Back when Mr. Ogilvy was making great ads, content and blogging, let alone the internet, wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Having said that, we live in an offline, as well as online world now, with lots and lots of distractions. So whether it’s a blog post, article, paper, or anything else that’s shared or printed, the principles remain the same.
It should grab attention right away. The headline is arguably the most important element to your piece. Why? Roughly 8 out of 10 people will read your headline. And only 2 out of 10 people will continue on. That’s true. So… the headline is pretty important and shouldn’t stink.
Here are some tips to make your headline a home run.
- Keep it personal. It all goes back to knowing your audience. Who are you writing to? Once you figure that out, then write to that one person and be specific. Keep your headline personal. Your readers will be more engaged if they feel like the piece is written specifically for them to solve their specific need. Using “you” and “your” can start a conversation with your target customer (know your audience!) to show you have an intimate knowledge about them and, in turn, their problem that you can ultimately solve. Asking a question and tapping in on anger, fear, or uncertainty is a particularly effective option for a headline. For example, “Frustrated By Your High Email Bounce Rate?”
- Keep it short and to the point. This one’s for our blogging friends. Try keeping your headline to 6 words. Blog readers also like to scan and skim and usually want the gist in as little time as possible. KISSmetrics says they’ll usually only read in the first and last 3 words. So when writing your headline, keep all the important stuff in those spots. For all other readers–emails, e-books, whatever– the same rule applies.
- Superlatives! Use ‘em. Whoa, what’s that now? Yup! Using hyperbole in a headline will increase your chances of your piece being read. In a really cool study done by Conductor, they found that 51% liked headlines that used 0-1 superlatives. Even cooler still, 25% of readers liked 4+ superlatives. So, you’ll be effective if you whack them over the head with “The Best and Coolest Places to Visit and Have the Best Vacation Ever” or just use a subdued, “The Coolest Places to Visit”.
But wait, there’s more. Negative superlatives are also the way to go. One may think it’s counterintuitive to be negative in a headline, but in this case, it’s the better choice. Outbrain did a study and found that the use of negative words like “never” and “worst” had a 63% higher Click Through Rate than positive ones like “best” and “always”. Outbrain had a pretty logical explanation, too– positive superlatives can be too cliché and can come across inauthentic whereas negative ones may be unexpected and impartial. Makes sense.
- Use numbers. This one is interesting and has been used time and time again in e-books, blogs, white papers, and more. Why? Because it’s effective. The study by Conductor found that number headlines were by far the most preferred headline. When measured for gender, women preferred the number headline to males.
- Write it last. Decide what your piece is about and start writing. See where it goes. Depending on your structure (like a numbered list), this may not be necessary. But as a professional writer, I find writing the body first helps me get all the ideas down on paper. If I write the headline first, then I become attached to it. It gives me too rigid a guideline and I actually struggle to keep on topic. Your piece may take on a life of its own when you get into your zone and become something totally unexpected.
All in all, there are multitudes of different theories and ideas of how to write your headline to make your piece stand out and get read (and shared). These are the most common ones to whet your palate. But the bottom line is, you want that 80% to read on. Using any of these techniques will give you a better chance to nabbing their attention and keeping it.
*All studies (Conductor- published by Moz, KISSmetrics, and Outbrain) credited. Click embedded links to view original study and posts.