Writing your blog post is a lot of work. But it’s not usually the part that gives you the most grief.
Your toughest task is coming up with the right title and sub-heads.
Someone once said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Don’t believe them. People do that all the time. Just go to your local bookstore (or amazon.com) and see for yourself. A book—or your blog post—may contain the secret to the origins of the universe, but no one will read it if the title doesn’t persuade them to stick around.
Why? Because when your post lands in your subscriber’s in-box or their Google reader, it’s competing with every other message, every other blog post, every other headline. Readers skim and scan, looking for the one that catches their interest enough to click through.
That means that your headline is the single most important part of your content. It has to make your reader sit up and pay attention. If that doesn’t happen, you have wasted the hard work you invested in writing the content.
In the business, we call that a “sticky” headline. It’s one that the reader can’t get out of her brain. It calls to her. Intrigues her. Makes her just have to read your post.
A well-crafted headline can drive more traffic to your blog, increase conversion rates on your website, get people to share your content on social platforms and keep your readers coming back for more.
Easier said than done?
The Guide to Writing Blog Headlines
But creating that perfect headline can be a challenge. In this post, I will walk you through the steps of writing a headline that offers your reader a promise and pulls them into your blog post. And when you learn how to do that, you can apply it to writing just about any headline, whether it’s for a website sales page, a newsletter article, an ad, an email marketing campaign or something else.
Why Your Blog Post Headlines Matter
In the social media age, we are all writers, whether we want to be or not. Those of us who are lucky may even have staff to manage most of it for us. Maybe we hire a blogger to handle our posts or we pass our newsletter content and email sales campaigns on to an in-house or contracted copywriter.
But what if you are a solopreneur, a one-man or -woman show? What if you have to do it all? If it falls on your shoulders to create all of your online content—or even part of it— on top of everything else, it can be overwhelming.
You can struggle if you don’t know what we are doing—or why.
In this post, you’ll get a crash course on the number one skill that determines whether people will even get through your blog post or newsletter article.
Taking the extra time to craft the perfect headline pays off in huge ways. It is the single most important thing you can do to get your posts read and shared more. And isn’t that why we write in the first place?
You only have a couple of seconds
So why do professional writers spend so much time on their headlines? It is because they know that they are the gateway to their content. A headline is like the first sentence of a story. Either your readers will open the gate and walk through, or they will slam it shut.
Picture your email inbox. Whether it’s a newsletter or a business email, the title in the subject box can be a deal breaker. Either it makes you curious enough to read the whole article or it makes you decide to scroll past it.
That’s a lot of power for just a few words.
Better headlines, more traffic
Recent research shows that 2 million blog posts, 294 billion emails and 864,000 hours of video are created every day. Add to that 400 million daily tweets and you have boatloads of information.
As if you needed any more justification, according to Peter Koechley, co-founder of the viral media site Upworthy, tests show that traffic to the content on his site varies as much as 500% based on the headline.
The question you should ask yourself is this: How can I lure that attention-disordered reader into choosing my stuff over the bazillion other pieces of content out there?
You have probably read this statistic before. On average, 8 of 10 people will read headline copy. But only two out of 10 will read the rest.
Let’s face it. No one wakes up thinking they’d better hurry on over to your blog to read your latest post. We must compete for and win their attention.
We do that by writing catchy, memorable headlines.
Your headline is your promise.
That same Upworthy study proved that the more explicit the headline—the more it tells the reader what they are going to get out of reading the article—the better chance the content will be read.
In other words, make a promise in your headline (but be sure you keep that promise in the body of your post or article). We’ll talk more about headline-as-promise later in this post.
Would You Know a Good Post Headline if You Saw It?
Above all else, a headline is a promise: a promise that you are going to deliver something to your readers.
While there are several ways to go about writing them, the best headlines entice readers and capture their attention by offering a concrete takeaway, something to help them in business or life.
Although not every good headline has all of these elements, you can’t go wrong if you use one or more of the following strategies. As you read them, the first thing you will probably notice is that they are coming at you from the reader’s perspective. They are the things you want your reader to notice, or think, or feel.
What good headlines do
A good headline can make you curious.
Science tells us that as humans we are hard-wired to want to know the answers to questions. If we make our readers curious enough, they are compelled to read on to find out why you said what you said.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: Why You Can’t Cry in Space
It is never anything I had given any thought to (who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I wonder why people can’t cry in space”?) but now that the statement is out there, I am dying to know. I am curious.
Often a good headline will make you feel something.
Surprise, fear, anger, it almost doesn’t matter which feeling you touch. If you use emotional triggers in your headline, you are speaking directly to your reader’s fears, desires and needs.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: Writing Mistakes that Make You Look Stupid: 5 Things Your Teacher Was Right About
This above headline works because one of the things we fear most is that people will think we are not very smart. We avoid at all costs things that will make us look stupid. You can also appeal to our anger, our anxieties, our compassion or a myriad other emotions.
A good headline can make you laugh.
Humor is also a good way to reach your readers on an emotional level. John Cleese, Monty Python actor and creator of Silly Walks, nails it:
“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas.”
I’m not talking cruel humor here. I mean the kind that helps us forget our differences. The stuff that brings us together.
One way to use humor is to make fun of yourself. Talking about a flaw or defect of your own not only makes your readers laugh, but it’s a great device for building trust and empathy. Because in the process, your readers may think, yeah, I’ve done that, too.
If you are able to laugh at yourself, your readers or customers may just see a little bit of themselves in it. But this way, it’s safer. Because it’s not about them, it’s about you.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging Since My Stinky First Post
What beginning blogger wouldn’t be thrilled to know that many of us started our blogs with much enthusiasm but not many skills? That most of us are truly embarrassed when we go back and look at our first post? Add to the post a few things you’ve learned since then, and you have a piece that hits the funny bone, while managing to be both entertaining and educational.
A good headline is ‘sticky.’
If you’ve read any of the blog posts here that focus on the importance of sticky content, you’ll remember that this descriptor just means that your words that are image-rich, mulit-sensory and memorable. Words that will stick in your readers’ brains.
You remember the sticky headlines. Like exceptional photos in a blog post, they leave a picture in your mind.
Since 60 percent of your readers are visual learners, one way to up the sticky factor is to use a “picture word” in your headline. For example, if you are writing a post on website redesign, you might compare something somewhat abstract, like a blog, to something concrete, like a house, as Bob did in a post. It gave his readers something to picture.
Try out a few headlines with sticky words: use details, voices, and images that will stay in your readers’ minds.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: Step Inside CatsEyeWriter Blog’s New House
Just associating a house with a blog, accompanied by a photo that drives home the concept of “building,” was enough to help readers visualize, consume and remember my content.
A good headline has enough details.
Adding details to your headline can make it more memorable. Adding things like a number, or names of people and places (if they fit the content of your piece), naturally makes readers want to know more.
This is why list posts are still popular. Readers eagerly await the 5 or 10 things you are going to show them in your post. They remember the points you make when you number them. And they like it because they know exactly what they are going to get.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: 15 Ways to Increase Your Blog Traffic with Irresistible Tweets
You know from the headline that you are going to get 15 useful tips for promoting your blog content on Twitter.
A word about sub-heads
Sub-heads are the titles you put within your posts and website copy to organize your points and help readers get through the copy faster. They also help people remember the major points you are making.
Just like on a website page, sub-heads break up long copy in your posts and are especially good for the skimmers and scanners. Don’t forget to use them, especially if you have written a long blog post.
Do You Make Any of These 5 Headline Mistakes?
Sometimes a headline can go sideways and actually discourage people from reading your whole article or post, something you do not want to happen. Try to avoid these traps.
1. The I-spilled-all-the-beans headline
Do not tell everything in your headline. If you do, the reader has no reason to click through to the full article.
Why should they? You have given them all they need to know in the headline.
FIRST WRITE: Home Prices Drop 56%
With this headline, the reader doesn’t need to know anything else. You gave her the whole story. Instead, try whetting our appetites so we want to know how big a drop it was.
REWRITE: Biggest drop in home prices since 1976
Now I’m curious and it’s more likely I’ll click through to see just how much home prices have fallen.
2. The I’m-just-a-cliché-headline
Words become clichés for a reason. At one time, they were powerful. They conjured up an instant image, made you picture something in your mind.
But then they became used by everyone and their brother-in-law. So much that they lost their original meaning. They have become tired, deflated party balloons, once full of energy, now just sad.
There are a few copywriting clichés whose shelf life has expired. Watch so they don’t creep into your headlines:
If an article or blog post has this adjective in the headline, I’m finished reading. And yet even copywriters, who should know better, use this word like they got a special deal on it at Costco and need to unload a few thousand.
On a whim, I googled the term “killer headlines” and got 198 million results. What did “killer” mean when it was shiny and new? I think it started as another word for “great.”
What does it mean now? Nothing. A simple search turned up thousands of articles with this word in the headline:
Increase Your Click-Throughs with Killer Title Tags
Get More Online Dates by Writing a Killer Profile
And my all-time favorite:
Become a Killer Writer: Avoid Overused Adjectives (really, like killer?)
Try to use another verb. Really. Don’t fall into the trap of using this one. A small assortment of articles I found on the web:
How to Succeed at Content Marketing Even if Your Content Skills Suck
How to Write a Good eBook—You know, the Kind that Doesn’t Suck
6 Words That Make Your Resumé Suck
And, I leave you with the most ironic one of all:
If I hear one more writer compare a person to a rock star, I’m going to light an incendiary device under my computer screen, just like in those movies where the trailer trash guy shoots the television.
Rock star meant something once. Charismatic, passionate, sexy. (On second thought, looking at Arrowsmith’s Steven Tyler, maybe not that last one.)
But this word has had the life sucked out of it. The visual imagery is gone. Because if everyone can do everything like a rock star, it isn’t that special anymore.
A quick Google search found:
Blog like a rock star.
Network like a rock star
How to be a rock star in your niche
Use QuickBooks like a rock star. (Okay, I made that one up, but I suspect that somewhere, someone has used this one, too.)
Bloggers have even taken to using it as an adjective:
Rockstar plugins you may not know about (Look. Now even a WordPress plugin can be a rock star!)
There are many, many more clichés out there, but avoiding these three will be a good start.
Consider this: If you see a word used over and over again, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from it.
3. The ‘much ado about nothing’ headline
This headline teases us with an idea that seems revolutionary, but it turns out to be just an exercise in language manipulation.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: Why No Business Should Use Online Social Networking
What does this headline promise? That we will learn why we shouldn’t network online.
Would you click through to read this article? I’m betting you would. But this writer broke a cardinal rule: deliver what you promised in your headline.
I had to read eight paragraphs of his article to find out what he was referring to in his headline. And when I finally got to it, he told me that it’s time to stop referring to it as “social networking.” We should really call it social marketing, he said.
It was the term he was objecting to, not the concept. It was a bait-and-switch headline that didn’t deliver on its promise. I clicked on the headline, only to find that I’d been purposely deceived.
Stay away from this kind of headline because you will lose your readers’ trust. And trust is a fragile thing.
4. The dominate-the-world-in-just-five-minutes headline
We all want to accomplish great things in as little time as possible. I get that. Just don’t mislead me by telling me I can switch blog themes in as little time as it takes to change my nail polish.
Because after reading your blog post or article and giving it a try, if it isn’t that easy, you will make me feel I am stupid and, worse yet, I won’t believe your advice anymore.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: It’s So Easy, My 90-year-old Grandmother Can Set Up a Blog
I don’t know a lot of grandmas with the technical skills to set up a blog. And at the age of ninety? Maybe a few. But I don’t think it would be “easy.” So already, this headline writer has lost credibility.
5. The ‘throw in random words as link bait’ headline
In its purest, best form, link baiting is merely creating content that is interesting enough to catch people’s attention and encourage them to link to our sites. I’m all for that. I think it’s what all bloggers want to see happen.
Just don’t mislead me with words or names that have nothing to do with the content of your post.
Because if you stuff keywords into your headline solely for the purpose of feeding the search engines and getting more links, you will lose me.
And if I read your post to the end, only to find that it had nothing in common with its title? Sorry. That’s deceiving me—and disrespecting me as a reader.
HEADLINE EXAMPLE: How to Get Adele to Read Your Blog
Okay, someone threw a celebrity name into their headline. They’ll probably get some hits from all those people googling “Adele.” But if, when they click through, the post just has regular tips for attracting blog readers, that’s a headline fail.
Because the post has nothing to do with Adele.
Now, I’ll admit, I once used “Justin Bieber” in a blog post title: Would You Lose $100,000 if Justin Bieber Got a Haircut? Turns out, though, that this idol of millions of teenage girls had everything to do with the point of my post, which was about the danger of entrepreneurs putting all their eggs in one basket.
Should You Write Your Headline First or Last?
When it comes to blog post headlines (and this information applies equally to online articles, website copy and newsletters), there has been much discussion about whether you should write your title before you write the article, or after.
Even the experts disagree on this one. Brian Clark of Copyblogger fame says, “Always write your headline first.”
His reasoning is that your headline is your promise and you need to have that front and center as you write. So let’s look at some of the benefits of doing that:
3 good things about writing your headline first
- It helps you define the goal, or point, of your piece.
- It keeps you focused and on track as you write your content.
- It can help you manage your time better.
(On number three above, if you brainstorm your title first, you do the thinking upfront and the article is often much easier to write.)
On the other hand, James Chartrand of Men with Pens says, “Always write your headline last.”
Chartrand claims that first you need to know your audience, what you want them to do as a result of your piece and (probably most important), what your are going to be giving your readers in the way of content. So, here they are, some of the benefits of doing that:
3 good things about writing your headline last
- Your headline will be better aligned with your content. (Actually, after you have written your article or blog post, you may think of a much better, catchier headline. Sometimes a word or two you have used to drive a point home in your full text may be perfect to use in your title.)
- You can put all your passion into the article when your mind is fresh.
- If your article goes in a new, unexpected direction, your headline can reflect that.
But which should you do: write it first or write it last?
You should use the approach that works best for you. Try it both ways and see what happens. If you ask me, I’ll tell you that I don’t do it either way. I write my headline first and last.
(I’ve always had problems with decision-making.) To give you extra food for thought, I’ll share the way I handle my headlines:
How I create my headlines
I’ll say this upfront. I don’t like to write titles that are just a big, heaping serving of keyword soup. That leaves me free to write for humans, which I’d much rather do. Here is how I do it:
1. Identify the topic of my post.
I start with a general topic. I like the wiggle room it allows me as I write, as new thoughts occur to me. Because sometimes the original topic takes an interesting side trip and I end up putting a different twist on the article.
2. Write a working title.
This is similar to a novel or screenplay’s first title. I might even get clever and write something creative if an idea comes to me. But, still, I know it is just the working title. A placeholder. Something to play with.
Sometimes I end up keeping it for the final headline (but more often than not it changes).
3. Outline my article and write the draft.
I am not a slave to the outline. It may be as simple as five short phrases, which make up the five points in my post. These points are helpful when I go back to break the post up with sub-heads.
Sometimes my outline lets me fill in the paragraphs after each point in a flash. (I love it when I get that lucky.)
But most times, I rearrange the sequence of the points, dropping some, adding others and even throwing them all out and going with a new inspiration. But they are there to guide me if I need them.
And so I write my post.
4. Go back to the working title and brainstorm alternative headlines.
This is where the real work begins. If the working title no longer promises what my post delivered, out it goes.
I start writing down headline ideas. The first ones that come out are always crappy: lame, predictable, boring. I get those out first.
With more thought, the better ones come along. A question that makes my readers curious, a confession or secret I promise to tell, a bold statement or a hint at an unusual solution to a common problem.
I try to write at least ten different headlines—often it’s more than that.
I narrow down the titles to the two best. Sometimes I combine the most powerful parts of each and write a new headline. Other times, I choose the most appealing one and focus on making that one better.
5. Rewrite my chosen headline multiple times.
This last step is where the “good enough” headline becomes the just right one.
I change the words around, substitute, delete, add, change a statement headline to a question. I continue to play with them until one jumps out at me.
Even now, after 24 years of copywriting, I’m learning new things about headline writing—what makes one title bomb and the other one soar to new heights, even make my post go viral.
Play around with different approaches until you find the one that works for you.
Is There a Failproof Formula for Writing Irresistible Headlines?
There are endless ways to make a headline appealing enough to pull your reader into your copy.
10 of My Most Successful Headline Formulas
Do you remember the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books? You know, that magical hat that could not only assign students to the right house at Hogwarts School, but predict the future?
I wish I had a Sorting Hat to try on my headlines and tell me which ones will soar and which ones are going to self-combust.
I had to figure out this headline stuff for myself, through trial and error.
Oh, and one thing. I don’t judge the success of a headline solely on the number of comments or page views my post gets. In this hurry-up world of ours, sometimes the number of social shares it garners can be just as accurate a measure (if not better).
Here are some of the headline strategies that have worked for me:
1. Make a bold statement.
This one works well because it challenges the status quo. Every blogger on the planet tells you it’s all about content. This post contradicts that, right in the title. And readers were curious to know why I was saying that.
The headline: The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Bloggers: It’s Not All About Content
2. Make a confession or tell a secret.
When you make yourself vulnerable, you make yourself more human, more approachable and more likable to your readers. And they feel that they are in the inside circle.
My confession was that I am fearful that each time I sit down to write, I will discover that I have no more good ideas.
I shared that with another writer, who replied, “Maybe you should look into getting some counseling to fell better about yourself and then you might discover that you are a good writer after all.”
It was a great idea for a new blog post. If we share ourselves in honest and authentic ways, with vulnerability, does that mean that we have self-concept issues?
Or does it mean that we are revealing our humanness and connecting with our readers?
The headline: Is Admitting My Insecurities as a Writer a Sign of Low-Concept?
3. Ask a question that’s on people’s minds.
If you listen—on Facebook, on Twitter, on other blogs—you will come to identify issues people are talking and wondering about. One discussion people were having was whether other social media—Facebook with its “likes,” Twitter and its RTs, etc.—were taking people away from the actual blog post because it is so much easier to share than to comment.
The headline: Are Blogs Really Getting Fewer Comments These Days?
4. Touch a nerve.
Sometimes an issue will bother you as a blogger. If you blog about it with passion, you are likely to interest readers who feel the same way as you (and also readers who don’t).
The title of my post on the misuse of apostrophes drew lots of page views, dialogue and social shares.
The headline: Preventing Apostrophe Abuse Begins at Home
5. Make ‘em curious.
Blogging and writing are often seen as right brain activities. Words, images, emotions. So what if we could take a page from science to improve our blogs and, especially to provide the content our readers are looking for?
Well, if we looked at our blogs as living laboratories, we might find the answers.
The headline: 7 Ways to Use Your Blog as a Lab, Even if You Failed 8th Grade Science
6. Promise to answer a question but don’t tell how.
Part of the secret of a good headline is to keep your reader guessing. Propose a solution to a problem, but leave a little mystery in your title. I read a startling fact that most people quit blogging in the first two to three months. I began thinking about why.
I called my theory The Princess Syndrome and wrote a post on how to fight the perfection demons when we blog.
The headline: Why Most People Quit Blogging: The Princess Syndrome
7. Propose a hot button problem and solve it backwards.
In my coaching, I heard from many people who were afraid to leave a comment on a blog. They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to think of something meaningful or profound to say. Or that they would say something that made them sound stupid.
Or, worse yet, what if they leave a comment and no one notices it?
Sure, I could have written a headline, “10 Ways to Get Your Blog Comment Noticed.” That’s a good, helpful title, but it’s kind of boring. So I tackled it from the other end: the reasons your comment doesn’t get any attention. Don’t be afraid to use a little healthy fear in your title.
The headline: 10 Reasons No One Notices Your Blog Comment
8. Promise to inspire.
The word “surprising,” used sparingly, can get more click-throughs because it promises the unexpected.
In this post, I wasn’t going for the “get more readers, get more clients” approach, but more for the personal benefits of blogging—the way it changed me in different, more subtle ways.
The headline: 7 Surprising Ways Blogging Can Change Your Life
9. Make a fresh but unusual analogy.
Comparing two unlike things and finding connections will make your reader sit up and take notice.
In one post, I compared a blog community to kids at play in the schoolyard. I combined a story from my years in teaching with a lesson about blogging.
The headline: Building a Bloggers’ Community: What I Learned at Recess
In the next example, I was looking for ways little kids can inspire us as bloggers:
The headline: 5 Reasons First Graders Would Rule the Blogging World
On first thought, this might be taken as a look at the woefully lacking skills of some bloggers (although if you know me, you know I would never write a post like that).
But when curious readers opened it up, it was a post on just how much small children can teach us about blogging—and life.
10. Write about a topic that forces your readers to take a stand.
I knew this one would get people riled up. I knew that most readers would be firmly on one side or the other. And, yes, I knew that using “F-bomb” would catch my readers’ attention.
But I had no idea what a rich discussion would follow on the reasons bloggers use obscenities in their posts (or don’t).
The headline: ‘F-Bomb’ Blogging: A New Brand Strategy or Just Plain Lazy?
Good headlines work because they make people curious. Can you work with any of these formulas to come up with some new strategies for your own headlines?
Who Should You Write Your Headlines for- Your Readers or the Search Engines?
I am a firm believer in creating content that is not just a bunch of keyword soup. Yes, it is important to feed the search engines. But if you stuff your headline (and blog post) with keywords, you leave your readers with an awkward, stilted piece of writing that doesn’t educate, entertain or engage.
This is especially true with your headline. Because what good is it if your headline gets top ranking on Google, but when readers get there, the actual piece of writing doesn’t accomplish its purpose?
My rule: always write for humans first.
Why? Because an audience-friendly piece of writing is also Google-friendly. Your audience is looking to you for help. They want answers to their questions.
And so does Google. In fact, Google rewards you with more traffic when you provide solutions to the problems people are searching.
A crash course on writing SEO-friendly headlines
This lesson is kept purposely short for two reasons. First, though they are certainly intertwined, the focus of this post is the text part, not the technical, SEO part of headlines. And second, I try to leave the SEO strategies and lessons to the experts, many of whom have worked in this field for more than a decade.
Google loves a good headline
Headlines (and their first cousins, sub-heads), when written with a little thought, can help attract traffic to your blog. Google likes properly constructed headlines because—if you use the right keywords in them— they provide excellent information on the content of your post and help readers find it. Like your human readers do, the Google crawler scans your headlines for these helpful keywords, the terms their visitors are searching for.
So, when you write your headlines, you want to use the same words that your audience might use. If you do, you have a much better chance of being found by the search engines.
Remember your keywords, but don’t obsess
If you are unsure about those words and terms, and you want to take the time, you can conduct a little keyword research.
Probably the most important thing to remember is that a good headline usually contains one or more of the keywords that tell what your post is about. (But don’t overdo it.)
Two more SEO-focused headline writing tips.
The best of both worlds: the two-part headline
The two-part title covers you both ways: one part is for humans and the other for Google.
Example: The Kidnapping of Cat’s Eye Writer: What to Do if Someone Steals Your Blog Content
The “human” part of this headline, “The Kidnapping of Cat’s Eye Writer,” appeals to my readers’ curiosity. (“What do you mean, you were kidnapped?”).
The second part, “What to Do if Someone Steals Your Blog Content,” attracts the search engines because people are googling to find out what to do if someone steals their work.
Use ‘alt titles’
Another option is to use what they call “alt titles.” Many bloggers do not know that they can write two separate headlines for each post. Your post title that the readers see is catchy enough to get them to click through to the article or story.
The second one, the alt title (as in alternative title) is written in the back end, in the dashboard, where you originally input your post. Many WordPress themes have this built in, for example, the Genesis framework. Or you might use an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO.
Note here: Typically it is best practice to use an SEO plugin vs. your theme settings. In most cases they will both work great, but if you do change your theme, if you use a plugin, you will not have to worry about exporting/importing your SEO settings, or worse yet, losing them entirely.
There will be a box where you can insert that second (alt) title, which is the headline Google will pick up. The headline may be more boring than the first one, but it is keyword-rich.
You will want to be aware that, depending on the theme or plugin you are using, it may be called something other than alt title.
For example, in the Genesis theme SEO it’s called Custom Document Title.
Or in the plugin Yoast SEO it’s is actually a part of the snippet preview. In short, in this plugin when you title your post, it adds to this option and shows what it might look like in a Google listing. If you click on the pencil icon, you can then edit the title, or alt title, as highlighted.
It is good to know the SEO basics as they apply to headlines, but don’t get too caught up with them. Your main priority should always be quality content. If you do that, you will usually rank well with the search engines, too.
How Twitter-Friendly Are Your Headlines?
In this age of social media, it pays to think about how your posts, and particularly your headlines, can be modified in ways that encourage people to share your content on their platforms.
This is true whether you are promoting a brand new post or looking for ways to get more traffic to an older piece of content.
Because, let’s face it. As soon as a post moves off your blog’s home page, fewer readers see it. If it’s a post you were especially proud of, well, that can hurt.
Maybe you wrote it just one month after your started blogging, so only three people saw it.
And one of them was your mother.
Maybe Tuesday’s post was so incredible, you’d like to frame it and hang it on your office was. But for some reason, it got just nine page views.
How to Use Twitter to Attract More Readers to Your Blog
These tips apply equally well to other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Google+, but especially in the Twitterverse, where you have but a brief second or two to catch your followers’ attention.
Studies show that, on average, 96 percent of all tweets are not re-tweeted. They just fall away from the stream and are never seen again.
That’s kind of depressing.
But you can get more love for your blog posts if you apply a few of the tricks copywriters use. If you write your tweet with your reader in mind, you have a better chance that it will be shared, and possibly even go viral.
How can you get the biggest ‘bang’ from your tweets?
Think of your tweet as your headline because, basically, that’s what it is. It needs to do all the things a good headline does.
But it must do more. It needs to be bold enough and unique enough to motivate followers to click through to your post, and in scant seconds.
That is why, when you promote on Twitter, you should consider changing your headline by ramping up the urgency factor.
Here are 11 ideas for writing awesome ‘teaser’ tweets that will get more traffic to your blog and encourage more people to share your content.
1. Ask a question everyone wants the answer to.
Ask the right question and your Twitter followers will be itching for the answer.
Example: Are you trapped in your blogging niche? Is breaking away the answer to getting more readers?
2. Start with a strong verb and tell them what to do.
The command headline can be powerful, especially when coupled with a promise of useful information.
Example: Get three dozen blog post ideas in 10 minutes with this technique.
3. Use a little old-fashioned fear.
As humans, one of the biggest fears is that we will be seen as not very smart:
Example: These 5 writing mistakes will make you look stupid. Do you make any of them?
4. Get personal.
Get in there close and whisper in your reader’s ear. It makes her feel like you’re talking to her as a friend.
Example: Does your website’s error page say the right things about you and your business?
5. Make ‘em curious.
Propose a question that makes people so curious that they just have to know the answer. This post was on how people’s learning and thinking styles affect who they follow and interact with on Twitter.
Example: Does who you hang out with on the Twitter playground have anything to do with your learning style?
6. Make it a ‘page turner.’
Try starting a story and stopping in the middle.
Example: Man scribbles idea for love button, gets embarrassed, then…
This was a link to a post about—well, I won’t tell you, but don’t you want to know the end of the story?
7. Mention someone famous.
For a post I wrote on the challenge Chris Brogan made to bloggers to take any one of the 100 ideas he proposed and write a blog post on it:
Example: Chris Brogan told me to write this.
It certainly got the attention of the Twitter crowd.
8. Go against conventional wisdom.
If your post challenges something we have always thought was true, we will sit up and listen. For instance, I recently saw this tweet:
Example: Customer surveys can hurt business.
Everyone writes about the benefits of asking your customers the right questions. So how can surveying our customers hurt us? I wanted to know, so I clicked through.
9. Promise something incredibly useful.
Offer a solution, but don’t tell what it is.
Example: The single e-mail subject line mistake that loses you the most sales.
The promise here is that if you correct the mistake, you’ll get more sales. And that’s a pretty useful piece of information.
10. Be funny.
One of my personal favorites: make your reader laugh.
Example: Your last web designer was abducted by aliens and he took your password with him? Make sure it never happens again.
The blog post was about taking control of your site and recovering your peace of mind.
11. Disagree with someone.
I wrote a post a while back dissecting a popular Internet marketing model and disagreeing with the tactics.
Example: That sensitive, pony-tailed, Internet marketer guy is getting on my nerves. Does he bother you?
Use these ideas as a springboard for your own titles.
How to Know if Your Headlines Are Working
Running tests with your headlines can give you lots of rich information to use for tweaking your titles. The more you test, the more you know about which ones work and which ones don’t.
You can go as shallow or deep as you want to with these strategies.
On your blog
If you are testing headlines for your blog posts, you can start with Google Analytics. Just set up a free account and you’ll be able to track page views and other information for each post.
You can also tell how searchable your headlines are by looking at the section that shows how people reached your post (in other words, what search terms they used to find you). This gives you valuable data on what people are searching for.
A/B testing (throwing out two different headlines and measuring the response on each) is still used by a lot of writers and bloggers to measure headline effectiveness.
While retweets on Twitter can be influenced by other factors, such as time of day, it is possible to gather much information by tweeting two different headline teasers for the same post.
Now, understand, you must have enough Twitter followers to be able to gather meaningful data (42 followers is probably not going to do it), but if you have a fair number of followers, you should get some valid results.
Write two different headlines, or teasers, and tweet both of them at approximately the same time (say, at 9am, or at 12pm). Then compare the results.
On Twitter, particularly if you use a dashboard application for management, such as TweetDeck, you can track:
- number of retweets (how many times your tweet was shared)
- number of favorites (now called likes)
- number of mentions (how many times someone talked to you about the tweet, using your @username)
Then compare your sets of data, the stats from one headline or teaser, and the information from responses to the other headline.
Aside from springing for paid Facebook Ad Tests, you can learn a lot by testing different headlines for your stories, articles and blog posts to see which ones generate the most interest.
Try posting two links to your blog post or online article, each with a different headline, and checking your stats for the number of likes, comments and shares each got.
Testing your headlines from time to time will help you learn how to write more appealing ones.
Headlines are fun to write because the opportunities are endless. And if you learn how to hook your reader with them, they become gateways to your excellent content. Feel free to try some of these strategies next time you set out to write one.
An audio version of this post: