Why do We Need Headlines for the Digital Universe?
I love coming up with sweet headlines.
As content strategists, marketers, digital entrepreneurs, businesses with an online presence, and publishers of quality content, we all know how crucial headlines are.
Impeccable headlines mean the difference between…
- whether your content actually gets read
- whether it gets shared and spread around the internet
- whether it compels people to take action
- whether your mind-blowing work gets the attention it deserves
But it doesn’t matter how awesome your content is if the headline sucks. It won’t get read.
Think about it. If the headline doesn’t spark any curiosity or desire from web-surfers, what reason do they have to click and read your article? Not much, especially with the amount of great headlines out there competing for their attention.
As time goes on, and as the general webscape gets better at writing headlines, it will be even more important for you to stand out with headlines that crush the competition. (Of course, don’t forget to follow up with content that crushes the competition, as well.)
Today’s tips come from Robert W. Bly, author of The Copywriter’s Handbook.
They aren’t comprehensive, but they provide a solid foundation for anyone who understands the importance of headlines. Headline masters should also review them to polish their fundamentals.
Let’s get to it.
Robert W. Bly’s Headline Writing Checklist
These questions come from the copywriting genius himself. In the book, he’s discussing ad headlines, but the same applies to content. I have adapted the wording for our purposes.
Use this checklist to improve your headlines, and to hit every possible angle you can.
- Who is my reader?
Content marketers always stress the importance of knowing your audience.
The more you know about who you’re talking to, the higher quality content you can create. You can tailor it to their needs, their wants, their desires. You can fulfill all of this for them, creating a deeper connection with your audience.
The same applies to your headlines. Know your reader so that you know which type of headline will get their attention.
- Why would the reader want to read my article?
What reason do they have to click? What would drive them to spend some of their precious time on your content?
Throw that teaser in the headline.
- Does the headline promise a benefit or reward for reading the article?
Your headlines should express a benefit the reader will gain by reading your content.
What is the reader going to learn? What are they going to gain from it?
Figure out your most compelling benefit, and stick it front and center in the headline.
Make them crave the knowledge held within your content.
- Is my headline clear and direct? Does it get to the point simply and quickly?
Don’t waste space (or your reader’s time) with fluff.
Get to the point quickly and express the benefit directly.
- Is the headline as specific as possible?
For instance, “How to Develop a Content Strategy in Less than 2 Hours” is better than “Developing a Content Strategy.”
Which one would you rather read?
- Does the headline grab your attention with a bold message? And is it stated in a fresh, new way?
Leo Babauta wrote a great article on Copyblogger about being bold in your content.
Don’t be afraid to make claims, to be unabashed in the service you provide. If you think you’ve written the best article on the Internet on a certain topic, tell people.
“You Will Regret Not Reading This Article on Epic Headlines, Because It’s the Best One On the Whole Damn Internet.”
I would click that in a second.
But it better hold up to that claim.
- Does the headline relate logically to the content?
There’s no need to over-promise or over-sell. Your content should be good enough to spawn a benefit-rich, impactful headline.
Your headline should make a promise to the individual, telling them what they will learn by reading your content. When people click, they will be rewarded by having that promise fulfilled.
Don’t make your reader feel like they’ve been cheated.
- Do the headline and image work together to express the main idea of the piece?
While your words should be able to stand alone in their influential power, a carefully-selected graphic paired with a compelling headline can attract even more readers.
- Does the headline spark curiosity, luring the reader into the body copy?
Copyblogger’s eBook on writing magnetic headlines says that your headline is the “first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a compelling promise that turns a browser of your content into a reader of your content, the rest of your words may as well not even exist.”
The whole point of the headline is to get that first sentence read. After that, its job is done.
But if it doesn’t get that first sentence read, it has failed.
Look at your headlines subjectively. Would they spark enough curiosity in you to compel you to read them? If not, continue tweaking until you can answer with a confident “yes.”
(For instance, I played around with the headline of this piece 6 times before settling.)
10. Does the headline qualify your audience?
With your audience in mind, you can maximize the impact by selecting them within the headline.
You can’t reach everyone with every article, nor should you try to.
You should try to reach the people that matter. And you can do this by filtering them in the headline.
The easiest way is to stick a “for” in the middle.
“16 Little-Known Ways for Internet Marketers to be More Efficient”
“Content Strategy Tips for Freelance Bloggers”
Just stick the name of your target audience in the headline. Simple as that.
11. Is the brand name mentioned in the headline?
If you’re building brand loyalty, you’ll want to get your name out there as much as possible.
A great way is to stick your brand in the headline.
“The Fastest Ways to Build an Online Business, by the Fake SEO Group”
“Copytactics Gives You the Ultimate Guide to Writing Great Copy”
This is also important for the SEO title – the title displayed in search engine results. Sticking your brand name on there will get searchers more accustomed to you. They’ll feel more comfortable clicking links to your content.
12. Avoid “blind headlines.”
Blind headlines don’t mean anything unless you read the article, like puns and witty headlines that aren’t specific.
They can work for temporary attention, but they rarely lead to lasting brand relationships.
Be an Unforgiving Headline Writer to Score Big Returns
It’s easy to become attached to the first headline you come up with, but you have to be ruthless, for the sake of impact and reach. You owe it to the time and effort you put into your content.
Don’t let it go to waste with a bland headline.
Propel it forward to internet stardom with a headline that can’t be ignored.
“The headline is the part of the ad that gets attention. And getting attention is the first step in persuading your reader to buy your product” – Robert W. Bly, The Copywriter’s Handbook.
To buy your product. To read your article. To click your post. To share your stuff with their followers. All of the things we love.
We owe you one.
What headline skills could you not live without? What changed your headline writing game? Weigh in on the discussion below.