Headlines are the most powerful part of any piece of content or copy. A great headline can get your content read and shared on social media massively (really – 6 out of 10 people share headlines they like without even reading what’s inside!). A bad headline will be ignored like white fonts on a white background.
A headline can be a blog post title, a YouTube video title, an H2, even a social media caption. All of these have the same purpose: to get people to delve deeper into your content. Or to be so irresistible that they will share your content without reading or watching it.
How do you get there? Well, there are plenty of ways, of course. Here are the ones we use most frequently in my content marketing agency.
1. Write the Headline Whenever You Want to Write It
Pretty easy, right? I’ve started with this little nugget because most of the headline-related articles out there will tell you to write it once your entire article is done. This way, you’ll know exactly what’s inside and you’ll be able to summarize your content more accurately.
However, there are people (myself included) that start with a headline. Most of my article ideas have their origin in a headline that seemed catchy enough for me to start working on the rest of the content. Plus, the argument also goes the other way around: if you start with the headline, you’ll have fewer chances at losing your focus and straying away from the topic.
There is no right or wrong way. In other words: you do you.
Try writing it at the end. Try starting with it. You’ll figure out what works best for you or for each piece you write. Just remember that not all the advice you read online works for everyone. And that’s OK.
2. Make Sure Your Headline Is an Accurate Summary of Your Content
Remember what I said above about losing focus and straying away from the topic? The same thing can happen when you work too hard at crafting a good headline. By its fourth iteration, it may not even be close to the topic of the article.
Before you settle on a headline, make sure that it accurately reflects what your content is about. This piece, for instance, promises to help you write great headlines through a set number of tips.
The headline creates an expectation: you can skim (or read entirely) five tips about writing great headlines. So you won’t see me rambling about why the conclusion section is important, just like I won’t write more or fewer tips than I promised at the top of the page. Consistency matters!
3. Always Be Clear About Your Headline’s Purpose
Is your headline supposed to entice readers to click on an article or an email? Or perhaps sign up to your newsletter? Should it help with your SEO too?
Answering these questions will help you stay focused on your goal. For instance, this article’s headline is not meant for SEO. If it had been, I would have probably chosen something like “How to Writer Great Headlines in 5 Easy Steps” because “how to write great headlines” looks like a long-tail keyword that people might actually type into a search bar.
Your purpose dictates the type of words you use and the length of the headline. A headline in a PPC ad should be more actionable and speak about the benefits more clearly, while a whitepaper headline should be focused on showcasing the quality of what’s inside.
4. Why Would Someone Read This Piece of Content?
We’ve spoken about your goals, now it’s time to focus on your readers’ goals. A headline should always be the promise of an accomplished goal.
This particular headline promises to give you a few insights on how to get better at writing headlines. If your goal is to better your headline writing, it’s the right piece for you.
Make promises in your headlines, but, as discussed before, make sure your content lives up to them. Don’t stray; stay on topic and make sure that you bring real value.
Ideally, before you settle on a headline, do a quick online search for it. Does it stand out from the crowd of content pieces on similar topics? If not, keep polishing it. You’ll find some ideas on how to do it below.
5. Great Headlines Pack a Punch
There are a few attributes of great headlines:
- They are concise
- They use active verbs
- They use common language (they need to be easy to understand) but also a few unexpected and/or powerful words.
- They convey a clear benefit
Let’s look at today’s headline (5 Essential Tips to Help You Craft Killer Headlines) using these new lenses:
- Brevity: nine words, most of which are pretty short – we’re good here!
- Active verbs: help and craft qualify.
- Common language: yes, it’s easy to understand, no pretentious jargon. Killer is my unexpected word of the day and essential is the powerful one that takes tips out of anonymity – it’s a pretty common word in headlines.
- A clear benefit: you will craft better headlines.
David Ogilvy’s 20 most influential power words is a good place to start looking for words that pack a punch to incorporate in your headlines.
Would You Click on It?
Instead of a conclusion, I’m going to leave you with an additional thought: if you’re not sure your headline is powerful enough, it probably isn’t. Would you click on it?
Try to answer this sincerely (I know, it’s hard to be unbiased when it’s your own work) and you’ll know if your headline is ready to be published.