Headlines are crucial. They are the teaser for making people excited about your content. They are the “this way!” sign, the direction. Like street signs: If there weren’t any on the street it would be tricky to find the right way to turn.
Plus your headline doesn’t just show where to go but also what to expect, without revealing too much. Instead you tickle your readers’ curiosity (as with other types of tickling, this can be a lot of fun).
If you’re not spending at least the same amount of time thinking about your headlines as writing your content: Start doing this today!
Rule 1: Do not promise too much
We’d like to make one thing clear: It’s 2015, so please do not over promise and under deliver. These days there’s Facebook clickbait everywhere, so you want to stand out with quality content, and not only headlines that trick people into clicking.
It’s a fine line here, so it’s about finding the balance between getting people excited and their actually clicking through, and disappointing them because it turned out to be just another clickbait. Our advice as usual: stay classy. And simply don’t promise anything you’re not delivering in the post.
Rule 2: Do not reveal everything
Yes, while your post is supposed to deliver what you promised, at the same time your headline alone should not reveal the solution. After all you want people to visit your site – you want to give them the opportunity to learn more about you.
What works fine here are:
- Typical listicle headlines, e.g. this post. If you have “X steps to Y” you usually don’t reveal the X steps within the headline. Good job.
- How-To headlines: “How we grew our mailing list by 150% in January”
- Provocative statements: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”
- Looking at your subject from an unusual angle: “What the Bush administration has to do with our bounce rate” (Make sure to deliver that context – We’re excited already!)
Rule 3: Measure whatever you can
The click rates on headlines vary a lot. And all the rules we’re exploring are general indicators, because your audience might be very different in certain aspects. It’s a different story working B2B with high level CEOs than working B2C with pregnant teens. So measure, test and analyze whatever you can.
How? Some ideas (note to self: this topic deserves a post on its own):
- Twitter: If you have a large and active Twitter following, tweet the link with two different “headlines”. Version A and Version B. Which one gets more retweets and favorites? That’s the version that appeals more to your audience.
- Email: Many Email Marketing tools offer the possibility to split test subject lines. In Mailchimp this is called “A/B Split Campaign”. You can enter two subject lines – Version A and Version B – and see which one performsbetter. Performance here is usually the open and/or conversion rate. Note: You probably don’t do this for every blog post, but as long as you have the technical capability, try it out for every single campaign you’re sending. You’ll learn what works for your audience and what not.
- A/B Split Tests: There are various providers who offer extensive A/B Split Test software suites. Often they can do a lot, and are optimized for general site optimization (tweaking layout, design, copy, and measuring conversions based on the difference). We won’t go into the full shabang at this point, but rather mention one handy WordPress plugin that does exactly what we’re talking about: Split testing post headlines. You simply enter two or more headlines into the WordPress post editor, and it automatically chooses the one that performs best over time. Note that there is no beginning or end to the test, so the headline might change even after a couple of years. Sounds good? This way: KingSumo Headlines Plugin
Rule 4: Know who you are talking to
Sounds obvious, right? It’s important, and unfortunately often forgotten. And it manifests itself in at least in two ways:
1. Use the second person. Use the word “You”. Already in the headline, so people know it’s not your personal diary that they’re gonna be reading, but something that helps them.
2. Solve their problems. Not yours. So keep in mind who you are generating excitement for. Who you are promising a solution to.
This of course requires knowledge about your target audience. Who are you talking to? How old are they? What language do they use? What are their core values?
Rule 5: Make it look good on Google
So now you know that you shouldn’t promise too much. But also not be too boring, not generating any excitement at all. That you are supposed to test the headlines, and that you should know who you’re talking to. There’s one last, important thing:
Make it look good on Google.
Technically this means your headline shouldn’t be longer than ~70 characters. Otherwise it gets cut off by Google. (Geeky side note: it actually depends on which characters: A headline with a lot of narrow characters like i and l‘s can have more characters than one with a lot of wide w‘s). Yes it’s ok to occasionally break this rule and have a really long headline. But keep in mind that for content marketing, Google could be your number one traffic machine. So make it look good there.
Also make sure that your page title is the post headline, and not something like “Metamonks – Blog – 7 Rules for …”. You can make sure that this is the case by using the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast. It’s great, free and you should definitely be using it already.
Blogging for Coaches
Enjoyed this article? You might also be interested in others from our “Blogging for Coaches” series:
- Blogging for coaches: How to get it right (and why)
- Blogging for coaches: Articles that work
- Blogging for coaches: 5 rules for supernatural headlines