October 15, 2014
Stuck on Titles? Transform Your Headlines Into Irresistible Hooks
As advertisers and marketers know, it’s hard to capture the fleeting attention of consumers in the digital age. But it is possible to craft unique and interesting headlines for your personal or business use without paying an “expert” to do it for you. It just takes a little time, creativity and practice.
An Internet headline is a bit like a poster for a magic show. You want enough sparkle and glam that the audience buys a ticket, enough intrigue that you don’t give away the tricks, and enough performance material (content) to back up the fireworks – hopefully the content itself delivers well-written and useful content, the equivalent of the bunny in a hat. Whatever the content is about, we encourage you to dress up the topic in your headline without being misleading in order to draw readers in. It’s a fine line, and you may not always get it right, but there are a few fundamental ways of thinking that will help you succeed more often than not.
Whoever you are, wherever you are writing and publishing, take a deep breath and read on as we share some of our successes with crafting headline titles.
1. Consider your audience & take your time
If you are publishing an article, whitepaper or blog post, it should be because you have something to share with your readers that you think they would enjoy or be able to use. Good content takes time, thought and some research to create. Why shouldn’t it be the same for a good title? It would be a waste to publish a great piece of content with a mediocre title, and have potential readers pass it up!
First, take your reader into account. Imagine your ideal reader sitting at his or her desk, surfing the Internet, looking past some headlines and diving into others. Who is this person? What interests them? What doesn’t? Step outside of your perspective and try on their shoes. Remember, you’re not targeting yourself. Therefore, start thinking like those you want to hear your message. Who is your target audience? Is it very general or very narrow? This will affect how you think about your titles.
If you have a very general audience, you may want to play up the fun or cutesy angle. For example, “Why Even Monkeys Have Success With This Dating App.” If you have a very narrow audience, you may want to address them directly. For example, “Single Mothers, Don’t Fret! Our App Can Help You Find The Mature Man You’re Looking For.” You may end up with a mixture of very specifically targeted content and more general content. And tailoring a headline to your audience can help communicate value to your readers.
2. Communicate value clearly & specifically
Once you have a clear idea of whom you are targeting with your content and headline, think about how your content will benefit them. Start thinking about what sort of words, phrases and ideas will appeal to your audience. The more specific and creative you can be, the better. Always have your reader in mind.
For example, let’s say your audience is prospective college students. If I am a young 20-something thinking about pursuing a degree, and I am surfing the Internet, I am probably going to be more drawn to a headline that addresses my concerns than one that doesn’t take me into consideration. I would probably be interested in a specific headline like “Thinking About Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree? How To Pay For College Without Falling Into Endless Debt.” This pertains to me, it’s specific, it clearly communicates value, and it will be more successful than something like “Bachelor’s Degrees for Prospective College Students.” What is that article even about? It’s not clear. How can you expect a potential reader to know if it’s worth clicking on? If a reader can’t determine that the content is useful from the headline, they’re going to skip right past it, even if it’s got really great information.
As they say, the devil is in the details. Vague headlines won’t capture anyone’s attention. Be specific. Let your reader know what they can expect to receive when they click on the headline. Is it the answer to a question? Is it advice? Is it expert information? Is it a laugh? Is it something they’ve never thought of before? Is it a comparison of different items? Try and anticipate these details. Then, know what tone you are going for, and try to match it with the headline.
3. Doting on details & a consistent tone
Though there are many more, let’s pretend for a minute that all content can be divided into one of two categories: Entertaining or Informational.
Entertaining content usually has a headline that will inform readers that what they are getting is a fun, brief moment of no special significance. An article called “5 Terribly Cute Cats Wearing Tiny Hats” clearly indicates to the reader what they should expect. The tone of the headline is cutesy and cheesy, and it rhymes. The appeal is its cute factor. We can expect that the content will be the same – light and fun. The tone is appropriate.
Informational posts focus more on providing factual or relevant information to a reader base. These can be things like how-to articles, news posts or in-depth explanations within an industry. You don’t want a too-cutesy title like the one above. Yet, you don’t want to run the risk of being boring and having a reader fly by your headline because it didn’t grab their attention. Try to give a solid indication of the information included in the content, while thinking about what would make the subject more interesting. Can you pinpoint a detail about the content that is especially visual or unique? Just like detailed specifics make for good writing, good headlines are crafted with unique or unexpected words, phrases, or ideas. There are so many articles floating around the Internet that you want yours to stand out from your competitors. Remember, we have very short attention spans when it comes to what we read online.
For example, let’s turn “How to Make Chicken Noodle Soup With Minimal Preparation” (factual but not that interesting) into something like “Do Away With Pots & Pans: How to Make No-Mess Chicken Soup.” Do you see the difference? They present the same information, but the second title is much more interesting. (Maybe the article mentions using one pot, but we think a little exaggeration for the sake of a great title is okay as long as you are not misleading your reader completely.)
Finally, don’t be afraid of getting a little creative, even with informational posts—but don’t go overboard. The caveat here is, sometimes it’s better to play it safe. If you have a really dry yet educational blog post about a niche subject, remember to consider your reader. For example, if you’re writing about specifics in the financial industry, your readers probably care more that you are presenting factual and useful information than a catchy title. It might take a few good brainstorming sessions to pinpoint exactly what you’re going for—but the time is worth it.
4. Brainstorm & then walk away
Unfortunately, most of us can’t always be brilliant. Sometimes we are, and we come up with a fantastic title, and boom, we’re done. That’s great, but you can’t count on it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and great headlines cannot be expected to just roll off the tip of the tongue all the time. If it doesn’t happen this way, rest assured that you are not alone.
Usually, capturing the gist of your content in a snapshot headline is tricky. There are a lot of factors to consider: audience, tone, originality, and accuracy. Try writing a few different headlines for the same content, playing with different angles for each one. See how they feel; don’t hold back. Know that it is just brainstorming, and you’re not married to anything until you hit “publish.” This should give you the freedom to play up various angles or metaphors, that way you can see which one is the best. If you have a team of people working together, even better—two or more heads are better than one.
Let’s go through an example. Say you have content that you want to write, or have already written, about juice cleanses. It includes information about benefits, drawbacks, health considerations and different types of cleanses. It’s meant for someone interested in learning more about benefits and drawbacks of juice cleanses. See how many different ways you can think to spin it. Write them all down, keeping in mind how each title addresses a different angle:
What to Know About Starting a Juice Cleanse
Why Juice Cleanses Are So Popular
Are Juice Cleanses All They’re Cracked Up to Be?
Kale, Lemon and Cayenne: A Skeptic’s Guide to Juice Cleanses
Feeling Lethargic? How a Juice Cleanse Can Jumpstart Metabolism
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: The Power of the Cleanse
It’s Spring Cleaning! Time to Reboot Your Body with a Juice Cleanse
Nutritional Guide to Juice Cleanses from an Expert
Practical Guide to Juice Cleanses for Beginners
5 Benefits and Side-effects of Juice Cleanses
Setting up different categories during your brainstorm can help you decide which angles best fit your purpose. Get as many out as you can, choose the best ones, and discard the rest. Or, even better, you can put the rejected titles aside as possible ideas for later, and thereby maximize your efficiency. When you hit a dry spot, take a look at titles you’ve already created. It can help spur imagination and creativity.
Then, after you have a few titles brainstormed, walk away and come back to them later. Looking at them with fresh eyes can help you improve them or be clear enough to choose the best ones.
5. Seek outside inspiration & don’t give up
If you’re really stuck, try doing a search on the Internet for similar content and see if that sparks anything in your imagination. Surf some of your favorite related blogs and let yourself be inspired. As long as you’re not ripping off an exact title, this isn’t plagiarism, but rather recognizing the value of how others have already thought about a topic. It can help you see where you can fill in the gaps in information, or continue the conversation with your own content. It’s important to create a title that will differentiate your content as well, so some competitive research is well worth it. This is the great thing about the Internet: it’s one big conversation. So don’t be afraid to dip your toes into the waters of related blogs and see what you come up with. If you are writing content, it will be unique to your perspective, and you can tailor the headline and content to fit your specific needs.
Also, see what the big players are doing right. Upworthy and Buzzfeed are two Internet giants famous for their irresistible titles. And who doesn’t want to be irresistible? In today’s short-attention-span generation, it’s downright necessary to be cool and catchy. Read some of their titles and articles—what do you like and what don’t you like? What works and what doesn’t? One reason they are irresistible is because they phrase their titles in a way that targets our natural human curiosity. Check out this phrasing from Upworthy: “A Really Awesome Guy Got Tired Of Being Bullied By Trolls. So He Made This. Well Played.” The only way you’ll know what that thing is will be when you click on the headline. However, you will want to be careful to avoid sensationalism; deliver what you’ve promised to your audience.
Finally, keep the process going. The more you read, share, write and brainstorm, the more interesting your titles will become, and the more fun you will likely have in coming up with your own angles on topics that you are interested in. The practice of crafting irresistible headlines is a smart blend between science and art; give it a pinch of research and a dash of imagination, and you’re on your way!