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5 Simple Tips for Creating Compelling (and Honest) Headlines

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of that 10 will actually go on to read the rest. This is a truly mind-boggling statistic, but it highlights a real problem for content marketers. As more and more content gets published to the web, how can you…

content headlinesAccording to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of that 10 will actually go on to read the rest. This is a truly mind-boggling statistic, but it highlights a real problem for content marketers. As more and more content gets published to the web, how can you make sure that yours rises above the rest?

Part of the answer to that question is to have a killer headline. When you’re looking for an answer through Google (or your search engine of choice), you don’t have much information about the inner content of the article merely from the search results, the main thing you have to persuade you to click is a punchy headline. If the headline is a bit of a damp squib but the content is fantastic, you’re unlikely to get to the good stuff because the title simply didn’t grab you.

Though this attractiveness is important in headlines, it’s also important to keep things honest. If you promise the Earth in your title but only deliver mediocre advice, that’s only going to make you look bad. So let’s take a look at five tips you can use to create headlines that strike a balance between magnetism and honesty.

1. Exclusivity and Uniqueness

Consult Google to find out what content your competitors are writing about your topic. Look at the headlines those in your field are using when they’re talking about the same topic. You don’t want to emulate other people’s wording – you want to stand out! You can achieve this in a number of ways; you may want to draw on your brand’s unique personality; perhaps you want to tackle the problem from a different and totally unique angle; or maybe you could inject a little smidgen of zaniness!

Many content creators find it useful to brainstorm a number of headlines before choosing one to go live with. Some find it useful to decide on a headline either before or after creating the main content. Whatever tack you decide to take, you need to make sure that your content answers any questions raised by the title – but more on that shortly.

2. Use Numbers

This is a tip that comes up in most articles about creating great headlines – simply because it works. Including a number in your headline, alongside content that takes the form of a list, is an attractive proposition to a reader because this kind of logical order appeals to our orderly side, as well as making for easy skim reading. Stating the number of points you make in your content also plays into the honesty factor; you are outright quantifying the amount of information you will be sharing, making your intentions clear and open from the outset. It provides a level of specificity that psychologically we are naturally drawn to.

There are a number of schools of thought as to which numbers perform best. Some swear by using odd numbers below 10, some only use round numbers, some even use large, odd numbers you wouldn’t expect for the topic to instil a level of curiosity. My advice? Simply provide the number of points you want or need to make. The most important aspect is promising the amount of content you can provide. If you can only muster 4 points but were aiming for 5, don’t force another entry just for the sake of it.

3. Ask a Question

One of the most straightforward types of title you can create is by basically stating the question that your content answers. Depending on how niche the topic at hand is, you may want to give the question a cursory Google search first, just to see how popular this approach has been with others in your industry. If there are hundreds of other content creators taking this approach with that topic, it’s probably worth trying something else. However, if there are only a couple of other pieces of content out there with that specific title, then you may want to consider using the “simple question” approach.

There is also an SEO application to this method; some of us now tend to search for entire questions rather than search strings of just a few words. If your wording of the question ties up with a user’s wording of the question in their search query, you may rank well for those users.

4. Double Check Any Promises Before You Go Live

Hopefully this one should go without saying. Look at the headline before you publish anything and check that any promises or assurances you made there are adequately resolved in the text. Nothing is more annoying than clicking on a piece of content, investing your time in it, only to be left high and dry with no real resolution provided to what was promised. Readers are getting wise to this kind of stuff in the age of clickbait – this is why honesty is so important.

Look objectively at your entire piece of content and ask yourself – if I was looking for what the title promises, would I feel cheated? Would my query be resolved? How would this article leave me feeling? Not delivering on a promise in your content can reflect poorly on you professionally, so always make sure you aren’t over-promising and under-delivering for the sake of clicks. Ask someone for a second opinion if that helps.

5. Don’t Forget SEO!

Ranking algorithms are changing constantly, but there are a few best practices that every piece of content should follow to rank as well as possible.

Your investigations with cursory Google searches up to this point and your in-depth knowledge of the topic at hand will probably raise a few important keywords that you know people are likely to search for. Keyword research is a potentially huge topic – the Content Marketing Institute has a great guide on the topic that you really should check out.

Your most central keyword should be placed within the headline and title tag. One or more of these keywords should also feature within the meta description (or the description field if you’re posting a YouTube video for example), and within the URL (or web page address) if at all possible.

On-page SEO practices are something that all content creators should be at least a little aware of. Hubspot has this helpful article that goes into greater detail about on-page SEO.

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What rules do you currently follow with regards to crafting headlines? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Are there any elements to creating great headlines that you think I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts down in the comments!

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