7 Ways To Get Ahead With Headlines

No doubt, one of the trickiest things about writing is getting the headline right.  We’ve been told since time immemorial to not judge books by their covers, but let’s face it – we all do it.

More importantly, your customers do it too.  According to this seminal post by Copyblogger regarding headlines, about 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will click through.  Yikes – if you’d like to have odds better than 20%, you’ll want to work on getting ahead with your headlines!

No matter how thrilling or informative your content marketing may be, it doesn’t matter at all if your readers aren’t clicking through to get to the juicy stuff.  Coming up with headlines that suck a reader in is definitely not an easy task – but then again, neither is writing.  If you want to be successful at blogging for business, you’ll need to learn how to craft a headline that is meant for maximum impact.  Start off with a bang, start off with a smoking gun – you want that headline to command attention as easily as gunpowder going off.  Maybe T.S. Eliot said that the world will end with a whimper and not a bang, but there’s a reason why he’s a poet and not a content marketer.

Without further ado, I present 7 ways to make your headlines bang, dance, glitter, and sparkle.

The 7 Ways

1. Avoid vagueness. Obviously, you want your title to actually be relevant to the blog that you’re pitching.  My dear colleague Andrew touches on the importance of this in his post 37 Ways You Are Confusing Your Customers.  Vagueness is bad.  There’s a point where you can’t stop the reader from passing your blog by, but you definitely want the title to be relevant to what you’re talking about.  Otherwise you’re going to end up with a lot of readers who feel misled.  That’s not a good start.

2. Find a swipe file. For those who aren’t in the lingo, a swipe file is essentially a book that is filled with nothing but headlines.  Really.  Sarah Arrow speaks about it in her blog here, and the exact phrase she uses is “A swipe file is a powerful tool.  One that will help a blogger improve drastically and convert their socks off.”  That’s right – swipe files will help bloggers convert their readers out of their articles of clothing.  That’s some powerful conversion.

A swipe file is basically a scrapbook of inspiration that is gathered from around the internet and even from print marketing.  Good copywriters understand the value of research – after all, if it’s been proven to work elsewhere, it’s likely to work on your blog as well.  Just like with anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. So if you wanna write those titles that’ll get your customers to lose clothing and convert like crazy, get out there and do some research.  You can also pay for swipe files that were created by others – try this one from Birds on the Blog.  I haven’t bought it – I, heh, have my own swipe file handy – but it’s worth checking out if you don’t know where to start.

3. Don’t forget the power of “why.” One of the secrets of writing great blog copy is to make a promise to the customer.  You don’t have to go off and write the Declaration of Independence to make promises – one of the most powerful words in the English language is the word “why.”  When you start off with “why,” you’re promising to explain something to the reader.

To illustrate, one of the most successful headlines ever is Why Some People Almost Always Make Money in the Stock Market.  This isn’t a question, but it does promise an answer to a subject that many laypeople don’t understand.  The stock market is intimidating to virtually everybody outside of stockbrokers, but the implied promise is that by reading the article, you’ll understand why some people make money.  But not just make money, almost always make money.  So by reading this, you’ll be able to play the odds in your favor.

That’s a lot of meaning packed into a single word.  And that word is “why.”

4. People love numbers.  You might notice that the title of this post is “7 Ways to Get Ahead with Headlines.”  Numbers are a wonderful way to get attention, because not only does the headline promise to give information, it promises to give a specific amount of information.  If the title had been “Ways to Get Ahead With Headlines,” it would be – in my humble opinion – too vague.  It does speak about the topic, but it doesn’t tell you how much information I’m giving or how I’m going to give it to you.

The addition of a number immediately tells the reader that this is going to be a tips-based article.  I’m going to give you 7 different ways to do something.  And again, it gives me a way to make a promise to the reader.  I promised you 7 ways.  If I only gave you 2, wouldn’t you feel cheated?  Again, content marketing is all about creating a relationship of trust with the customer.  I promised you 7 ways, and, by golly, you’ll get your 7 ways.

Don’t worry, bro, I got you.

5. Don’t limit your brainstorming to blog time. One of the most seminal mistakes that many bloggers make is sitting down, opening their computers, and then… trying to think of a title.  This is a one-way ticket to writer’s block and probably some lame titles.

Get old fashioned and carry a notebook with you.  (I like Moleskine because I like to pretend I am Hemingway.)  If you’re more technologically advanced, keep an iPad or a smart phone around so that you can type when you’re away from your computer.  Inspiration can strike at any time.  If you want to be a successful blogger, you can’t just blog when you’re blogging – you gotta blog while you’re walking around, cooking dinner, or just staring absently out your window.  Every waking moment on earth is a chance to make a great headline.  If you brainstorm when you don’t blog, you’ll be amazed at how much more headway you’ll get on your headlines.

6. Tips?  How-to?  Keep them in your pockets. These are great fallbacks when you really can’t think of anything super creative.  Remember, you don’t have to blow the world away with your headlines – you just gotta get their attention.  People love how-to posts.  Not only are they direct and to the point, they’re often one of the first things that people search for when they’re looking for advice.  If you were trying to fix your car’s transmission and decided to look for advice online, wouldn’t “how to fix my car’s transmission” be one of the first things that you put in your search engine box?

Tips are also a wonderful way to command attention.  Face it – most people who are cruising the superinformation highway for information aren’t going to be down to read a novel.  What they’ll want is quick little bites of information that are easy to snap up and very consumable – the writing equal to popcorn shrimp, basically.  This is the very definition of a tip – useful information that’s highly condensed.

7. Don’t ask for action – demand it! One of the key points of copywriting is to be strong and commanding.  A great way to write headlines that grab attention is to demand for attention.  In journalistic terms this is called a “command headline,” and it’s used quite often in sales writing.  Instead of the “promise” where you imply that there’s good information waiting inside for anybody who would care to read your post, the command headline tells the reader what they want and how to do it.  It’s the #1 time-tested headline over at Avelient for a good reason – it works.

Examples: Make Money in 90 Days! Find the best restaurants in Seattle! Dance like a star with these pro tips!

Most command headlines could probably end with an exclamation mark.  It is the “look at me!” of headlines.  This is the smoking gun.  Or the gun about to fire.

So, with these 7 tips, you’re ready to get out there and start writing headlines that smoke and dance and shine and entice.  Never underestimate the value of putting a great cover on your book – or a great headline to your blog.  Maybe it’s what’s inside that counts; however, what’s inside won’t matter at all if your reader never gets there!

What tips do you have to make your headlines grab attention?

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Laura Hancock is a co-owner of ContentEqualsMoney.com. She has also been a long time writer for us. She writes with a passion for accuracy and flow. While her administrative duties have grown, she is a still a big piece of our content writing services team! Currently pursuing a certification in Technical Writing at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle. +Laura Hancock

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