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Writing Headlines: 11 Experts Share Their Secrets

Content Marketing

Jul 09

Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader.

If you're not able to snag their attention from the start, the rest of your words may as well not even exist.

Knowing how to write great headlines is a critical skill that anyone in copywriting or content marketing should strive to excel at.

In this article we've rounded up headline writing secrets from 11 leading experts, but before we dive in...

Check out the statistics:

Studies show that on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest! This just goes to show how important your title is, and how it has the power to make or break the entire piece.

In an exhaustive study using state of the art eye-tracking technology the Neilson Norman Group (NN/g) determined that people read your web content in an "F" shaped pattern: 2 swipes across the top followed by a vertical stripe down the left side.

The readers eyes fly across your precious content at blazing speeds. And within a few seconds they instinctively determine whether they want to continue reading or not.​

This and similar studies have provided 3 essential findings:

  • ​People read differently online. Internet users have developed a filtering mechanism of sorts, where they begin subconsciously deciding if the page is worth reading or not as soon as they land on it.
  • The first 2 paragraphs are the most important. Always remember the "F" pattern and put the most important stuff there.
  • Start paragraphs, headers, and lists with strong, informative words. Users will be more likely to notice strong words as they scan down the side of your page. They'll read the first two words of a line much more often than they'll read the third.

​Although these facts may seem disheartening, all is not lost! You've still got a shot at getting people to read your content if you do 2 things right: a magnetic headline and a great design.

Read on for tips from the experts; guaranteed to tilt the odds in your favor...

Neil Patel : Co-Founder at Crazy Egg & KISSmetrics

In addition to being unique, your headline should be ultra-specific. It should provide enough information to let customers know whether or not the offer you're presenting is interesting to them. If your headline isn’t specific enough, customers won’t know whether or not what you’re selling is something they’re interested in.​

Brian Clark : Founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media

Another effective technique is called the Reason Why Headline. Your body text consists of a numbered list of product features or tips, which you then incorporate into the headline, such as "Two Hundred Reasons Why Open Source Software Beats Microsoft." It’s not even necessary to include the words “reasons why.” This technique is actually the underlying strategy behind the ubiquitous blogger “list” posts, such as 8 Ways to Build Blog Traffic.

Jeff Goins : Author, Blogger, Speaker

Try this simple headline-writing formula:

Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise

Example: Take the subject “bathing elephants.” You could write an article entitled, “How to Bathe an Elephant” or “Why I Love Bathing Elephants.”
Or you could apply this formula and make it: “18 Unbelievable Ways You Can Bathe an Elephant Indoors."

Another (more serious) example: Take a bold promise like “selling your house in a day.” Apply the formula and you get: “How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home in Less than 24 Hours”. People don’t want to be tricked into reading something boring; they want to be drawn into something exciting. Make it worth their while.

Jeff Bercovici : San Francisco bureau chief at Inc. Magazine

Create a curiosity gap. This is what those “You’ll Never BELIEVE Who Taylor Swift Is Dating Now” headlines do, quite effectively, even if it turns out you will ultimately believe who Taylor Swift is dating now. “Tell people enough to get them interested but not so much they don’t need to click,” says Koechley. “Our goal is to create an itch you need to scratch.”

Megan Marrs : Freelance Content Writer and Social Media Manager

Use Images to Complement Headlines. Headlines are a big deal, and in many cases on the web, they are the one and only way to introduce your article to the world. However, many social sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and, more recently, Twitter, make it easy to add images alongside your link headlines. This is awesome news because images are insanely powerful and can do a lot to boost the success of your headline.

David Moth : Social Media Manager at Econsultancy

Numbers win prizes. List posts are an incredibly overused tactic, but the ugly truth is that they still work. The reasons for the enduring popularity of lists posts are fairly obvious. People want easily digestible articles and are often curious to find out what examples or tips have made it onto the list.

Finding the ideal number is more of a challenge, however judging by our most popular posts from last year it appears that anything over 10 does the trick.

Readers want to know that they’re going to get their money’s worth, so the more tips, hints and examples the better.

Jennifer Gregory : Freelance B2B Content Marketing Writer and Content Strategist

Testing. When Huffington Post puts up a new story, it will often try out the post with 2 different headlines to see which one gets the highest number of clicks. This approach, known as the A/B approach, can be used for many different content management situations, but can be especially effective with headlines since you can quickly switch to the higher rated headline. After a quick test, Huffington Post will switch both versions of the story to the highest rated headline.

Ariel Rule : Freelance Writer ~ Copywriter Specializing in Web and Email Copy

Reveal a Secret. Even for those of us who aren’t the gossip mongers that some of our friends may be, I’m sure we all still love to get the jump on some juicy secret. Headlines that promise to reveal secrets quickly pique curiosity and prompt clicks.

Jeff Bullas : CEO at Jeffbullas.com Pty Ltd

Facts, figures and statistics. Want people to read your stuff? Then provide facts, figures and statistics that they can use at a dinner party or in a conversation.

Monique de Maio : CMO and Founder of a 17-year old consulting firm, onDemand CMO Inc

Use the Upworthy headline-writing rule. Have you heard of Upworthy? If not, it’s one of the most popular content sites out there. One of the secrets to Upworthy’s enormous success  is the way they write headlines: Editors are required to write 25 headlines for each and every post. Yes, I said 25 headlines! As explained by Upworthy’s curators, the rationale behind this is “You will write some really stinky headlines. Once you start getting desperate, you start thinking outside the box. Twenty-four headlines will suck. Then #25 will be a gift from the headline gods and will make you a legend”.

Hector Cuevas : Program Director at ACDP

Make Sure It’s Benefit-Driven. Everyone is always tuned into their favorite radio station when they’re browsing the web: "What’s In It For Me – W.I.I.FM." Your job is to attract your audience by creating content that benefits them somehow; and your headline should reflect that. You can accomplish this by adding “How To..”, “Ways To..” or “Why” to the front of your headline.

Conclusion

As you've seen, there are as many strategies for writing great headlines as there are people who write them. One thing's for certain though- they're important. Always take the time to write a thoughtful headline. And if you find that one's not working after you publish it, be willing to change it. Remember, headlines are meant to attract readers, so always put yourself in their shoes.​

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Do you have a great headline writing tip? Please share it in the comments section.​

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