example:
    • You / your /
    • Make a definitive statement using words like “This… is/are…” / “…that will…” / “…make you…” / “People…”
    • # Number posts (BTW always write the digit, not the number-word)
  • Target certain sub-sectors of your niche or topic, e.g. instead of talking about all superfoods or all fruits, you talk about one in more detail.
  • Make it ultra-relevant to one of your ideal client’s pain points or desirable results.
  • Consider a better or different way to present your blog post – list and how-to posts have performed well for years.
  • Don’t forget SEO! Think about the search words and phrases your ideal client would use.

Here are some more headline examples of the specific elements highlighted in green:

Specific Elements Headline Examples

What to avoid – headline no-no’s

Stuffing keywords gives you boring headlines, e.g.:

“Avocado health benefits – avocado facts and avocado recipes” doesn’t score that badly, but would YOU click through?

More than 60 characters (including spaces) will get chopped off in search results – try and keep to 50-60. But don’t get too hung on this – as long as the part that’s showing makes sense, e.g.:

 

Don’t make it complicated – this headline doesn’t quite roll off the tongue:

Don’t over-promise: as mention earlier, be wary of superlatives or a viral-sounding headline, unless you can back it up with spectacular content.

Don’t rely on other people’s research – at the end of the day YOU know your audience best. Once you’ve got 6+ months’ worth of posts under your belt, you’ll have a better idea which types of headlines convert.

 

Putting it all together – bonus headline templates

To summarize, the 6 key ingredients for irresistible headlines are:

    • Intriguing (catches your ideal client attention & sparks their curiosity)
    • Compelling (need-to-know, fascinating, creates anticipation)
    • Accurate (makes sense, factual, tangible, clear)
    • Useful (helpful, deals with a pain point)
    • Emotive (strong, emotional language)
    • Specific (distinguishing word/phrase)

Here are 11 headline templates you can use:

How to [get desired result/solution] in [short timeframe]

The top 10 [methods/people/hacks/etc.] to get you [desired result] without [pain point]

The [ultimate/beginners/advanced/etc.] guide to [client interest]

[#] warning signs that your [client interest] is [cautionary, e.g. suffering]

What my biggest mistake taught me about [life/vocation/client pain point]

Why [activity/thing] will give you [unexpected result]

Never [do activity/thing] without doing this first

[#] ways to [desired result] and [why/when] you should

How to [overcome/quit/stop] [client pain point] [with/in] [ease/short timeframe]

[#] [key/vital/essential] [ingredients/factors/elements] you need to [desired result] – the one I used for this post headline!


Which key ingredient stood out most for you?

Leave a comment below with your “before” & “after” headline ideas.

 

 

About Jeda Pearl 

Jeda loves piercing through confusion, frustration, and fear with compelling words – language grounded in empathy, honesty and clarity. On jedapearl.com she shares inspiration, stories & tips on copywriting, marketing and content strategy, helping entrepreneurs forge deeper relationships with more of their ideal clients so they can grow their businesses and create meaningful change.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Pinterest // Instagram 

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2 Comments

  • Reply Michelle Behre June 7, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Incredibly insightful post. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply Bethany June 12, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Great insight on SEOs!

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