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Write Headlines That Win Clicks and Drive Traffic

Andy Crestodina

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These five headline best practices will get eyes on your content in no time

Think back to the last thing your brand published. Did it get much traffic?

Some people may have read it, but others scrolled past. Either found in their inbox or social stream, whether they clicked was determined by the headline.

As you read this, your target audience is scanning through headlines on websites and in apps. For each headline they see, they’re doing a split-second cost-benefit calculation. They’re deciding whether a headline is worth clicking and if the content is worth their time.

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We need to ask if our headlines are doing everything possible to help readers choose our content. The headline needs to make the benefit specific and valuable, and the cost to the reader small. If not, we won’t win that visit in the ultra-competitive context of content.

Here are five ways we can drive up perceived benefits and reduce the perceived costs in every headline.

Make a Promise

“The pulling power of a magnetic headline traces to its promise,” says Barry Feldman, blogging expert and headline-writing master. “Simply stated, it’s a benefit.”

When the headline makes a specific promise, the reader can see the value. We need to give up the clever but vague headlines and make clear the benefits of clicking. The reader is asking, “What’s in it for me?” and the headline must answer. The answer must be specific. We should be able to place the words “This article will show you” before the headline and form a complete sentence.

When the headline is a focused spotlight on the most compelling, surprising or useful part of the article, the reader has a better reason to invest their time. If there’s an “aha” moment inside, the headline should serve as a preview.

We need to ask if our headlines are doing everything possible to help readers choose us and our content. The headline needs to make the benefit specific and valuable, and the cost to the readers small.

Write Long Headlines

Research from BuzzSumo found that long headlines drive engagement, at least when they appear in social posts. The headlines with the most Facebook engagement (likes, comments and shares) were 15 words on average.

This makes sense when you think about the psychology of the reader. More words mean more opportunities to indicate a benefit. It’s a chance to add another phrase in parentheses or after a colon. It’s enough room to write a second headline right after the first one, indicating more value.

Push the Value to the Front of the Headlines

Length can be an issue. In mobile inboxes, the reader may see just 45 characters. In search results, title tags get cut off after about 60 characters. That’s why the most impactful words of the headline, and the gist of the benefits, should often appear at the beginning.

Even when truncation isn’t an issue, readers will scan your headline from the beginning. Placing eye-stopping words toward the beginning makes them more likely to be seen and clicked.

Use Numbers

LinkedIn found that headlines with numbers have 37% higher clickthrough rates. That data confirmed what many marketers have known for years.

Numbers tell the reader the content can be easily scanned. If the article includes seven ways they can work with influencers, it will be easy to find one or two that are useful to them. This lessens the cost of the click.

Numerals, not just numbers, are part of the magic. In a line of letters, numerals stand out. A headline written as “eight things” instead of “8 things” is a missed opportunity to make the headline more visible. Spelled out numbers also eat up your character count, which is important when the headline can be cut short in a mobile inbox.

Write Many, Choose One

Professionals aren’t writing a single headline, but many. For any article, you should write a dozen or more. Write several options for each posting location: title tags, headers and subject lines.

Once you have at least a dozen, pick the best few and try them on social media. Whichever has the best engagement is the winner and can be used as your next email subject line.

The battle for attention online is intense. Winning that click depends on the headline. It’s impossible to overstate their importance. We are all judged instantly and ruthlessly by this short set of words. Work hard on your next headline—your reader’s attention is worth fighting for.

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media. He’s an international keynote speaker and the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing.