How to Create the Best Headlines

by Vocal Team 5 years ago in tips and guides
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Create irresistible headlines to get readers flooding in. 

Picture this: you spend hours creating a story that has the potential to inspire the internet masses. You've researched the keywords, you're absolutely certain it's unique, and your content structure is seriously on point.

Once your story’s published, you wait for the readers to arrive...and there’s nothing more than a trickle.

What went wrong?

Even if you craft content with expert precision, it'll enter the depths of the Internet and fall onto deaf ears if you don’t create a headline that'll catch a reader’s attention.

Are you ready to sprinkle your story titles with the spice they need to become instantly enticing to readers? Lucky for you, we’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to. Take the shortcut to blogging greatness and heed our lessons learned. These are the tried and true components of a powerful headline–if you’re reading this, we did something right.

Make Your Headlines Specific

Your headline doesn’t just need to capture attention, it needs to capture attention from the right audience. Take out the guesswork for potential readers; your headline should do more than specify the topic of your story, it should specify the kind of reader that will benefit from reading it. Consider these headlines, each one about a list of the best cameras to buy:

These stories all surround the general category of ‘Best Cameras,’ but headlining a story as such isn’t enough to reel in the right reader. Case in point: if you were preparing for a scuba diving trip and searching online for an easy-to-carry underwater camera, would you be more likely to click on a story titled Best Cameras to Buy or one titledBest Underwater Cameras to Take Anywhere?

In essence, think of your story as the solution to a prospective reader’s problem; the story’s headline is where you can advertise its utility.

Make Your Headlines Accurate

Specificity is important, but be sure that your specific headline is accurate, too. If your headline emphasizes that your content will solve a particular problem, be sure that the content matches those expectations. First impressions count, and if your content consistently delivers on its headline’s promise, readers will start to view your content as a reliable, go-to source of information.

Use Adjectives to Add Spice to Your Headlines

As already discussed, clarity is essential when you're crafting your headline. How can you create a title that’s clear and exciting? Use an adjective that'll make it stand out.

When choosing your adjective, think about whether it's conducive to the content within. For example, you shouldn't inject the word ‘exciting’ into a headline that details ways for parents to encourage their teenagers to tidy their rooms. Such tasks never have been, nor ever will be, exciting, and the use of an ill-fitting adjective is a major turn-off.

Instead, think about why the reader is looking for the story. Using our example of stressed-out parents trying to get their dysfunctional teenagers to aim their clothes into a laundry hamper–they just want their life to be easier. In that case, adjectives such as 'simple,' 'easy,' or ‘foolproof’ make for just the right kind of headline spice.

Include Your Focus Keywords

Okay, so the main purpose of the story's headline is to draw your readers into actually reading it. However, that doesn't mean you can neglect the SEO side of your headline. If the story is going to rank well enough for readers to come across it in the first place, the headline needs to bow down to SEO basics.

Keywords help Google and other search engines understand the topic of your story. Tools like Google Trends and SEMRush allow you to find the best keywords for your story, based on data such as search volume and competition.

Once you’ve identified your focus keyword, include it in your story headline as well as within your story itself–if you think you can trick Google by including a perfect keyword phrase in the title and nowhere else...think again.

Ditch Nauseating Clickbait Headlines

Hands up–who's sick of reading clickbait headlines stating, "What Happened Next Will SHOCK You"? While mystery is alluring in itself, your headline needs to focus on the salient points within the scope of your story, while still remaining enticing.

Admittedly, this is a difficult balance to strike, but this task is far from impossible. For example, if your story is focused on staying organized, try a headline like All Freelancers Need This Simple App to Stay Organized; it’s well-focused and intriguing, without being overly embellished. Such headlines are far more effective than smoke and mirror attempts to entice readers with the promise of juicy gossip or a one-stop-solution to all of their problems.

Strike the Right Headline Length

As the saying goes in other areas of life, length matters. Trouble is, when it comes to creating great headlines, the optimal length varies between platforms. In other words, the best length for Google search results is not necessarily the best length to captivate Facebook audiences, and so on. Since there’s no such thing as the catch-all ‘perfect length,’ your best bet is to strike a balance between optimizing for search and optimizing for social.

  • Minimize character count for search: Restrict your headline to about 65 characters (including spaces) so that the full title appears in Google search results. Having a cut-off headline (i.e. abbreviated with an ellipses) negatively impacts click-through rate.
  • Maximize word count for social: Headlines between 12-14 words tend to receive the highest Facebook engagement. Social media audiences are apt to click on longer headlines; ever catch yourself getting sucked into a wordy, rambling headline that ends with "You Won’t Believe What Happens Next?" Case in point.

Tap Into Negative Emotions

If it bleeds, it leads; Headlines that skew toward the negative are a time honored tactic for journalists and bloggers alike. Use negative superlatives in your headline–stop, don’t, mistake, worst–to give your story an added sense of urgency and prompt your target readers to read your story, and read it now.

Your reader might idly take note of your headline offering productivity tips, but they wouldn’t risk skippingBad Habits To Break To Be More Productive. Similarly, a story on relationship tips can be easily overlooked, but even the most confident of readers will take a peek at Relationship Mistakes Women are Prone to Make. You know, just in case…

As the old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, so inject those headlines with a little negativity to turn a should-read into a must-read.

Use Numbers Wisely

Longer stories can be a tough sell, but even the most easily-distracted readers can get onboard with reading ‘10 Tips,’ ‘31 Reasons’ or ‘31 Ideas’–organizing your content into a neat, numbered list makes it more digestible and, ipso facto, more likely that a reader will dive in.

If you're employing this tactic, aim for an odd number; data shows that odd numbers are more believable.

Now would be an excellent time to make use of the effective adjectives we discussed earlier. For example, the headline 7 Essential Exercise Hacks for Busy Students is way more inviting than 7 Ways Students Can Exercise.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Back to the Drawing Board

Finding the process frustrating? Don't fret. Even the best of creators scratch their heads in confusion at the headline creation process. Sometimes inspiration will just escape you entirely, and that's okay!

If all else fails, create a rough working title. Have you created a story about restaurants in New York? Start with Restaurants in New York, then think about the restaurant types. Are they low-cost? High end? Fish-focused? Eventually, you can reach the stage of Why you Can't Miss Out on These High-End New York Restaurants or Seven Low-Cost New York Restaurants with Sumptuous Dishes.

Now, go on and create the best headlines to add to your arsenal of content!

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