It’s the most important piece of content you create. It’s what makes your audience decide to click-through, retweet, or download; and it may be what you spend the least amount of time writing – when you shouldn’t.
We’re talking about the headline.
Online, headlines are often the only piece of information readers use to decide whether to read or share content. According to Copyblogger, an estimated 80% of readers never make it past the headline, so it’s crucial to write great headlines. Try using some of these quick headline writing tips to make sure your content gets noticed.
The kinds of headlines that perform best online tell readers exactly what they’re going to take away from your content, Conductor analysis found. The headlines readers clicked on most told them what they would get, such as a list of tips or how-to advice. The worst-performing headlines simply referred to the subject matter or asked a question. The more specific you can be, the better. Instead of “5 Ways to Save Time at Work,” try “5 Email Hacks That Shave an Hour Off Your Work Day.”
Anyone who reads Buzzfeed knows that readers like clicking on numbers. A headline that gives readers “7 Tweaks to Improve Your Business Plan” is likely to be more effective than “Advice for Improving Your Business Plan.” The bigger the number, the better, according to Iris Shoor’s analysis of the most-shared blog posts. Not every piece of content works as a list, but try using headlines with numbers when you can.
Headlines that directly referred to the reader by using words like “you” or “your” also performed well in the Conductor analysis. Instead of “Vacation Packing List” try “What to Pack On Your Next Vacation,” or even better, “10 Things You Need to Pack for Your Next Vacation.”
While it’s important to be specific in your subject line, you don’t want to provide so much information that readers don’t need to read the rest of your content. A good headline creates what Peter Koechley, co-founder of Upworthy, refers to as the “curiosity gap,” giving readers enough information to interest them in learning more. According to this principle, “1 Surprising Ingredient to Spice Up Your Chili Recipe” is a more effective headline than “Cocoa Powder is 1 Surprising Ingredient That Spices Up Your Chili Recipe.”
Ever rolled your eyes at a headline that said something like “The Most Amazing Content Marketing Advice You’ll Ever Read?” Superlatives such as “best,” “worst,” or “amazing” are commonly used in digital headlines, but it’s not clear that using them convinces readers your content is worth clicking on. The Conductor analysis tested found that most readers preferred headlines with zero or one superlative. However, headlines with four or more superlatives performed better than those with two or three. When it comes to superlatives, decide to use them sparingly or lay them on thick.
Sounds counterintuitive, but negative superlatives like “worst” may garner more clicks than positive ones like “best.” In an Outbrain analysis, headlines with positive superlatives performed 29% worse than headlines with negative superlatives. (Headlines with no superlatives performed in the middle.) Outbrain hypothesizes that positive superlatives are so frequently used now that readers are skeptical. If your “Best Ways to Ask for a Raise” post isn’t generating traffic, see if “Worst Ways to Ask for a Raise” performs better.
Are there certain words that make a post go viral? Iris Shoor found that many of the most-shared posts use these words in their headlines:
While adding viral words won’t guarantee your content will go viral, consider using them when they work with your content.
Shoor’s analysis also found some common words that were frequently used in the least-shared posts. Headlines that included “announcing,” “wins,” “celebrates,” or “grows,” didn’t perform well.
Upworthy, the online publisher known for viral headlines, asks writers to produce 25 headlines for every post. The idea is that most will be unusable, but forcing writers to generate a lot of headlines will force them to think of a few that aren’t obvious. You don’t have to write 25, but the exercise of coming up with multiple ideas may help you find better headlines.
As with any kind of content, the headlines that work for your brand will vary based on your audience and your objectives. Many online publishers, including Upworthy, use A/B testing to find which headlines perform best. For more tips about A/B testing, check out our post How To A/B Test Your Way To Success.