There is an art to writing headlines, and a science too—there is plenty of psychology involved when it comes to creating a compelling blog headline.
That said, there are very few truly original headlines, and most follow some kind of formula. In this post, I’ll walk you through the key points to consider when writing effective headlines that drive traffic to your blog articles and share some useful tools to help you find the perfect headline for your post, whether that be for your own blog or a guest post.
Why You Need a Great Blog Headline
Your headline has one very important job—to get people to read the first sentence of your blog post. From there, the task of every line and paragraph is to make sure the reader reads the next one, but here we’ll just focus on the headline.
The headline is often all that someone will see in a social post or Google search, so it has to be compelling enough to make someone click, and it has to rank well in search for someone to even find it.
You should think of your headline as an advert for your brilliant blog post. Sadly, many writers spend hours crafting an epic piece of content and then label it with a dry and boring title, or go the opposite way and try to be too clever with their headline. Keep in mind that reading the article shouldn’t be necessary to understand the headline.
Back in the good old days when I worked on magazines, features editors had wonderful fun flexing their wordplay skills, coming up with witty headlines for articles, without the slightest worry about SEO.
But when writing for the web, you need to focus your blog headlines on being clear and understood, so a reader can make a snap decision as to whether your article is for them. Remember, our attention spans are short and getting shorter, so you need to capture attention quickly.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your headline or use your writing skills. Alliteration, powerful words and sensory language can all help bring a dry headline to life.
One great example of an old newspaper headline that uses brilliant wordplay, and as it happens would be good for SEO too, is from when the then lowly Highland football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle (known as Caley) beat Celtic 3-1. The resulting headline in the Sun was "Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious".
Who is Your Blog Post For?
Before you even start thinking about the words in your headline, consider who it is for. Yep, we’re thinking about that target reader again. This may or may not be the same target reader as for your books, but either way, you need to give them some thought.
If you’re writing a blog about how to do better laundry, for example, your headline will be very different depending on whether you’re targeting experienced housewives or young males who have just left home.
An example of a blog headline that makes it very clear both what the post is about and who it is for is "7 Ways to Make Money While Waiting for Disability Benefits".
Should You Write Your Headline First or Last?
Some experts recommend writing your headline before you write your blog post. The reasoning behind this is that your headline should convey a promise to readers, and getting clear on this first will ensure you write a post that fulfills that promise.
On the other hand, sometimes you only know that you can back up the promise in the headline once you have written the post, so it will make more sense to write the headline last.
The best solution is to use a working headline. This is more specific than a topic, for example, it could be a How-To headline. Continuing our laundry example, it could be "How To Keep Washing Loads To A Minimum". This is more specific than the topic of "Laundry", or even "Wash Loads", but it’s probably not compelling enough to be the final headline.
A working headline will help you to define your promise and focus your writing. Once you have finished your post, you can then brainstorm the perfect headline.
Brainstorm the Perfect Blog Headline
It’s important not to settle on the first headline you think of. If you want to come up with a compelling headline that drives traffic to your post, you’ll need to brainstorm dozens of ideas. CoSchedule recommends writing a full 25 headlines to really get your creative juices flowing.
If generating that many ideas on your own feels impossible, try bouncing ideas off a friend or try to come up with 25 between you.
Of course, plenty of your headlines will be terrible, but that’s ok. You have to search through the junk to find the treasure.
There are several tried and tested headline formulas that can help you come up with a great blog headline. Try the following swipe files for starters:
Jon Morrow's, "Headline Hacks: A 'Cheat Sheet' for Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral". This is free when you sign up for the SmartBlogger email list (you can unsubscribe any time) at smartblogger.com.
"51 Headline Formulas To Skyrocket Conversions (And Where To Use Them)", from Sumo.com.
Peter Sandeen's, "101 Headline Formulas". Also free when you subscribe to his email list (unsubscribe any time) at petersandeen.com.
Optimize for Social and Search
Ok, so by now you may have some headlines you are truly proud of. You've put the work into brainstorming ideas and thrown out the obviously dreadful ones. If you have opted to use one of the headline formulas mentioned above, your headline is most likely now rock solid.
But there is one more thing still to do. You want to check your chosen headline is optimized for search and social.
This means making sure your headline will show up well in search engines and that it is likely to generate engagement on social media.
Things like the number of words and characters you use are important, as well as the keywords you use and the type of headline such as a list or "how-to".
There is a lot of data out there on which types and length of headlines perform best. You probably don’t have time to dig through this to apply it to all your headlines. For that reason, it’s best to put your headline through an analyzer tool to help you make a few tweaks to improve it.
First and foremost, however, you want to write your headlines for humans. You can use a headline tool to come up with a high-rated headline that doesn’t make and loses the promise of your post, so proceed with caution there.
Too much emphasis on SEO will almost certainly lead to a dull headline or something resembling clickbait. So, always keep your reader firmly in your mind and let them be your guiding principle when crafting headlines.
Over to you, how much time do you spend on writing headlines? Let me know in the comments!
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