Headlines are the front door to your content. Without them, the rest of your words might as well not exist.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a few short words, especially when you take into account the each of us is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day.
Our job is to craft the headline that compels people to pluck our content out of that ocean of messaging. And to do that, we have to know what drives them to not just click, but to also consume.
The answer is crafting headlines that connect with your audience.
How to do you do that? Through research and data-driven digital tactics.
Before you even start to write, you need to do two critical things:
1. Learn what is important to your audience
Your content has to fulfill a need for your audience. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting your time. You have to figure out what is important to them and what problem you can solve for them. (For more, see my column on needs research.)
2. Learn how to talk like your audience
Your content needs to parrot the language of your target audience. The internet has rewired our brains so we know skim content for key words instead of reading every word. For example, if you’re write pop when I’m looking for soda, I’ll zoom right past you. Plus, people will trust your content if you talk/write like an insider. (For more, see my column on audience research.)
There are some specific tactics you can apply once you’ve settled on what needs fulfillment needs to be in your headline and what types of words.
Great headlines aren't a mystery. Scientific research shows these headline tactics will help you connect:
1. Make a promise, but don’t overpromise (to fulfill a need)
2. Pull, don’t push (Don’t drive away suspicious digital audiences with all crazy promises, strong language, all caps, exclamation marks, flashing pink type.)
3. Pique curiosity in a sophisticated way
4. Use how, why, and lists
5. Use numbers (tell them how fast they’ll learn what you’re promises)
6. Make it digestible (7 words, 60 characters max)
7. Save them! (Focus your headline on the negative side of a need. Instead of “How to cook a turkey” try “How to not ruin your turkey.”)
8. Use you or your (16% of all viral headlines have one of these words)
These are tactics, not tricks. If you use them, you will keep the focus on the audience so you can connect with them.
After you’re done writing, take a breath and then ask yourself:
1. What am I not telling them?
Since you don’t have an infinite amount of space, you had to make some tough decisions on what to leave out. Did you leave anything out that is critical to the reader? Anything that will help them decide to read your content?
2. Is it immediately clear?
Avoid entertaining yourself with puns or confusing your audience with internal jargon. Is your headline clear enough that an audience can decide in less than a second to click?
My final tip: Challenge yourself to think of every word as a barrier to whatever action you want a reader to take. That will help you find the fluff and decide what words are the most critical to keep.
Interested in learning more?
Download my PPT from my ACES webinar on connecting with readers.
Read these articles on headline research:
BuzzSumo research on engaging headlines
CoSchedule analysis of 1 million headlines
What makes a great branded content headline