Your new blog article may be a masterpiece, but without a powerful headline, your post is basically dead in the water. There is a lot of competition for your reader’s attention – so you need to grab readers and compel them to click. For copywriters and marketers, that makes writing great headlines a must-have skill. Luckily, there are some proven formulas for hooking your readers and getting them excited about your content. In this post I’m going to teach you how to write a great headline that your readers will love (and click).
Your blog article title or headline is just one ingredient of a great piece of content – but it’s arguably the most important one, for a few reasons:
It’s the first thing your readers see
If your headline sucks, no one will read your post
Perhaps that’s why copywriters and ad folks have been preaching about headlines for decades. David Ogilvy once famously re-wrote a Rolls Royce headline 104 times. Because five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, how do you write a catchy headline or blog title, this is for you! Here’s what it takes to write a great headline:
For example, take these two titles:
How to Pay for College
How Grandparents Can Help Pay for College Without Spoiling Their Retirement Savings
The second title makes it clear who this article is for. And that the tips inside will be tailored specifically for older folks who want to help their grandkids pay for college.
Also, use words your audience would use. A blog about running shoes might be like “10 Running Shoes for Best Arch Support” because arch support is something runners care about.
Your reader wants to know, what’s in it for me if I click? Tell the reader what value your article will provide, whether it’s learning something useful or solving a problem. But obviously, don’t over-promise or be click-baity. Your title should reflect what the article is about.
Every good writer knows, finding the emotional hook is key if you want to persuade your reader. So-called “power words” can pack your headlines with an emotional punch.
Unsurprisingly, words like free, sale, and now are considered power words. As are beautiful, simple, and amazing
Power words can be negative: “The Devastating Truth About Bananas and Your Skin”. Or positive: The Life-Changing Magic of New Knitting Needles” (Yes, I’m taking advantage of the chance to be silly).
Try playing with different emotional words in your headlines.
Did you know that headlines with numbers perform extremely well?
Numbers in headlines have been tried and true since the print days. And it still works – headlines like “7 Ways to Groom Your Dog” are some of the most-clicked titles on the web.
Numbers are scannable, specific, and catch the reader’s eye. They stick out visually and literally force us to slow down. Using a number also gives us an idea of how much information we can expect. 35 tips vs 5? One of those articles is clearly going to be more comprehensive.
“How to…” and “What is…” posts are insanely popular. They make the consumer think “I’ve wondered about that before. Tell me more!” or potentially “I know my answer…I’m curious to hear theirs”.
Besides, humans love solving problems. And they’re on the internet searching for information to solve a problem in the first place. So these functional posts work really well.
When it comes to character length, there’s a sweet spot for the search engines. Google typically displays the first 50 – 60 characters, so longer headlines will be cut off in the search results. Check your blog title length using the free tool from Moz.
The number of words in your headline matters too, depending on who you ask.
I agree with Ogilvy and Gary Halbert – you should write a bunch of different headlines for your blog articles before picking the best one. And these days, we can test them out too.
Play with different power and emotion words, different order, etc. Use a free headline checking tool to track your improvement and go with your best work. Boom!
Before I talk about two tools I swear by for testing out headlines, I have one last tip for you. A number of copywriters also rely on the “four U’s” as rules of thumb for writing great blog and article headlines.
Check your headline against each of these categories. If you can improve, do it.
When writing, spend some time with your headline. Rewrite it. Tweak it. Change one word and then maybe change it back. Spend a lot more time than you think you should on writing the best freaking headline you can write.
There’s plenty of data out there to help you test and make improvements. But the final decision is yours.
I’ve been using CoSchedule’s headline analyzer tool for years. It just got a fancy makeover and became Headline Studio. Looks like they’re heading towards a paid model. We’ll see where this goes. But for now, you can use CoSchedule to get a pretty in-depth analysis of your blog headlines!
Paste your headline in the box and you’ll get an instant score, plus a quick assessment of what’s working and what’s not.
Use the suggestions provided to test and retest your headline until you’ve got a score of at least 70 or above. If your score is above 70, you’ll see a green circle. For lower scores, the circle is yellow or red.
Under Word Balance, the tool breaks your headline down into types of words contained in your headline:
You can also tweak for the ideal character count, word count, headline type, and sentiment, and more.
Let’s look at these two headlines for the post you’re reading right now.
While testing out headlines, my score jumped a crazy amount simply by adding the word “love”.
SEO Score is totally new. I don’t know much about it yet because it looks like some of the detailed data is behind a paywall. But now you can see a search preview along and get tips to improve your score.
You can optimize your headline length and “browse competitors”. Whatever that means. All in all I like this tool and I’ll keep using the free version.
I always compare against a second tool and my own SEO research anyway.
About that second tool. And let’s talk more about (sweeeeeeet) emotion too.
Advanced Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer is awesome. It uses a fancy algorithm to determine the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of your headline. Just plug in a headline and you’ll see your score in terms of a percentage, plus a breakdown of which types of emotions your headline sparks within your customer.
The screenshot above is from the old interface. It’s fugly, but I like the explanation of the three types of emotional styles.
Here are AMA’s results for one of my headlines (more recent):
And here’s the detailed emotional explanation. My headline was Intellectual. Research nerd, what can I say 🙂
Like with the other tool, you can test and test again with different variations. If you’re trying to target a specific phrase, I recommend trying to use the keyword phrase in the title.
Alright, that’s it! happy headlining!
Does content marketing overwhelm you? Don’t worry, read my manifesto: How to Create a Successful Content Marketing Strategy. I break everything down for you, nice and simple.
To see how a copywriter can help you, go here.