Last updated on November 9th, 2016
Some may tell you the image is the most important element of a blog post.
Others may say that solid links to support your data and assertions are the key.
Still others might emphasize that, no, it’s all about the length, topics and posting frequency.
In truth, all these things are pretty important, right?
Unless your headlines are no good, that is.
Some background information may be in order, to help you fully appreciate just how important the headline is.
Headlines are the ads for your content
The importance of your content headlines can’t be overstated. It’s usually the first impression for your readers – and it could be their last.
The headline functions as the ad for your blog post, in many cases.
Blog headlines will show up on social media…
…as e-mail subject lines…
…and in the SERPs.
Even within your blog itself, the headlines are what a reader will scan when deciding which posts to read and which to pass by.
My headline writing process
For me, writing headlines is agonizing, because I know just how important they are. I almost never walk away thinking I nailed it on the first try (and many times not even on the 10th try).
Here’s what I do. I’d love if you’d share your process in the comments below, too!
I jot down whatever comes to mind for the headline when I begin writing, knowing I’ll revisit it later. Then I come back to the headline at the very last. Sometimes along the way, bits jump out at me from the article that lend inspiration. I’ll usually google a couple possible versions of headlines to see what else is out there, checking out the other headlines mine would be competing with. I might even seek feedback from an online tool like Co-Schedule’s headline analyzer.
There have been times I’ve written upwards of 20 versions of a headline just for one piece of content.
And then after seeing it published, I think, “Oh, maybe I should have said… instead.” Yes, agonizing.
Here’s how the current headline for this post evolved
It started out as: “Tips & tools for Improving Your Headline Game”.
…But everyone has tips and tools – sometimes 5 or 15 or 105 of them to share, it seems (according to what I saw already in Google).
“Writing better headlines while saving your sanity”
“My headline writing process”
…Nah. Boring. Maybe a little more intrigue is in order here?
“Why a little extra effort on this aspect of your blog could pay off big time”
“If I had to pick one thing to improve on your blog, it would be this” (wordy)
Final version: “If we could improve one thing on your blog, it would be this”
Probably not perfect. But at least where I ended up in my headline here stands out a bit from the saturated landscape of tips, tricks, tools, and so on.
How to write better headlines – some tips, tricks, and tools
So, how do you write a headline that stands out against the competing titles and entices readers to choose yours? Yes, we do have a few tips to pass along here after all.
Use words that show an emotional benefit for the reader.
Instead of “Tips for Organizing Your Content Schedule” you might instead try “Be Large and in Charge with a Content Schedule That Keeps Your Team on Track.”
Using a unique voice and word choice will not only catch your readers’ attention, but it can also set the tone for the rest of the article and govern how the reader absorbs/remembers the information you present.
This means using words that not only accurately represent your content, but are also something your readers may not expect.
Make it easy to understand
Make your headline straightforward enough so that your readers understand exactly what it’s about, but not so boring that readers are uninterested. It’s a fine balance.
It may be easy to formulate an article headline that promises to reveal all of life’s secrets, but it’s important to make sure that your content delivers on those promises. Otherwise, you risk losing readership loyalty, and that’s not easily gotten back.
A good headline shares with readers the specific main point of the article without having a paragraph’s length.
The optimal length of a headline could be 40-60 characters (including spaces, in case you were wondering). That way, it will not be cut off in SERPs, and it will satisfy online readers’ preferences for brief, easily digestible information.
Along the same lines of being specific, your headline should offer the answers to the questions your ideal readers are asking and set accurate expectations for what’s to come in the article.
For example, if your article addresses ways to help your blogs move up in Google search rankings, a headline like “Moving On Up” doesn’t offer your readers any value or specificity. It will likely leave them confused.
Instead, using a headline like “5 Unique Ways to Bolster your Blog Rankings” provides your reader with enough promised internal value and specificity to let them know exactly what they will find if they click through.
Use keywords – and try a question format
Keywords not only paint your article relevant, but they can help determine how your readers will find what you’ve written.
Choose one main keyword or phrase – I especially like questions – that individuals would type into search engines, and work to incorporate them into your headline.
Thinking along the lines of the questions people ask may even improve your odds of appearing in one of Google’s Answer Boxes.
Target the headline’s appeal to your audience
When writing any sort of content designed to appeal to your readers, it can help to have your ideal audience in mind.
To accomplish this, many look at audience personas or imagine the typical reader during the writing process. For example, if your target reader is a stay-at-home mom, you’ll want to use language, references, and situations a person in that situation will respond to in your headline.
Google your topic and headline versions
Taking inspiration from others can be very beneficial for coming up with a unique headline. Do a Google search for the topic you’re writing on to see what sorts of articles show up on the first SERP page. Think of ways you can improve or build upon them, and you’ve got a start!
Compare against your other content
From time to time, take a look at how your other published headlines are performing. Which are getting the most clicks and shares? Ask yourself why these particular headlines are getting the most traffic and try to implement their best features in the future.
It’s also useful to review the headlines you’ve written for a site to make sure subsequent ones carry the voice of the site consistently.
Keep a running tab of inspiration
Whenever you find a headline you admire or a format that accomplishes what you want, take note of it in a Word file, Evernote, etc. If you find yourself stuck for a good headline, you can look back on this document for inspiration or headlines you may be able to reword or reuse.
Take note of powerful social media or marketing email subject lines in your industry
Your own social media accounts are a great way to see which sorts of headlines are getting shared.
Put yourself in the readers’ shoes
Would you want to read your article based on the headline? Keeping your audience in mind from step one will help you create content and a headline that your readers will respond to.
Great headline writing resources to check out
- Copyblogger’s collection of headlines advice provides amazing help with writing headlines.
- Quicksprout’s Definitive Guide to Copywriting includes an extensive chapter on writing headlines that are unique and useful for readers. This chapter is littered with both good and bad examples.
- IncomeDiary has compiled a list of 10 headline types that have been received consistently well by readers. These types include the classic “How-To” article, asking questions with your headline, and examples of intriguing word choice that works.
- I love a good infographic, and HubSpot offers one that presents not only examples of headlines that work, but templates to try and a comprehensive list of words designed to make an impression.
Tools for headline creation and analysis
- It may seem simple, but a thesaurus can be one of your most useful tools for formulating a unique headline (it’s one of my favorites, personally). Search overused words to find distinctive alternatives that will grab your readers’ attention.
- Advanced Marketing Institute’s headline analyzer gives you a scoring of your headline’s emotional marketing value depending on your word choice.
- CoSchedule’s headline analyzer gives your headline a score based on its length, word count, and use of emotional and powerful words.
- Inbound Now offers a quick title idea generator that provides several title templates for the fast inspiration you need.
You’re leaving money on the table if you’re not optimizing your headlines when you produce your blog content.
So, tell us, how do your headlines fare? Share with our readers your process here, too!