If a piece of content or an ad doesn’t have an engaging headline, you may as well ditch the content altogether. The content or ad could be the most interesting ever written, but without a captivating headline, you won’t see the success that your piece of great content or ad deserves. If a reader’s interest isn’t captured by the headline, you won’t receive the clicks to bring traffic to your desired landing page or get people to read more.
Even the smallest tweak to a headline can create a major impact on the catchiness of the title, increase clicks, and create a far more successful piece of content/ad.
John Caples is a famous copywriter who is best known for writing one of the most famous headlines in the history of print advertising. He is the author of the headline: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano. But When I Started to Play!” The add was a headline promoting a course that taught people to play an instrument and it is consistently used as an example of an attention-grabbing headline that, although even not written properly, was exceptionally effective. John Caples’ advice regarding the importance of headlines still holds true today: “If the headline is poor, the copy will not read. And copy that is not read does not sell goods.”
1. Keep is Succinct
A headline should contain tight copy that is short and to-the-point. In fact, research performed by Content Marketing Institute found that length has a major impact on the effectiveness of your headline. For example, a digital headline that contained just eight words received 21% more click-throughs to the intended site than the average headline did (all of the other headlines were longer).
2. Don’t Bury the Keywords or Subject
When you write a headline, make sure you are getting right to the point. Don’t bury the keywords or core subject you are wishing to rank for in relevant searches. A key tip is to make sure your keyword that relates directly to the content is upfront and center within the first 62 characters. Search engines typically ignore the portion of the headline that falls after the first 62 characters. If your keywords or key subject falls after that, you may not rank as high for that piece of content as you could.
Here is an example of how a headline can be modified to rank higher and be more direct:
- Headline 1 (Buried Keyword): “Looking for a Great Career in a Growing Field? Get your Degree in Nursing”
- Headline 2 (Leads with Keyword/Subject): “Become a Nurse and Get on the Path to the Career of your Dreams”
Which headline do you think would get the most clicks or capture your attention if you were seeking a new career? Headline 2, right? Additionally, search engines would ignore the keyword “nursing” in headline 1 simply because it falls after the first 62 characters.
3. Transform Any Headline with a Great Call-to-Action
Instead of simply using a headline to recap the content you want people to click on, use a call-to-action (CTA) to encourage readers to take an action. For example, use engaging words like “Try,” “Learn,” or “Find Your.”
4. Use Numbers
Today’s internet user is typically doing multiple things at once, leaving them to be less likely to read lengthy articles. People love articles with numbered lists because they show the future reader that the content is in an easily-digestible format. Headlines with numbers also outperform non-numbered headlines because humans inherently are attracted to predictability and tend to shy away from uncertainty. These list-style articles are called listicles and they have become exceedingly popular due to their success. A headline that starts with a number will capture the audience and create more click-throughs because the reader knows it will be broken up into mini pieces of content that are skim-able.
When you are writing listicle-style articles that include a number, use an odd number. Odd numbers were shown to receive 20% more clicks than listicles starting with even numbers. Don’t forget to use the actual number and not to spell out the word. The top 4 numbers used in listicles that generate clicks and engagement on articles posted to Facebook were found to be (in order): 10, 5, 15, and 7.
5. Spice Up Copy with a Negative Power Word
As writers or marketers, you may question the concept of writing a headline featuring a negative element. However, using a negative “power word” can capture a potential reader’s attention more than a positive headline. A study conducted by Outbrain found that negative headlines performed an average of 50% better than positive headlines. Headlines with a power word such as “never” or “worst” saw a click-through rate that was nearly 70% higher on average because of a few facts:
- Negative headlines create a fear of missing out
- Positive headlines are overused and have begun to seem generic
- Positive headlines make potential readers wonder about the motives of the author and the content
- Negative headlines have a “shock” factor
- Negative headlines are seen as unbiased and impartial
6. Create a Sense of Immediacy
Headlines that create a sense of immediacy for your prospective readers are highly successful because they make people feel as if they don’t click on the ad or click to take an action, they will be missing out on something fantastic. Old Navy is a brand that does this particularly well in their email marketing campaigns. Their email subject lines make recipients feel that if they don’t open the email immediately, they will miss out on something special happening for a limited time only.
Some example of email headlines the fashion brand uses that create a sense of emergency include:
- “Today only! Free Shipping on EVERYTHING”
- “Friends and Family Event. Three Days Only!”
- “Don’t Miss Out on $15 Jeans”
- “Trust Us – You Won’t Want to Miss This!”
- “Weekend Blowout! 40% Off Everything”
- “Hurry! This Unbelievable Salt Ends at Midnight”
7. Tap Into Human Curiosity
It’s just a simple fact that people are naturally curious. Including words that induce a sense of curiosity and piques their interest to take action or learn more.
To accomplish this sense of curiosity through your headline, include words like:
- “Secrets to…”
- “Look behind the scenes at…”
- “It’s true that…”
- “Few people know that…”
- “Confidential news about…”
- There is a fine line between too much information and a headline being too vague when it comes to infusing the element of curiosity to attract readers. Here are some examples of headlines that do it right when it comes to balancing that line:
- “9 Travel Secrets That Will Blow Your Mind”
- “Unlock the Power You Didn’t Know You Always Had Inside You”
- “10 Mistakes You Make In Job Interviews That Cost You The Job”
- “5 Reasons That Fast Food Is Better Than Gourmet Meals”
8. Use your Headline to Show Readers Value of Taking Action or Reading More
One of the best ways to attract readers and send your click-through rate through the roof is to create a headline that shows immediate value to prospective readers while also encouraging them to take a specific action. Think about why you click on certain ads or click-through to read more of a certain piece of content. It’s likely because you are being offered something that has value to it. Show potential readers immediate value with your headline. Remember, this doesn’t have to be monetary value.
People respond to headlines with value-offer phrases such as:
- “Be the Best at…”
- “Be the First to Know About…”
- “Impress Your Friends with…”
- “Save Valuable Time By…”
9. Create Emotion
Emotionally-charged headlines not only grab the reader’s attention and get more clicks, they also get more engagement and social shares.
Words known for inducing emotion include:
- Because of
10. Always Be Bold
Make a statement to encourage prospective readers to click by introducing a shock element into your headline. This will draw the readers in and near-always garner a high click-through rate. So, how exactly do you be bold and spice up your headline? You may be hesitant to write a headline that is opinionated or semi-controversial, leaving the readers wanting more. For example, instead of a headline that reads “How to become rich by 30,” be bold by altering that to read “I’m 22 and make $75,000 a Year Working 20 Hours a Week, What Do you Earn?”
Conclusion: Headlines are the Key to Success Metrics
In marketing and copywriting there is a saying that “Content is King.” Well, then a headline must be the queen. Remember, what is truly well-written, useful content if no one sees it because you’ve started with a dull, unengaging headline? Using these 10 best practice tips can easily grow your click-through rate by leaps and bounds.