No matter how good your content, it’s your headline that’s going to dictate whether someone stays to keep reading or moves on.
Engagement requires good headlines. So, what makes a headline good?
1. Tell your reader what they’re going to get
Once upon a time Hubspot offered the same ebook under two different titles to see which one would perform better. The Productivity Handbook for Busy Marketers attracted about 7,000 views, 2,000 submissions and zero customers. 7 Apps That Will Change the Way You Do Marketing received 37,000 views, 19,000 submissions and 8 brand new customers.
This dramatic difference is due to a couple of things, not the least of which is how specific one title is compared to the other. The Productivity Handbook could contain anything from time management tips to how to get more from your employees to brain clearing exercises. It’s a vague promise. 7 Apps is pretty clear. You’re going to learn about seven apps that are helpful to marketers. Bonus here for a big promise—if these apps will change the way you market, and there are seven of them, don’t you want to know more?
2. Use lists
You’ll notice the successful ebook in the above example utilized numbers, which are helpful for a couple of reasons. One, they tell your reader that your content is easy to digest. 7 Apps tells you there’s a finite list and you don’t have to wade through a bunch of content to get to the good stuff. In fact, you can just skim. Second, they catch the eye and appeal straight to the part of your brain that wants a fast read.
Compare “5 Steps to a Killer Headline” with “Five Steps to a Killer Headline.” Something about spelling a number out just kills the excitement of a list.
3. Leverage your lexis
The English language contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 750,000 words. Get a great thesaurus and go to town when writing your headline. Words can be outlandish, subtly humorous, stodgy, straightforward, playful or biting. Find the right words for your headlines and your audience.
Say you want to share a blog about how to inspire your kids to read over the summer. How many ways can you say “Inspire Your Kids to Read This Summer”? While that’s not a bad start, there are so many possibilities. For example, a search for “inspire” in Merriam-Webster’s online thesaurus results in words like inspirit, enliven, galvanize, provoke, nurture and more. Will one of these appeal more to your target audience? Search “kids” and you get everything from cubs and squirts to kiddos, moppets and hellions, to name a few. Search “to read” and—well, you get the idea.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to words, so don’t let your words get stale. In fact, depending on your target audience, you might get to go overboard sometimes (“Galvanize Your Whippersnappers to Gobble Up Tomes this Furlough” anybody?). Just keep in mind point number four…
4. Make your headlines clear
It’s easy to get caught up in being clever and forget that people want to know upfront what they’re going to get from spending time with your content. “The Sensational Secrets of Cetaceans” sounds really good with all that alliteration, but even we’re not sure what that post would be about. Clear is better than clever: “Secrets of the Blue Whale” or “10 of the Craziest Whale Facts” will garner more clicks than a string of beautiful, but ambiguous, words.
5. Use action words
“How Leftover Meatloaf Is Useful” has that philosophical but probably useless ring to it. Your audience wants information they can act on. So if leftover meatloaf is the subject, liven it up. What will your reader be able to do because they read your blog? Use meatloaf in unorthodox ways? “5 Surprising Uses for Leftover Meatloaf.” Will they have new recipes to try? “Dazzle Your Family With Leftover Meatloaf: 3 New Recipes.” Will they understand that it’s far better to have leftover pizza? “5 Ways Leftover Pizza Will Improve Your Life More Than Meatloaf.”