Posted June 28, 2011
If you want to improve as a blogger, you've got to learn how to write better headlines.
Compelling headlines make the difference between getting noticed and not getting noticed online.
So how do you write more compelling headlines? And what makes the difference between a smashing headline and an average one?
If you'd like to know the answer, you've come to the right place. This post is a collection of seven ways to write smashing headlines that will get your writing noticed.
Writing a list post is the easiest way to craft a more compelling headline. Have you ever noticed how often magazines use headlines such as "7 Ways to Lose Weight and Feel Great"? They use them because they're so effective.
One of the reasons they're so effective is that list headlines convey a clear benefit to the reader. They communicate a specific number of ways the reader will benefit from the article. Who doesn't want to know about "7 Ways to Lose Weight and Feel Great"? Everyone does, so it makes for an effective headline.
List headlines also make an article less formidable. They let the reader know how big of a bite the article is. A person scanning headlines knows that he's committing to reading seven points, and not a novel. Most readers want to know this.
List posts are also one of the most likely post types to go viral. Articles such as "101 Ways to Use Twitter to Make Money" catch peoples' attention and get shared.
Whether or not you're hoping to write a post that goes viral, list posts are almost always a hit, and you really can't go wrong with writing one.
How to's are another classic post type that make for great headlines. People are always interested in reading about how to do something they're interested in better.
A classic example is the famous book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. The title has been one of the most memorable in publishing history. So what's the reason?
A big part of Dale Carnegie's success with this book has to do with the brilliant title. If people are interested in winning friends and influencing people (which they are), they'll definitely read a book that tells them how.
The number one reason that people like how to posts is similar to the reason list posts are so successful—they convey a specific benefit to the reader. Readers know that after reading the article, they'll learn how to do "fill in the blank" better.
Along with list posts, how to's are another guaranteed way to write a blog post hit.
The third way to write a smashing headline is to ask a question. If readers want to know the answer to that question, they'll click to read every time.
Consider this headline: "Is It Time to Hit the Reset Button on Your Blog?"
It's a simple question, but if the reader is having difficulty with a blog and sees that headline on Twitter, can he resist clicking? The answer is no. he can't.
Even if the content isn't very good, a question that the reader wants answered makes for an irresistible headline. A headline like this makes the difference between readers clicking to read or not.
English teachers harp against unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. They tell you to tighten up your prose by cutting out unnecessary modifiers. Instead of using an adverb, you're supposed to choose a vigorous verb.
That's great advice for regular writing (including post writing), but when it comes to headline writing, break this rule.
Look at this headline: The Critical Intersection for Great Blog Post Writing. Would this headline be as smashing without the use of "critical." Does it have the same punch without it? The answer is no.
Strong adjectives spice an average headline. It's like putting Tony Chachere's on corn; strong adjectives make every headline better.
Think about the headline for this post. Does it stand out more with "smashing" or "better." Chances are that people will pay more attention to "7 Ways to Write Smashing Blog Post Headlines" than "7 Ways to Write Better Blog Post Headlines. Bot work, but strong adjectives get people's attention.
The next time you're writing a headline, try throwing in a strong adjective. You'll be pleased with the result. (You should also try Tony Chachere's on corn. It's awesome.)
Have you ever noticed that people pay attention when you use their name? It's true. Try referring to a waiter by the name on his name tag. He'll respond better every time.
The same is true when you use the reader's name online, and since you don't know the reader's given name, the online equivalent is "you." Using second person is a great way to get people's attention online.
This works in blog posts, and it works for headlines.
Here's an example: 5 Helpful Tips for Choosing the Best Blog Topic for You. Using second person makes this headline personal. It makes the readers think that the post is intended for them (which it is).
One caveat to this is that you don't want to overuse this tip. Every headline shouldn't use second person. Then it becomes redundant.
But if you're writing a post and want it to get your readers' attention, try using second person. It just might do the trick.
It's tempting to tell everything in a headline, and sometimes it's a good idea to get people's attention by being ultra-specific.
Other times, you can get more attention by withholding information. It's often better not to "give away the farm" in the headline.
By not telling everything in a headline, readers have a reason to click. Similar to writing a question as a headline, the headline can tease the reader into clicking to find out what the article is about.
Consider this example: A Sneaky Temptation Every Beginning Blogger Should Avoid.
If someone reads this for the first time, he doesn't know what the sneaky temptation is. He has to click so they can find out what the post is about. People don't like not knowing the answer to something. Headlines that tease take advantage of this.
With your next headline, think about whether or not you want to "give away the farm." Sometimes you do and want to be ultra-specific. Other times you want to hold back information to tease the reader to click through. Which option will you choose?
The seventh way to write smashing blog post headlines is this—keep the headline short. Most copywriting experts recommend keeping headlines at eight words or less. This is a good rule of thumb.
You can write headlines that are longer, and there are times that you'll want to, but usually a headline that is edited down to eight words or less will have the best results.
A lot of this has to do with how much readers scan headlines. They're trying to get an idea of what the post is about as quickly as possible. One of the best ways to help them with this is to keep headlines short.
The next time you read a newspaper or magazine headline that you like, pay attention to how long it is. There's a good chance that it's eight words or less.
The day this post was written, 14 out of the top 15 headlines on Yahoo News were eight words or less. Three had five words, three had six, five had seven, three had eight, and only one had nine.
As you can tell, eight words or less is a good rule of thumb. While you practice writing headlines, learn to whittle them down to eight words or less. Those are almost always the best.
The good news is that you don't have to become a headline writing expert overnight. These tips are great, but it takes a lot of practice to learn how to use them effectively.
To do that, make a list of each of these points, and refer to them the next time you need to write a headline. Over time you'll learn how to effortlessly write a smashing blog post headline every time. Remember, practice makes perfect.
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This post is also the sixth in a series of ten posts on the best way to start a blog.