Do you know that content writers, bloggers, and content developers spend more time creating awesome titles than the actual content piece? Do you know why?
“According to some of the best copywriters of all time, you should spend half of the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive content on the headline. So if you have a blog post that is really important to you or your business, one that you really want people to read, you should downright obsess over your post title.” This actually comes from one of the most shared articles on Copyblogger, one of the best sites to follow if you’re into content writing and publishing (Who isn’t nowadays?). The article is titled Writing Headlines That Get Results.
Some more picks from this article:
- Advertising legend David Ogilvy knew the power of headlines, and how the headline literally determined whether the advertisement would get read. He said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” He rewrote this famous headline for an automobile advertisement 104 times: “At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”
- Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece — the headline and the opening paragraph.
Some statistical evidence to convince you further
Headlines matter a great deal.
- On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
- By its choice of phrasing, a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting. (New Yorker: How headlines change the way we think)
- Ullrich Ecker, a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Western Australia, decided to test how slight, even misleading shifts in headlines can affect reading. His observations:
- In the case of the factual articles, a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details.
- In the case of opinion articles, a misleading headline impaired a reader’s ability to make accurate inferences.
- Ecker found that initial impressions both mattered and were not easily corrected. Even well-intentioned readers who go on to read an entire piece may still react in part to that initial formulation.
Interesting, isn’t it?
Tips on writing great headlines
You’ll find lots of tips on the internet, and loads of ideas. I mined some from the experts.
- Here’s one from John Caples, one of the best copywriters of our times. He wrote this headline for the U.S. School of Music, a company selling a correspondence course on piano playing. He brought out his belief that people want to look cool, not stupid.
- John Caples put together a list of 35 headline formulas in his book, Tested Advertising Methods that work as a reckoner for me every time. I’m including some of his tips here with examples (P.S.: The examples are all fictional):
- Begin Your Headline with the Words “How To” (How to stop hair fall in 4 weeks)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “How” (How a cat and dog became best friends)
- Begin Your Headline With the Word “Why” (Why black hat SEO is still advocated by agencies)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Which” (Which SEO tactic is the most important in 2017?)
- Begin Your Headline with the Words “Who Else” (Who else Wants to be a Highly Paid Content Writer?)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Wanted” (Wanted a Magic Potato Peeler)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “This” (This is How You Earn $1000 Per Hour)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Because” (Because You Owe It to Yourself)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “If” (If You Had to Choose Between Money and Self-respect)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Advice” (Advice of a 10-year Old to Her Adult Self)
- Use a Testimonial Headline (XYZ Closes 60% of its Leads. Find out how)
- Offer the Reader a Test (Can You Pass this SEO Test?)
- Offer Information in Value (Dropbox Launches a Feature That Saves You $100 Every Month)
- Tell a Story (Indian Peddler Travels the World with Wife)
- Warn the Reader to Delay Buying (Are You Renting a House without Checking the Sales Deed?)
- Let the Advertiser Speak Directly to the Reader (We Love Your Maggi Story)
- Address Your Headline to Specific Person or Group (You’ll be Missed, Steve Jobs)
- Have Your Headline Ask a Question (What Keeps an Entrepreneur Awake at Night?)
- Offer Benefits Through Facts and Figures (How XYZ Saved a Client $100,000)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Introducing” (Introducing a Face Mask That Tops Your Saloon Experience)
- Begin Your Headline with the Word “Announcing” (Announcing $100 Off Our Annual Package)
- Use Words that Have an Announcement Quality (Finally a Housekeeping Service You Can Rely on 100%)
- Begin Your Headline With the Word “New” (New Solutions for Old Problems)
- Begin Your Headline With the Word “Now” (Now is The Time to Take Control of That Receding Hairline)
- Begin Your Headlines With the Words “At Last” (At Last a Tool That Works and Looks Great)
- Put a Date Into Your Headline (Mindy’s Corner’s 50% Sale Till January 30)
- Write Your Headline In News Style (Why Aamir Khan Won’t Attend Award Shows)
- Feature the Price in Your Headline (A Web Analytics Tool for $10/month? You Gotta Be Kidding!)
- Feature Reduced Price (Your Favourite Nougat Now at
- Feature a Special Merchandising Offer (Buy 1 Shirt, Spend $20. Buy 2 Shirts, Save $10)
- Feature an Easy Payment Plan (Bring XYZ Home Today! Pay in 3 Months)
- Feature a Free Offer (Try XYX Yourself. FREE for 30 days.)
- And here are some headline templates from Brian Clark of Copyblogger:
- Here is a method that is helping … to …
- Little known ways to …
- The secret of …
- Get rid of … once and for all
- Here’s a quick way to …
- Now You Can Have [something desirable] [great circumstance]
- [Do something] like [world-class example]
- Have a [or] Build a … You Can Be Proud Of
- What Everybody Ought to Know About …
- Other recommendations:
- Spend more time on titles.
- Split test titles to see which ones get the best results.
- Come up with at least 10 titles per post, 30-50 for your best content.
- Use tools to help gauge impact.
Tools to help you write effective headlines
Use these tools to get started. For example, Coschedule scores your headline on its ability to attract attention. You want to reach 70+. Similarly, Thrive Headline Optimizer allows you to test headlines on your blog.
- Coschedule Headline Analyzer
- Hubspot’s blog topic generator
- Portent’s Content Idea Generator
- Thrive Headline Optimizer for testing headlines
- Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyser by Advanced Marketing Institute
Resources every content writer must check out
There’s a wealth of help out there for content writers.
- For more on writing great headlines, check out the Magnetic Headlines series on Copyblogger.
- For examples on great copywriting, Lindsay Kolowich of Hubspot has done some super research. Check out content from websites such as UrbanDaddy, Moosejaw, First Round Capital, Trello, and Velocity Partners.
- In India, some great examples from the print media days are Ambassador, Limca, Camel Pencils, and Brylcreem.
- Creative Copywriter has some great examples of single-liners.
- You don’t want to miss this one from the Content Marketing Institute – Write the Best Titles for Content Marketing: A 10-Point Checklist. The author Roger C. Parker talks about Promise, Specificity, Targeting, Position, Engagement, Voice, Concise, Reinforcement, SEO and combination of techniques.
- These books have dedicated chapters on headings:
- Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes
- John Caples’ classic Tested Advertising Methods
Hopefully, I’ve given you enough information to start writing better, impactful headlines. No matter how small or long a content piece, it’s the headline that’ll get it read. Work at it! Keep at it! You’ll be surprised at the results yourself!
Want to listen to this topic in audio? Check out my podcast on How to Craft Headlines that People Want to Click.